On an unseasonably warm winter afternoon, Steve VanGorder pauses for a moment amid a Facebook Live segment about his recently opened signature location, SVG Motors Super Center. He watches as a crew hoists the SVG sign emblazoned with the familiar “Rising Phoenix” logo and secures it into place. The charismatic and energetic entrepreneur known across the Miami Valley for his entertaining TV commercials and his motivational social media segments wears a beaming smile, recognizing that the moment reflects the realization of a longtime dream.
“Since I started in the car business 22 years ago, I envisioned the day when I would be an entrepreneur who launched a successful business that continued to evolve, and thanks to a devoted team and tremendous support from the community, that is happening,” VanGorder said. “Life is a series of chapters, some exhilarating and others challenging, and my life is no different. The Rising Phoenix symbolizes rebirth, and that began with our first dealership in Vandalia and has continued with the Eaton and Greenville locations, and now the Super Center, which is our largest location yet.”
Dating back to childhood, when he was the son of a military father and lived in several states around the country, VanGorder felt determined to excel as a businessman. He developed a natural fondness for sales because of his love for socializing, and his genuine persona. As a teenager, he tasted success selling stereo equipment, and his manager recommended he venture into the auto industry.
“Next to a house, a car is the most important purchase a person makes, and getting the opportunity to be a part of that is rewarding,” VanGorder said. “I get to see the excitement on the face of a teenager getting his first car, a person who just landed a promotion buying the vehicle she has dreamed about and a couple upgrading to an SUV to accommodate the new stage in their lives as parents among other highlights. That, to me, is what makes every day and every customer meaningful.”
VanGorder amusingly remembers his first car, a Ford Mustang.
“It was not the type of Mustang you are thinking, far from a 1965 classic, in fact,” he said with a smile. “It was a 1977 model with 14-inch wheels and a top speed of 80. It was Army green, and it was hideous, but you know what. There were some great memories in that car, including the times when we would pile six people into a four-seater and go camping at the lake.
“Those memories relate to why I am so passionate about selling automobiles today,” VanGorder added. “Cars are emotional and inspirational to people. What you drive in many cases reflects your personality. The smells, the sound of the engine, the feeling you get driving down the highway in an automobile that you feel good about, that is what fuels the interest in what we do. I surround myself with team members who share my philosophy of embracing the excitement that driving a car provides.”
VanGorder is recognizable because of his two decades of appearances in TV commercials in the Dayton market. He was entrusted by Jeff Schmitt to manage a dealership when he was just 20. VanGorder flourished and became the Jeff Schmitt Auto Group’s primary pitchman, entertaining audiences with his humor-rich ads. VanGorder was an instrumental part of the company until departing to open SVG in 2014.
“My tenure with Jeff did not end the way I had hoped, but I have tremendous respect for a man who was like a father figure to me, believed in me and gave me the confidence that I could be successful in this business,” VanGorder said. “I am where I am today because of Jeff Schmitt, and I will never forget that. When I ventured out on my own, it was essentially time to start driving my own car.”
SVG Motors has grown from a small lot with two employees in Vandalia to a thriving company that includes SVG Chevrolet in Greenville and SVG Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram in Eaton. Last November, the SVG Super Center opened in the former Moorman Pontiac location where Needmore Road meets Shoup Mill Road in Dayton. SVG transformed a formerly dormant property into a fully renovated and thriving destination.
“It is scary to go out on your own as an entrepreneur, but it is exhilarating as well,” VanGorder said. “We have grown steadily because of the response from people across the region. SVG stands for Superior Value Guarantee, which defines our commitment to not only providing customers with the ideal automobile, but also service that leads them to become long-term customers.”
VanGorder attributes the company’s growth to his team members, and their loyalty.
“Our team is rapidly growing, and the type of person I look for is someone who has a positive demeanor and a drive to not only excel as an individual, but also be an instrumental part of a team. That is what attracted me to the car business, and I love surrounding myself with people who are genuinely excited about what we do,” VanGorder said. “I am a believer in taking chances on people who have experienced and overcome challenges, whether they be addictions, health problems, personal issues or other challenges. Life happens, and I find that when you show compassion and belief in people, they will show you loyalty and commitment. We are all vested in the present and the future of SVG Motors.”
On a recent afternoon, VanGorder was in his car with two team members and stopped at a light with the window rolled down. A woman in the car beside his smiled and said, “I have been watching you on TV for years. I love your commercials.”
The comment brought a smile to VanGorder’s face. He recognizes that his visibility – and his role as an entrepreneur – offers a platform to have a positive impact on the communities where his dealerships are located. A proponent of Facebook, VanGorder has cultivated a loyal following of readers and viewers who follow his motivational posts and video segments that reflect his penchant for positive thinking. His trademark phrases – like excitedly annunciating “Greeennnnv-ville” and “Eaaaa-ton” are frequently repeated by customers who walk into the dealerships. SVG Motors Weekly is a variety show that airs on Dayton TV stations and includes car tips and stories as well as interviews with “everyday heroes” in the region, and human interest stories that showcase what makes the Miami Valley a beloved place to call home.
“I’m grateful for all of the opportunities I have been given here in Dayton, and I intend to not only continue to grow SVG Motors in the region, but also do everything I can to show my gratitude for the support people have given me through the years,” VanGorder said. “It continues to be an awesome ride, and I am excited about the adventures that remain ahead.”