Colleen Sheehan: Selling classic Ferraris to the next generation
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Colleen Sheehan is a bit of an anomaly. She has a decade’s worth of experience selling vintage Ferraris and other assorted vehicular exotica, and a lifetime of immersion in the car hobby. At 30 years old, though, she’s one of the youngest faces in the collector-car brokerage industry—an evolving space, but one still more associated with gray hair than Instagram Reels.
She also is in a unique position to understand the generational changes underway in this space: She shares the business with her father Michael Sheehan, a Ferrari veteran who’s been in the top-tier brokerage and restoration space for more than fifty years and has penned countless market-focused columns for a number of publications, including Ferraris Online’s highly popular newsletter. For much of the past 30 years, Colleen has been right in the thick of it, racing, building, and selling with her father. Today, she’s sales manager for Ferrari Online.
I sat down with both Sheehans in their Costa Mesa, California, showroom to learn how Colleen has carved a presence of her own and what must be done to make sure the next generation of collectors “gets” Ferraris.
Hagerty Insider: Colleen! Thanks for making time so soon after Rétromobile.
Colleen Sheehan: There’s an advantage to being young. I flew to Scottsdale [Arizona] for the whole four days, came home for a day, and then flew to Rétromobile, and was there for five days. Then, came home, hit the gym, and was back answering emails almost immediately.
HI: How long have you worked in a serious capacity with Ferraris Online?
CS: I was in my late teens when I started working with my dad, around 11 years go. That was when car sales became my career.
But cars have been a passion my whole life, from go karts as a kid to racing legends cars and going to car shows with my dad. I was probably 12 or 13 in the passenger seat at Elkhart Lake with my dad running his Daytona around the track, or in the pits with all the cars. We did all sorts of fun stuff together.
I graduated high school early, at 16, and I went off and did my own thing for a while—tried out art and architecture. I realized, hey, this is fun, but I love cars. And that’s what I want to do.
HI: How do you and your father split responsibilities at Ferraris Online?
CS: I would say I handle the majority of clients directly. I take care of photos, videos, proofreading, and the main sales process. My dad handles the write-ups and documentation for the cars [and] the records.
And, if there are clients he’s dealt with for decades, he’ll take care of them.
He’s been doing this for fifty years—
Michael Sheehan: Fifty-one! Fifty-one years!
CS, laughing: Fifty-one years!
MS: For example, I’m working with a fifty-year client right now for an old Bugatti. I’m 73, he’s 83. I work with those type of clients because they’re in a totally different world. They don’t know what Instagram is, they just want their car.
You don’t want two people doing the negotiation. In most cases, she’ll take the initial call, and she’ll handle it. If we get more than one call each, we’ll discuss who should handle it.
CS: Part of it, too, is at 73 years old, my dad wants to sleep in on the weekends.
MS: I’ve had prostate cancer three times. The last two times were stage 4. Most of the time at stage 4, you’re f****d. My wife has had five hip surgeries, double lung cancer, and a stroke. You reach a point where you say, “If I don’t close another sale this month, f*** it. I’m going to sleep in.”
HI: So, in some cases, you’re dealing with customers whom your father has known forever. How have they been? Any issues?
CS: It’s been pretty awesome. A lot of those guys who knew me when I was younger are now buying and selling cars through me. They’ve made comments along the lines of, “I knew you when you were this tall!” But it’s nice now that I’ve been doing this for a decade.
As long as you have the knowledge and competency to do what they need, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the business 50 years, or a 30-year-old girl. It’s a test of your ability and knowledge.
HI: Let’s face it—the top-end of the collector car market is almost entirely dominated by older men. Have there been any hurdles to navigating this as a woman?
CS: I get that question a lot, “How is it in a man’s world?” Well, no one really cares, as long as I’m doing my job right. It’s all about what you know and how you can manage it.
I can count on one hand in the past 10 years instances where me being a girl has had anything to do with anything.
HI: So, no pushback from other dealers either?
CS: Because of my gender and/or age? No. Overall, it’s been pretty welcoming. Have I had issues with another seller/dealer because our personalities don’t mesh? Yes.
The only aspect of this career where I’ve seen any type of real nastiness is social media. Most of the negative comments—I learned long ago—are just ridiculous.
The ones that really crack me up are like, “Oh, when I first saw this video come across my feed, I thought, ‘Why would I care what this girl has to say about cars?’ But then I watched it and learned who your dad is, and I think it’s a wonderful video!”
Uh, thanks? I guess?
