Let's face it: The automotive business is no fun right now. Where's the Family Man when you need him?
Actually, he's right here, on Aurora Road in Melbourne, where he has been since 1993. The sprawling patchwork of small buildings is surrounded by dozens of used vehicles and swarming salespeople. Family Auto Mart sells about 100 used vehicles a month, more than any dealership in Brevard County, not bad for a 350-pound man who does cartwheels and dresses in hula skirts and a coconut bra.
Wait, though: That was the edgy, over-the-top Family Man then, when he and his consciously wacky crew took over the Central Florida cable-TV airwaves for a series of half-hour infomercials touting his dealerships in Melbourne, Orlando, Titusville and Kissimmee. To say he was the best-known car salesman in Central Florida is an understatement.
The Family Man now: Brian Power, 47, is a hundred pounds lighter — thank you, lap-band surgery! — and has a new kidney, which he received three years ago from his 20-year-old sister-in-law, a near-perfect match that ended 10 years of kidney disease. "I'm blessed," says Power, now with a red beard, a short ponytail and a tranquil demeanor that makes Jimmy Buffett seem antsy. There are still cars to sell, but his staff handles most of that; he spends more of his time with his wife and three children.
Family Auto Mart ads still air on cable in Brevard County, but in 2004, Power closed his nearly 3-acre Orlando dealership on West Colonial Drive. The stores in Kissimmee and Titusville eventually closed, too, as he concentrated on his core business in Melbourne. And with those closings, the infomercials ended, except for a Christmas show.
Once seen, the cavorting Family Man cannot be forgotten. Want a sample? Log onto YouTube.com and search "Family Auto Mart." You'll see the Family Man; the slightly smaller Family Boy; the animated, and actual, versions of hayseeds Cleetus, Poot and Chubbles the Lazy Raccoon; and a lot of cars and trucks and minivans.
"Fans posted those clips on YouTube," Power says. "We had nothing to do with it."
The commercials began when Power decided he needed to do something to set Family Auto Mart apart from other dealers. A conversation with a broadcast-marketing specialist — actually, he was a local bartender, but his goal was to become a broadcast-marketing specialist — led to a creative partnership that led Power; his younger and comparably plump brother, Eric, cast as the Family Boy; and other salespeople to perform skits, sing (best-known song: "Fixin' to Learn Ya!"), sort-of dance and otherwise turn Family Auto Mart into the happiest car lot in America.
Two central trademarks ran through the Family Auto Mart infomercials, aside from the obligatory "FAAAAMILY Auto Mart! I'll see ya here!" — Power doing cartwheels and "running a row of cars," in which he charges down a row of vehicles, like a bull on the streets of Pamplona.
The cartwheels began when Power learned he could do them, much to the surprise of himself and others.
"The flab just started rotating and went right on over," he says.
Family Auto Mart is a buy-here, pay-here lot, and when the economy is bad, like it is now, business is good for Power.
"So many good people have had a little problem with their credit, and they can't get financing, and they have to have a car. We're here for them."
Last February, when most dealers were struggling to keep the lights on, Family Auto Mart sold 130 cars.
Because of his dramatic change in appearance, Power is seldom recognized, but brother Eric, now in the real-estate business, is.
"He weighs 350 pounds like I did back then, and he looks just like the Family Man. Which is fine," Power says. "He likes to be famous. I never did."
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 407-420-5699 or through his blog at Enginehead.com.