Innovative marketing has kept Scott McNamara’s three small-town mid-Michigan dealerships on course during the trials that have beset Ford Motor Co. this year.

“What we have done in Roscommon, Grayling and Gladwin is unusual for country markets,” says McNamara, 38, who took over a struggling Roscommon Ford-Mercury store in 1992. “We’ve developed website and leasing practices that foster customer loyalty, repeat sales and higher grosses.”

Forecasting sales of about 1,100 new and used cars this year for the flagship Roscommon store, McNamara, who was a salesman previously for two Detroit-area GM dealers, says this is on par with 2005 and “well ahead” of the local Chevrolet dealer.

Boosting the Roscommon store’s outreach is a Lincoln franchise, awarded to McNamara several years ago when he purchased the Grayling dealership. MacNamara then moved the Lincoln store to Roscommon when he modernized its showroom.

McNamara attracts customers with an active website whose themed messages are changed weekly by De Johnston, the Roscommon dealership’s Internet coordinator. The themes are often seasonally inspired and feature new-model introductions or invitations to check out the three vehicles in the showroom. In August, the website featured the Mustang convertible, Thunderbird and Ford Escape Hybrid.

“We reach all over the Lower Peninsula, as far away as metro Detroit, and have even received inquiries and orders from Florida,” says Johnston, mother of three teenagers. “Folks tell us they anticipate our next week’s theme, and the idea is quite a drawing card to the website.”

Leasing is another practice brought to Roscommon by MacNamara, a county seat town with about 1,000 residents. Business manager Todd Johnston (no relation to De) says Red Carpet leasing penetration has reached 80% of new-vehicle sales for all three brands, supporting customer loyalty and helping McNamara’s stores retail even the highest-priced models on an affordable payment basis.

A wallboard outside the showroom lists leases expiring soon in McNamara’s customer base. Calls are made – often with “pull-ahead” payments picked up by lessor Ford Credit – by Nickie Hartman, who joined McNamara as business development manager after a stint at Roscommon’s Chevrolet dealer.

“There are 25 employees here in Roscommon, 20 in Grayling and 15 in Gladwin,” says Hartman. “And many have been with Scott since he first started in these three towns. Scott built this place back from sales of only 25 or 30 vehicles a month, and he’s a real inspiring boss.”

Two newer employees are General Manager Scott McCarthy, who joined the McNamara team in 2003, after a manager’s stint at a Ford store in Alma, MI, and salesman Mark DeBusschere, first cousin of the late All-American basketball star of the 1960s and 1970s, New York Knicks Dave DeBusschere, a University of Detroit graduate.

Mark also previously worked at a Detroit-area dealership, and says he’s “happy to be at a successful dealership in a small town without all the big-city pressure.”

McCarthy, 36, says McNamara’s marketing innovations in leasing, the Internet and in promotions, such as the town’s annual antique-car show, “have made it possible for us to outsell the Alma store, in a town 10 times the size of Roscommon, year after year.”

“With a dealership as successful as this one, we do run short of hot cars. We need more Lincoln Zephyrs and Ford Fusions, because they’re sold before they arrive.”

McNamara says he and other Ford dealers, even those out-state in the smaller towns, are watching keenly how Ford will manage buyouts of underperforming dealers in overcrowded metro markets like Detroit and Chicago.

“Ford will have to incentivize some of those buyouts, because most Ford dealers aren’t in any mood to sell out,” MacNamara says. “ I’m always keeping my mind open for any sellers, but they’re few and far between since we added the Grayling and Gladwin stores.”

McNamara says he is expecting a big demand for the new Ford Edge cross/utility vehicle coming this fall and cannot wait for the Lincoln Town Car replacement in 2008 – the aerodynamic MKS 4-door sedan.

“As you can see on our three showroom cars, what’s hot is hot even in the North Country, where there are more deer than people,” he says. “The Internet makes a big difference, bringing in customers who are well-informed, so we’ve got to be on our toes all the time – just like back in Detroit.”