DP Fox Grows

April 16, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — One way a firm can qualify as a Business Journal Newsmaker-of-the-Year nominee this year is to have grown last year for the coming years.

Even in good economic times, however, doing that isn't as simple as it may sound. Add a recession into the mix, and just thinking about trying to grow may be grounds for dismissal at some firms.

But DP Fox Ventures LLC did grow last year. It grew for the right reason — for the future — and it grew in a big way under bad economic conditions. In fact, DP Fox may very well have been the most active privately held local company last year.

The already-diversified firm owned by Dan and Pamella DeVos branched out even more in 2001 by increasing its holdings in sports and entertainment, real estate, and transportation — its three primary business areas. DP Fox also ventured into new territory last year, as it opened an advertising and marketing agency.

All the moves were made with an eye on the future, even though the present wasn't all that much to look at.

"The economy is always an issue: Where is it going to go? But we tend to look at things in the long term, and there are going to be ups and downs as we move along," said Dan DeVos, president and CEO of DP Fox Ventures LLC.

No fewer than 18 events marked the DP Fox calendar last year.

The Fox Motor Group emerged in 2001 when the company bought the Hyundai, Isuzu and Mitsubishi dealerships, and added these to its Saab franchise. Then the firm built a new home on 29th Street for Fox Saab and opened a new used car center near it.

Another transportation addition last year was the firm's debut of Air Alliance, which offers flights from Grand Rapids to Toronto through an agreement the company made with Air Canada.

DP Fox was also active in real estate. It completed one residential development last year, Catamount Partners, and then started another, Saddleback Village. It remodeled the lobby of the Bank One office building and re-designed the landscaping surrounding the Bank One and Frey buildings. Then DP Fox started Prospect Hill Properties, a commercial brokerage house.

All of these transportation and real estate moves were done quietly with little fanfare.

But the same can't be written for the sports and entertainment division of DP Fox, as it drew a lot of attention last year.

The Rampage won the Arena Bowl in an impressive fashion and the smallest market franchise in the Arena Football League survived contraction. The Griffins outlasted the International Hockey League and was then invited to join the minor-pro elite in the American Hockey League. The firm also reorganized the communication staffs of both teams, as each grew.

In addition, DP Fox began to manage the AFL 2 Wichita Stealth last year, and opened the Soccer Spot with partner J.C. Huizenga.

Finally, DP Fox unveiled a new advertising and marketing firm called InVision Creative.

"It's a good group doing all this," said DeVos of the people growing the Fox family.

It might come as a surprise for some to learn that DP Fox began the new year with 735 employees. That's right, 735. The transportation group is the largest with 496. Sports and entertainment has 136, while real estate employs 80.

Another 23 members of the DP Fox family are involved in other ventures, such as InVision Creative, and community projects like the Griffins Youth Hockey Foundation and the Cape Eleuthera Island School.

As it enters its ninth year of operations, DP Fox has five companies in sports and entertainment, 10 in real estate and four in transportation. Transportation includes autos, airplanes and cruise ships. The real estate is both commercial and residential. Sports, as most should know, revolves around hockey and football. The company also has holdings in Canada and the Bahamas, which makes it an international firm.

But why such an unlikely combination as real estate, transportation and sports?

"Mainly because I enjoy these," said DeVos. "These were opportunities that came up and I enjoy these. And I'd like to continue to be involved in things that I enjoy doing.

"I just think we have to keep focusing on the long term, continue to get involved with companies that we like and think that in the long term they are going to be able to produce."

Forward thinking leads to moving ahead, and DP Fox did both last year and it appears the business community can look for more from them this year.

"We're not doing anything new or different from what a lot of people are doing," said DeVos. "But we are doing it in our unique way, with a good group of people, and we're all having fun doing it. That's really what we're all about."

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