Larry Brown, who started his career in automotive retailing in 1985 as a Ford-Lincoln-Mercury dealer in Ottawa, Ill., says most of the quarter century he spent selling new cars was fun.
After acquiring Ottawa Ford-Lincoln-Mercury in 1985, he added Landmark Ford in Niles, Ill., in 1991 and Star Toyota in Merrillville, Ind., and Kia of Ottawa in 1999.
But in the mid-2000s, even before the recession took hold in earnest, things started getting ugly:
-- Finance company audits and repossessions of vehicles he had sold -- and the cash-draining chargebacks they created -- were growing.
-- Getting loans from the bank he had done business with for years was more difficult.
-- The stagnating business was putting a strain on him and his wife, Angie, who also was his comptroller.
Brown wanted to make sure the tanking economy did not rob him of the fruits of his labor. He wanted out.
Shortly after acquiring the Toyota and Kia stores, Brown sold Landmark Ford. In 2004, he sold Star Toyota. And in December 2009, he got out of the new-car business when he sold Ottawa Ford-Lincoln-Mercury and Kia of Ottawa. "It was my decision," says the 64-year-old former dealer who has no children. "Not the bank's decision, not Ford's decision, not Kia's decision."
Brown became a dealer after spending 13 years with Ford Motor Co. in its dealer computer services department, first as an analyst, then as a marketing manager calling on dealerships.
While a dealer, Brown was chairman of the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers and the Ford Motor Minority Dealers Association. He also was an at-large director of the National Automobile Dealers Association representing minority dealers in the eastern United States.
Brown now owns a car wash, Ottawa Auto Spa, in Ottawa and owns half of a used-car dealership, 3A Automotive, in Highland, Ind.
"It was a great experience; I loved it," Brown says of being an auto dealer. "But it wasn't fun anymore."