Kickball, child seats and Christmas trees have helped Vince Pavone turn around a failing Ford dealership in Battle Creek, Mich.
When Pavone bought the store in 2010, it was headed toward insolvency after going through a string of owners and name changes. Pavone changed its name once more, slashed overhead, cut deals with creditors and created a new management structure.
The result: Lakeview Ford-Lincoln turned a profit in its first month, Pavone says.
But to succeed long term, Pavone believed the key was building a stronger relationship with the community. He uprooted his family from the opposite side of Michigan, convinced that the previous owners failed largely because they ran the dealership from afar.
"We realized that was the missing component," says Pavone, 53. "None of the management of the dealership had lived in Battle Creek for the last 15 or 20 years. They had been absentee owners who were trying to do it long distance. It needed to have community relationships and contribute to the community."
To that end, Pavone not only has sponsored but also become deeply involved personally with numerous charitable events in town, including an annual kickball tournament with several Detroit Lions stars that raised almost $30,000 last month and periodic clinics that provide child restraints to dozens of needy families.
The activities have positively affected his business as well as the Battle Creek area. Lakeview sells about 40 new and 40 used vehicles per month, roughly double from before Pavone took over. Total sales through May are up 30 percent this year, to 407 units, and new-vehicle sales are up 38 percent, compared with a 7 percent increase for Ford Motor Co. nationwide.