Mr. Touchdown.

Author:Bray, Hiawatha
Position:Mel Farr Automotive Group - B.E. 100s Auto Dealer of the Year - Cover Story

For seven years, Mel Farr Sr. was a football hero--a two-time All-Pro running back for the Detroit Lions. Today, he's Detroit's super hero--the car dealer with the flowing red cape whose TV commercials show him soaring above his competitors.

Of course, Farr isn't really Superman, but he's quite a bit like Clark Kent. Beneath his street clothes, you sense the trim, muscular physique of an athlete. And Farr certainly passes the "mild-mannered" test" When he speaks, you lean forward to hear.

But when it's time to sell cars, something magical happens. "I transform into a salesperson," Farr says with a grin. "It's like the curtains are drawn open and the spotlights hit you. . . . . Hey, you're on stage!"

Farr, the 1992 BLACK ENTERPRISE Auto Dealer of the Year, has been giving a standout performance. In the midst of the 1991 recession, sales at Farr's four auto dealerships grew by 16% to $106 million. Farr's flagship store, a five-acre Ford Motor Co. dealership in the Detroit suburb of Oak Park, Mich., has kept right on selling more than 300 new and used cars a month.

David S. Smith, manager of minority dealer operations at Ford, says that Farr had the sixth-highest volume of Ford car sales of any Ford dealer in 1991 and ranked second in sales in Escort and Festiva economy cars. "I just find it amazing," Smith says.

Automotive News magazine reports that 904 new-car dealerships shut their doors in 1991. According to Robert A. Hill, executive director of the National Association of Minority Auto Dealers (NAMAD) in Detroit, more than 70 of those dealerships were minority-owned. Farr, however, kept expanding. He purchased a Ford dealership near Cincinnati last summer, and named his son, Mel Jr., general manager.

How has Farr thrived amid the worst auto dealer blood bath since 1982? "My attitude," he says matter-of-factly. Instead of fretting over the economy, Farr uses zany and aggressive TV ads to target the greater majority of people--the ones who have jobs and need cars. "Hell, 92% of the people are working," he reasons. "We're going to concern ourselves with that 92%."

Not that Farr doesn't believe in the recession. He has simply decided not to let it affect his destiny. "I don't have control over the economy. I don't have control over interest rates. But I do have control over myself."

Mel Farr: The Beginning

Mel Farr had to learn to be a superstar. But that wasn't easy for black men borin in Beaumont, Texas, in 1944. His parents, a truck driver and a domestic worker, set a good example. But they couldn't shield him from racism. "I couldn't go to the thearer and sit wherever I wanted to sit," he recalls. "I could not ride in the front of the bus. That was my background. That's what I lived."

But Farr refused to submit to such a life. Blessed with sized and speed, he became the star running back at segregated Herbert High School.

In those days, universities...

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