A salon owner for more than 30 years, nearly everyone in the tanning industry knows Rocco Viele. He’s a regular attendee of tanning trade events and with his outgoing demeanor is oftentimes found having fun as the center of attention. After three decades owning and operating his salon chain, he decided to join one of the industry’s largest tanning franchise operations, and his personal life is undergoing much transformation, as well. So, why all this yearning for change? ist Magazine had to find out…
Fun, affable and larger than life, Rocco Viele is a popular guy; but underneath his Teddy bear-like exterior is a complex and interesting man with more to share than just his smile.
To call Rocco Viele one-of-a-kind would be an understatement. Not only is he a big hit at tanning industry trade shows, he’s also become a local celebrity in his hometown after starring in TV and radio commercials, where his catch phrase, “I’m Rocco Viele and I guarantee you’ll love your golden tan,” has become a popular refrain. It’s easy to see that Rocco beams from the camaraderie he enjoys with his many friends; but many who know him might not have heard his entire life’s story. Because he’s had some heartache to go along with his happiness, Rocco tended to hide his pain behind a warm and infectious smile. These days, however, he’s enjoying the revelations that accompany examinations of his life, which only serves to make his happiness more genuine.
“I will always be thankful to Rocco for being my biggest inspiration and role model in business. He has given me so many valuable life lessons and has always been a person who I sincerely look up to. The opportunity to grow and prosper and to be such a huge part of his legacy has been an honor to me. I love him like a daughter would love her father, and I’m so grateful that he has shared with me so much wisdom and knowledge. He has left an unforgettable impression on so many and his love for this industry is contagious. Thank you, Rocco, for being my inspiration.”
District Manager, Sun Tan City
The Journeys of Youth
Rocco James Viele was born June 24, 1952 to Herman and Rose Viele of Rochester, NY. “My father had six children from his previous marriage, and my mother had one from hers, and together, they had six more kids, beginning with me,” said Rocco. “We were a big family, but it wasn’t like ‘The Brady Bunch’; instead, it always seemed like we were two separate families living under two different roofs.” To further complicate matters, Rocco describes his father as someone who was verbally and sometimes physically abusive, and this behavior drove his mother away when Rocco was eight years old. “As a result, I had to take care of my younger siblings quite a bit while my dad worked,” he added. “When he was home, he often directed his anger toward my mother at me because I was closest to her, although I didn’t understand this then.”
When Rocco’s mother relocated five hours away, there was no longer any love or nurturing to counterbalance his father’s wrath. “I ran away from home and was placed in George Junior Republic, a self-governing state for neglected and wayward boys,” he said. “I stayed there until I was 16, then I ran away again and went back to my father’s home. You’d think I would’ve known better; but when you’re that young, you don’t have too many options.” Although his time at George Junior prevented him from pursuing his education beyond the seventh grade, Rocco made the best of his situation by learning the plumbing trade from his father, as well as a few valuable life lessons. “He always said, ‘Take care of your customers and the money will find you,’” Rocco recalls. “I truly believe that this is a big part of why I’ve been successful.”
The School of Life
The many situations life threw at Rocco caused him to grow up fast. At the age of 17, he married his first wife Patty, and a year later celebrated the birth of his first child, Tina. Unfortunately, it all came crashing down for him at the age of 21, shortly after the birth of his son, Rocco Jr., when the couple divorced and Rocco declared bankruptcy. At the age of 22, he decided to reinvent himself by starting R&R Plumbing with his friend, Robert Leach; by the age of 27, he became one of Rochester’s youngest licensed Master Plumbers. “I was very fortunate to have known a man named Phil Ferraro,” he recalled. “He knew me from when I’d come to his plumbing supply store with my dad, and took an interest in me when we started R&R Plumbing. By teaching me about the plumbing trade and about life, Phil was the first person who really showed me that we’re here on this earth for only a short time, so the best thing we can share with others is ourselves.” Rocco says that although Phil passed away about ten years ago, he’ll never forget the impact he made on his life.
Important lessons are seldom forgotten or ignored, especially in Rocco’s life. Such was the case of a clever analogy he picked up at the age of 12. “I remember meeting an older man named Mr. Katz who owned a very successful flooring company with his brothers,” he said. “He called me aside and pulled out a handful of change from his pocket and showed it to me. He said, ‘I made a penny from this person, a nickel from another and the dime and quarter from other people, too.’ The moral of his story is that you become successful by earning a little bit at a time.” Rocco took this advice to heart, applying it to both his plumbing and indoor tanning businesses and later, real estate.
In 1976, Rocco married his second wife, Denise, and the couple had two children – Venessa and Vito. A few years later, he also had his big break in indoor tanning. “In 1982, I met Leif Vasström at a pool and spa show and I was so impressed with the sunbeds he was importing at that time that I began selling tanning systems as one of his representatives,” Rocco said. “I decided to build a three-unit salon in Rochester to use as an equipment showroom, and it was Denise who turned it into a successful tanning salon in its own right. Today, I’m proud to say that the original location now has 30 tanning units, and I operate a total of six salons.” To make up for the education he missed out on as a child, Rocco returned to school at the age of 39 and earned his GED and an Associate’s Degree. “I ended up with a 3.25 GPA!” he added.
“I met Rocco in 1998 when Universal Insurance became his insurance provider again, and we consider him to be part of our family. I look forward to seeing him at industry events because when he walks into a room, his smile creates warmth and sunshine. He’s so caring toward his staff, his clients and the industry as a whole, and he’s willing to share his wealth of information with others, always mentoring them with intelligence and humility. He is a true gentleman and I’m proud to call him a friend.”
Randy J. Tipton, CIC
President, Universal Insurance
An Era of Transition…
These days, change seems to be the norm for Rocco. After operating his five-store salon chain for over 30 years, he recently decided to convert the business into a Sun Tan City franchise. “I’m extremely fortunate to have a wonderful team. They have been a big part of the success we’ve created; but I’m also very honest about my own strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “Since I want to expand, it makes perfect sense to become a Sun Tan City franchisee because their management and operations expertise will be a huge help in reaching that goal. For example, we opened our sixth location on April 1, and with Sun Tan City’s guidance, we were able to do it in six weeks, whereas it would’ve taken me twice as long on my own!”
Circumstances in Rocco’s personal life have caused him to engage in much reflection of late, and this continues to have a positive effect upon him. “I’m starting to examine myself, and I’m learning to put my past into perspective,” he said. “This has been extremely helpful. As a result, I find myself wanting to spend even more time with my children and grandchildren. The family I grew up in wasn’t very close, and I believe that’s why having a sense of togetherness is so important to me.”
We live in a world where everyone lives a perfect life filled with friends, family and amazing daily activities… if you choose to believe the Facebook posts, that is. The truth, however, is always a bit more complex. Rocco Viele’s story has shown us that we all have a past, and when we embrace it, we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, and more patience and appreciation for others. May we all wish him the best and be inspired by his example.
A 14-year industry veteran, John "Ribby" Ribner has written hundreds of
articles for IST Magazine and, as Director of Editorial Content, has also
helped guide the publication's evolution. Ribby is a graduate of Central
Michigan University's journalism program and has brought many years of newspaper reporting experience to his position of Head Writer. He is also the author of three novels, "Legacy of the Bear," "Prophecy of the Bear" and "World So Dark."
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