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"From our humble beginnings on a dirt lot, we still maintain the same entrepreneurial and creative approach to business, taking us to the forefront of sustainable design and experiential retail."
“From our humble beginnings on a dirt lot, we still maintain the same entrepreneurial and creative approach to business, taking us to the forefront of sustainable design and experiential retail,” nominee Nicolai said of the company his father, Joe, founded selling pre-owned cars in 1961.
Nicolai is a 1993 graduate of the Punahou School in Honolulu. He earned a B.S. in marketing from Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, in 1997, and an M.B.A. from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu in 2007. While an undergraduate, he studied abroad in Florence, Italy, at Lorenzo de Medici – The Italian International Institute.
After Boston College, Nicolai spent time working at Penfold Motors, a dealership group in Melbourne, Australia, before joining his father’s company, JN Group, which owns car and motorcycle stores in Honolulu, in 1998.
“I originally worked for the local Kawasaki dealer renting jet skis off Waikiki beach at the age of 14,” he said. “I also did maintenance at the dealership and washed cars on the lot. I was interested in trying out new things and asked to move to different departments: rentals, fleet, parts, service and sales while in high school and college.”
Today, Nicolai oversees Velocity Honolulu, a new-concept luxury shopping complex, which is home to his showrooms featuring high-end cars and motorcycles. “Our experiential approach to retail includes a restaurant, cafe, salon, barber shop and boutiques as part of the dealership guest experience,” he said. His group also owns a Chevrolet store and two other cycle shops, all in Honolulu.
Velocity Honolulu also features the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design)-certified residential complex in the city, Symphony Honolulu. “My desire to do things differently and to learn from others outside our industry inspired me to intern for a real estate company during the summers while also working at the dealership,” he said. “This sparked my interest in creating an amenity-rich mixed-use development.”
For more than 55 years, JN Group has been an integral part of the Honolulu community and has consistently supported causes that better people’s lives. The group’s Drive for the Cure event, which donated $100 for every new vehicle or motorcycle that was sold or leased throughout the month of October, raised money for women’s breast health services at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children.
JN Group is also a strong supporter of the United States Armed Forces, donating to several programs that provide services to soldiers, including the United States Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (U.S. Army MWR) in Hawaii; the Honolulu Navy League; and the Association of the United States Army. His company has received numerous awards and recognition for their contribution to helping military families.
“Our local and military communities know they can turn and count on us for help, no matter what,” Nicolai said.
Through his family’s Castiglione a Casauria Foundation, which was named after the small Italian town where his grandparents lived, plus other dealership initiatives, Nicolai gives back to charities big and small. Their stores are collection centers for Toys for Tots and they host blood drives regularly at the dealership.
Other groups Nicolai supports include the Kristi Yamaguchi’s Always Dream Foundation (advancing early childhood literacy); American Red Cross of Hawaii; Big Brothers Big Sisters Hawaii; Doctors Without Borders; Friends of Kewalos (protects and preserves Kewalos Basin Park); Hawaii Children's Cancer Foundation; Hawaii Foodbank; Hawaiian Humane Society; Lanakila Meals on Wheels; Moanalua Gardens Foundation (preserves the native culture and environment of Hawaii); REHAB Foundation (supports the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific to help people with physical and cognitive disabilities); Teach for America and YMCA of Honolulu, to name a few.
“Being able to provide resources and support on the ground level to improve the lives of others provides gratification to everyone in our organization,” Nicolai said.
Nicolai was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by David Rolf, executive director of the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association. He and his wife, Gina, have three children.