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Veteran salesman hits his pitch big on the Web

Rochester Business Journal
January 11, 2013

Steven Pavone can sell just about anything.
 
He could sell you a hip pair of pants, a new roof for your home or a website for your business-all of which Pavone, 55, has done in some fashion over the past 35 years.
 
Pavone's ability to find, charm and sell clients has been the backbone of his fast-growing company, Yellow Page City Inc.
 
The Henrietta-based company lists phone numbers and addresses of businesses, by region, in its online yellow-page phone book at www.yellowpagecity.com. Businesses can then buy display or banner ads featured in those directories.
 
Yellow Page City has been named to the Rochester Top 100, which lists the region's fastest-growing private companies, in each of the past three years. The company has more than 60 employees in Rochester.
 
Yellow Page City's revenues grew by nearly 20 percent in 2012, Pavone says. He expects growth to more than double in 2013.
 
In expanding Yellow Page City, CEO Pavone has applied the lessons he learned from sales in other industries throughout his career.

Sales career
Pavone grew up in the city of Rochester and graduated from Bishop Kearney High School. He went on to study political science at St. John Fisher College.
 
A year shy of finishing his degree, Pavone left college to focus on his job as a manager for Merry-Go-Round, a New York City-based chain store that sold disco clothing. His store was at Long Ridge Mall, now part of the Mall at Greece Ridge.
 
"I hated disco," he recalls. "I was a rock 'n' roller. But I liked women, and women were drawn to that store."
 
Given the popularity of movies such as "Saturday Night Fever," Pavone says, Merry-Go-Round was the hottest store in the mall at the time. It is where he met his wife, Georgia, who worked as a model at the Barbizon School of Modeling.
 
Merry-Go-Round was also where Pavone got his first taste of sales success.
 
"The owners would give the managers a lot of freedom in running the store," he says. "For me, it was like running my own business. It gave me the ability to be creative as a businessperson, and it taught me how to do sales."
 
As the 1970s came to a close and disco died, Pavone took the skills he had learned at Merry-Go-Round and applied them to the home improvement industry. He took a job in sales at Craftsman Home Improvement in Rochester.
 
Pavone started out as a canvasser for the company, seeking out sales leads. The owners took him under their wing and trained him in how to close deals, he says. Pavone worked his way up to sales manager.
 
His success at Craftsman jump-started a long career in the home improvement industry. Pavone went on to become a sales manager for some top home improvement distributors in the Rochester area.
 
His final stop in the industry during the late 1990s and early 2000s was as an account specialist for New England-based flooring company NRF Distributors Inc.
 
At the same time, the Internet was starting to take off and Pavone's best friend from high school, Eugene Dunn, specialized in new technology. Together, the two saw an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of an emerging trend.
 
While serving his flooring clients at NRF, Pavone would ask casually what they thought about the Internet. Most businesses were interested in having websites but did not have the money to build them or a knowledge of how to draw visitors to them.
 
"Yahoo was out and Google was just coming out," recalls Pavone. "But no one really understood what search engines were about. Still, one thing I knew for sure was that people were going to need websites. Big companies were getting them, but little companies didn't have them yet."

Starting the company
Pavone and Dunn decided to start creating websites for small businesses in Rochester. They then founded a directory site called R City Web, where people could find the websites they were building.
 
R City Web, which became Yellow Page City in 2003, was similar to Google. People would search a business category, and a listing of similar businesses would come up. For $25 a month, Yellow Page City's clients could have their ads pop up in the search results with links to the websites Dunn and Pavone had built for them.
 
Within three years the company had branched out to Batavia, Buffalo, Syracuse and other areas in Upstate New York, accumulating close to 800 clients, Pavone says.
 
Interest from investors caused him to leave NRF and work full time on Yellow Page City, he says. He and his team worked at a small office in the back of Sail On Carpets in Spencerport, which was founded by his brother, Joe.
 
"Steve would work 100-hour weeks," says Steven's nephew, Michael Pavone, president of Yellow Page City. "There is no such thing as failure to Steve. He is an eternal optimist and the fiercest negotiator I've ever met. He can get a deal done that I've never seen anybody else get done."
 
Led by Pavone's optimism, Yellow Page City continues to prosper. Jennifer LaRose, director of marketing and advertising for Yellow Page City, says a key factor in the company's growth has been a partnership with the Better Business Bureau Inc.
 
Through the arrangement, BBB-accredited businesses receive a discount on Yellow Page City's services, including a free bold listing on the directory, a deal on ads and guarantees on search engine placement. The deal gives Yellow Page City a direct line to nearly 400,000 accredited businesses associated with the BBB.
 
The partnership was first adopted by BBB chapters in Upstate New York and Cleveland. It has since expanded to areas of California, Indiana and Virginia, among other states. Pavone said the rapid growth of the BBB partnership will add roughly $3 million to Yellow Page City's revenues in 2013.
 
Pavone also recently launched YPC Media, an advertising agency of Yellow Page City. YPC Media specializes in Internet advertising and online business listings but also provides video production, direct mail marketing and other services.
 
Although Pavone, who lives in Henrietta, is busy leading one of Rochester's fastest-growing companies, he still possesses the same rock 'n' roll spirit he had as a manager at Merry-Go-Round. One of his favorite hobbies remains music.
 
In Pavone's office sits a row of guitars, including two pristine Gibson Les Paul guitars. Pavone says he sold two similar guitars when he started his family and made it his goal to add them back to his collection.
 
The guitars are not just for show. They are used during office jam sessions involving employees who want to play an instrument or sing.
 
LaRose says the jam sessions are emblematic of Pavone's energy and passion as a leader.
 
"When Steve is present in the office, you can feel the energy in the air," LaRose says. "When he's gone on vacation or whatnot, you can tell. There's just a presence about him. He is like the Energizer Bunny. Because he has so much passion and demands a certain level of ability and performance from people, he's able to make sure everything is clicking and all the pieces of the puzzle come together."

1/11/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.

Steven Pavone
Title: CEO, Yellow Page City Inc.
Age: 55
Home: Henrietta
Education: Bishop Kearney High School, 1976; studied political science at St. John Fisher College
Family: Wife, Georgia; daughters Maria Ritzel, 32, and Christine Pilaroscia, 30; son Steven Jr., 28
Hobbies: Music and golf
Quote: "You want to be individualistic. When we build Web pages for a business, we start by asking what their passion is. The Web page then serves as a tool that works with the listings and keyword searches to drive people to the website."

1/11/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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