Billy Pantili graduated from Concord University with a degree in business administration, but he almost didn't.
"My mom got her Ph.D. from Virginia Tech, and if it wouldn't have been for her, I probably wouldn't have stayed at Concord," he said. "I was pretty concerned with getting out of school, hurrying up and making some money, but she held my hand and said, ‘At least get a B.S.'"
Pantili worked in his father's AAMCO Transmission franchise with a hobby of fixing cars, then eventually buying, selling and trading cars.
"I got my dealer's license in '96 and got an office trailer beside his transmission shop," he said. "I started selling three or four used cars here and there and did that until 2000."
That year Pantili bought a former steakhouse on the other side of Princeton and refurbished it to sell used cars.
Then in 2009, Pantili started selling new Suzuki cars, and he added the Mitsubishi line in 2012. Right now, there are 160 new cars in stock and about 60 used vehicles on his lot along with 30 employees. Pantili acquired a Suzuki ATV and motorcycle franchise he hopes to have open this year. But he still uses his background to be a better dealer.
The dealership is a member of the local chamber of commerce and also sponsors an annual golf tournament and works with the Jonathan Powell Hope Foundation as well as supporting local causes on a regular basis.
"The only volunteer work I'm doing right now is with Concord University's business entrepreneurial program," he said.
The dealership has gained attention. It was selected for the Suzuki President's Club, for dealerships among the top 20 in the U.S., and it was recognized by Mitsubishi for having the highest score in the country in repair satisfaction.
Pantili also renovated nearby property into rentals and started the only taxi company in town.
"When I bought this building, I was scared because I was in debt — sizably — for the first time," he said. "I've had a lot of great customers over the years that are loyal, and they send their friends and family ... and that's what you need to survive in this business."