Ford store goes Hollywood, and it pays off
Regular roles in movies, TV shows, commercials bolster the bottom line
South Bay Ford in Los Angeles hasn't won any Oscars, but its Hollywood performances are putting big bucks in the bank.
Since 2003, the dealership has been featured in at least 100 films, TV shows, commercials and print ads. That footage now brings in about $500,000 a year. And the filming revenue provided a cushion during the recent recession.
The publicity also helps boost vehicle sales and service business.
"We sell a couple of cars a shoot, and they always come back" says Gary Premeaux, president of South Bay Ford in Los Angeles.
The dealership sells about 4,000 new and used vehicles a year.
Paying for it
South Bay Ford is located just off Interstate 405, three miles south of the Los Angeles International Airport -- what Premeaux calls a "very valuable site."
It was the former site of toy company Mattel Inc.'s world headquarters. Premeaux paid $13 million for the property in 2001, and a year later he built a $12 million dealership on the site.
"Right out of the gate I was thinking of different ways to generate revenue to pay for it," he said. Premeaux knew his dealership was ascetically appealing, with 12,000 square feet of executive offices overlooking the vehicle showroom giving it an open airy feeling. He has Italian marble floors, a $200,000 theater sound system in the showroom and a bistro restaurant.
So the dealer decided to leverage the store's features and location by marketing his dealership and property to production companies. In 2003 he got his first bite. Ford shot several national commercials at South Bay Ford. Today, most of Ford's spots featuring spokesman Mike Rowe are shot there.
South Bay Ford sends promotional materials to Southern California location scouts.
"I don't call them. I wait for them to contact me if they have a shoot," says Julie Sweeney, South Bay Ford's executive assistant in charge of filming logistics. "If a production company likes your location, they will hound you."
South Bay Ford has turned down requests to film at its site if the shoot would be too disruptive to business or not pay enough.
But the pay can be quite lucrative. Premeaux has charged up to $100,000 for a seven-day shoot.
"We definitely accommodate them," Sweeney says. "We try to have a minimal impact on disrupting business. Our general sales manager will direct traffic."
South Bay will clear its lot for film crews to fit in trucks, generators and cast and crew parking.
"It's kind of cool, too, because the customers who come in say, 'Wow! They're doing this?'" Sweeney says. "If there's a named celebrity that happens to be here, it's kind of neat for the customers."
And for sales and service employees, the film shoots can sometimes offer a nice supplement to their income, Premeaux says.
"A lot of my employees are still getting residuals," says Premeaux. "I can't tell you how many times the filmmakers have come into my office and asked me if I know how to act. I laugh and say, 'I know how to act up!' "
Star of the show
Premeaux said Ford isn't the only automaker that regularly rents his property for shoots. But he declined to identify them, citing confidentiality concerns.
But Dunkin' Donuts, Cars.com and American Eagle Outfitters are a few nonautomaker advertisers that have shot commercials at South Bay Ford.
TV shows such as "CSI Miami" "Medium" and "Boston Legal" have filmed episodes there. And scenes from the movies Larry Crowne and Play the Game were shot at South Bay Ford.
Ally Financial and Sprint have used the location for print ads.
Some customers have been paid to be extras, Premeaux says.
"You may come here to buy a car and end up in a Ford commercial," Sweeney says.
The shooting schedule varies. There are months of no filming and sometimes two events are being filmed at once.
Premeaux wants something more regular, with a steady flow of extra cash that he can reinvest in his dealership. He believes it's only a matter of time before someone writes a sitcom or a drama set in a car dealership.
And when they do, he'll be ready.
"It's our goal to see the dealership written into a weekly sitcom or part of a show," Premeaux says. "That alone would bring $500,000 to $1 million a year if it becomes a set and location on a deal."
You can reach Jamie LaReau at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Follow Jamie on