Ready to Rumble

30 years of the BE 100s

of breaking the billion dollar mark from TLC, decided to restructure operations to prepare for what it views as an impending rebound in the telecommunications sector. The management team spun off its Telcobuy.com (No. 2 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $604 million in sales) division, which offers products over the Web to telecommunications firms, into a separate entity. (Both WWT and Telcobuy.com are both more than 51% black-owned.) With 2001 revenues of $320 million, WWT dropped to No. 7 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list, but the company remains one to watch; combine total sales for WWT and Telcobuy.com and it would be a $924 million entity.

WWT was not the only former champ to undergo a major overhaul. It is not yet known whether the retooling of Mel Farr Automotive, the nation’s largest black-owned company in 1999, represents the beginning of a profitable master plan or an ineffective version of the rope-a-dope. In January Farr shocked the automotive business community when he sold back two Michigan franchises, including the flagship dealership in Oak Park, to Ford — bringing his number of sell-backs to six since 2000.

In recent years Farr’s operations have been beset by myriad external and internal problems. Slowing sales and a bet on inner-city customers with bad credit were largely responsible for a 31% dip in 2000 revenues, from $432 million in 1999 to $258 million. Moreover, two years ago Farr settled a class-action suit from customers who bought cars equipped with the controversial On-Time Device, a gadget that prevented those who were delinquent in their payments from starting their vehicles. The latest franchise sales enabled Mel Farr Automotive to offset those losses and produce revenues of $353.3 million, making it No. 2 on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 list. Now Farr is focusing his attention on creating used car superstores with the same clientele.

Farr wasn’t the only auto dealer hammered by a brutal economy and an industry in turmoil. Rising foreign competition, product recalls, financing deals, and expensive marketing campaigns whacked margins for scores of auto dealers. Some, however, found ways to deflect the blows. Winston Pittman Enterprises, the 2002 Auto Dealer of the Year, and Huntsville Dodge are examples of companies that saw prosperity during last year’s tumult. Both focused on pushing upscale import models like Mercedes-Benz and Lexus.

In 2001 many of our top 20 black-owned advertising agencies were pulverized by the recession. More than 40% of the list posted declining or flat billings as overall spending dropped 4.1% from the previous year. The biggest losses were suffered by Sykes Communications Inc. (No. 18 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCIES list with $14.8 million in billings) and 1999 Advertising Agency of the Year Carol H. Williams Advertising (No. 6 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCIES list with $72 million in billings), which plummeted 34.9% and 20.9% respectively. The partnership-minded Don Coleman Advertising Inc. (No. 1 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCIES list with $330 million in billings), however, expanded its territory through a strategic acquisition that gave

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