You’re never going to make everyone happy—especially in a space dealing with expensive luxury items. And for every five nasty comments on social media, there are a hundred positive ones. You’ve just got to focus on those.
But the people I work with, sell to, and buy cars from are all wonderful.
HI: You’ve really put a focus on Ferraris Online’s video and social medial presence. Talk about when and how that came about.
CS: The push started roughly three years ago. We started with the videos because I realized my dad spends a lot of time on the descriptions of the cars we sell, and people weren’t reading them. They’d look at the photos and call and ask, “How many miles does it have?” and, “When was the last service?”
Unsurprisingly, people are a lot more willing to watch a video than read a description.
My dad was skeptical, saying things like, “I’ve been doing this fifty years, and no one buys cars on social media, blah blah blah.”
Of course, that just motivated me, and the first car I sold because of social media was a 360 Challenge. My dad said, “Alright, fair enough. But the big cars only sell the traditional way.” Challenge accepted. A few months later, I sold a Periscopo Countach through social media.
HI: When you say sell, you mean people see the cars you feature and message you about it?
CS: Correct. But, I don’t make any of the posts or clips “sales-pitchy.” I give a history on the specific make and model, and highlight the car running through the gears, starting up.
I do it because I love the cars and I love spreading awareness of the older stuff on platforms dominated by the newest supercars. I’ve been told it’s very clear I do this because I love the cars, and I’m not just trying to cash in.
HI: What social media platforms do you focus on?
CS: Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok primarily.
HI: TikTok! Wow, have you sold any cars or made any real connections through there?
CS: I’ve had a few people call about cars who have seen my videos on TikTok, but no direct sales. Sometimes, I’ll get a customer who mentions they saw my TikToks or [Instagram] Reels, but they still came from other sources.
HI: You mentioned earlier that you consider it very important that younger generations are introduced to the older stuff.
CS: Yeah. I try to tell as much history behind the cars as I can. I try to convey the idea that without Dinos and Daytonas, we wouldn’t have the modern hypercars we enjoy today.
HI: What trends are you noticing on the Ferrari market at present?
CS: The hot ticket items right now due to the generational shift of buyers has been the 288 GTOs, F40s, F50s, Carrera GTs.
HI: We noticed that starting back at last year’s Monterey sales.
CS: That is absolutely generational-driven, and it’s real. Look to what our childhood cars are.
HI: How are older cars doing for you?
CS: There’s no lack of people who want a 275 or a 250 Lusso, but the hot ticket items are mainly coming from the 1980s through early 2000s.
A lot of my dad’s clients who he’s had for decades are the same age as him. They’ve been buying and selling the same cars forever, and for the most part, they either have owned the cars they wanted, still own the cars they wanted, or probably never will. That generation is still in the market, but it’s not as strong.
There are some interesting reasons behind this; maybe it’s getting harder to get in and out of the car, the clutch is too heavy, their knees are getting weaker. Or, they just never drive it anymore, and their kid has said they don’t want this old car.
There are definitely more sellers than buyers at the moment.
HI: What’s your take on the collector market in general in 2023?
CS: It’s pretty stable at the moment. Absolutely elevated compared to 2019, but in 2020, you could do no wrong. After buyers got over the initial shock, they started window shopping and daydreaming. You’d list a car, get four calls, two or three offers, and it sold in a day. Today, not so much. But stuff still sells, as long as the car is priced well.
End of last year, it got slow—really slow—for the last few months. I was getting some offers along the lines of, “well, the market is falling, so I’ll give you $100k for that $200k car.” But, by the beginning of this year, it picked up again.
HI: Are you seeing any regret from massive purchases made during the pandemic boom?
CS: Oh yeah. If they bought an average car for ridiculous money, absolutely. Today, you have to have the best car at the best price to sell.
The rationality is back in the market. There’s no more of this, “Let’s try it at $50K over and see how it goes.” That is gone.
HI: Any predictions for the next year, year and a half?
CS: It all depends on how the economy is, and what’s going on in the world.
One thing that is predictable is basic supply and demand. If you look at F40 prices now, they’ve been going up and up and up, so more owners are inclined to sell, and the market gets flooded. When I was at Rétromobile, the prices of F40s seem to have come down a little bit.
HI: Any challenges ahead for Ferraris Online?
CS: Well, we’re going to have to incorporate more newer cars. I absolutely prefer the older stuff, but just as we’ve adapted with video and social media, appealing to younger generations demands that we offer newer stuff. We have to balance it out.
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Via Hagerty Insider
That was a very good and insightful interview, thanks!