Indiana dealer's ads rescue school sports, art programs
In addition to helping fund programs in the local school district auto dealer Ray Skillman helps out the LIttle League too. He gets an appreciative hug from one of the players.
Printed in Automotive News Sept. 19, 2011
Indiana auto dealer Ray Skillman was incensed.
He had heard that his local school system was so strapped for funds that it was going to charge students a fee to play football.
Forget that, he decided. Instead, he tapped the advertising budget for his dealership group, which operates in nine locations outside Indianapolis.
"We told the school system, 'We'll pay for it,'" Skillman says. "'All of it: the football programs, the other sports programs, the school bands, the art programs. Just add it up. We'll pay for it.'"
Before local football practice started last summer, a deal emerged with the Center Grove Community School Corp. amounting to a $1 million-plus advertising contract. For five years, Ray Skillman Auto Group is paying $210,000 a year for sports, plus another $10,000 a year for the fine arts programs, including school bands, drama clubs and choirs.
With that arrangement, the school board 10 miles south of Indianapolis has dropped its plan to charge every high school athlete and cheerleader in the district $170 a season to participate.
"We've had some real budget issues," says Richard Arkanoff, superintendent of the eight-school, 7,800-student system. "The decision to charge those fees was a tough one. But Mr. Skillman had been thinking about how hard it would be for a working family to come up with $170. He said he wanted to take care of all the fees."
In return for Skillman Auto Group's funding, Center Grove will allow Skillman to advertise his auto group around the sports program: the football scoreboard, stadium's concession stand and the basketball court scoreboard. Other specifics were being ironed out.
"It seems like the whole world has fallen on hard times," says Skillman, the grandfather of 13. "Our teachers don't earn enough. Our policemen and firefighters don't earn enough. More businesses need to get involved with their community."
"We understand advertising, and we know who are our market is," Skillman says. "But this is also our community" and he has 750 employees.
"When that stadium is full on a Friday night, those are my future customers. They are the parents of my future customers. They are my current customers. They're our current employees and the families of our employees. They are our future employees -- salespeople, technicians, phone operators and managers," he says.
"So will we get any return on our investment?" he asks. "Yes, a huge return."
The greater Indianapolis market has been good to him, even during the industry upheaval of recent years. Since 2009, Skillman has added five area dealerships. They were a combination of established dealers deciding to get out of the business after years of better times, dealers whose operations were failing and one store that became available through a factory retail reorganization.
Ray Skillman Auto Group now includes three Kia franchises, three Mitsubishis, two Mazdas, two Hyundais, two Buick-GMCs, and one each for Ford, Chevrolet and Suzuki. All operate in communities outside Indianapolis. He is preparing to build a new store for his Chevrolet franchise at an estimated cost of $4 million.
In the fall of 2010, Skillman tested the waters of sponsoring high school sports on a much smaller scale. He donated money to the Franklin Central Flashes, the high school sports program in the small, financially strapped community of Franklin Township, Ind., where his Chevrolet store operates. The stadium scoreboard now displays the Skillman Chevrolet logo.
You can reach Lindsay Chappell at email@example.com.