Many would argue that in this age of Internet wheeling and TV dealing, it's next to impossible for an old-fashioned auto dealership to survive - especially a dealership in a shrinking rural community.
Royce Freeman Jr. defies those odds daily. With a show of faith in small-town strength and character, he not only has turned around one decaying rural store but is set to revive another.
The 39-year-old owner of Lindsay Ford keeps his office in his three-car showroom. He greets tire-kickers, works the phones and oversees progress in the service bays. He plots conservative advertising campaigns for a farmland market in Lindsay, about 30 miles south of Oklahoma City, and sets monthly goals for growth. And he works the floor.
"I sell about 30 to 40 cars a month myself," he says.
Freeman presents a modest, down-home strategy for doing business: "We're just nice to people," he says, rattling off a list of examples.
The dealership's 28-employee staff tries to know everyone on a first-name basis.
There's no pressure on the 5.5-acre lot, allowing customers to roam at will and set the tone of their deals.
Those with repair or maintenance needs are not just given rides to or from the 11-bay service department, but are provided loaner cars - which are delivered to the customer as needed, up to 30 miles away.
"In this day and age, I think people are looking for something like this," Freeman says. "You would be surprised at the number of people who just want to be treated nice."
It seems to be working. While Freeman's new-car and truck sales declined to 550 under the hard economy of 2002, from 650 the prior year, that is a far cry from the 100-plus units sold in 1994, before Freeman took over the faltering franchise.