25 YEARS: George Carr celebrates anniversary
Published 11:00 am Friday, February 28, 2014
In 1989, George Carr traveled from Nashville, Tenn., to Vicksburg to check out the town and a car dealership known then as Heritage Motors on South Frontage Road, and decided to stay.
Thursday, Carr’s dealership celebrated its 25th anniversary with a small party and plaques commemorating the anniversary presented by General Motors representatives.
And it all started with a newspaper job.
In the 1980s, Carr was selling advertising for Newspaper Printing Co., owners of the Nashville Tennessean and the Nashville Banner, which closed in 1998, while attending law school at night.
“I worked in the advertising department in the transportation section,” he said. “I sold advertising to car dealers, tire dealers, any business that dealt with transportation. I got halfway through law school and decided to take a year off. By that time, I had a child, and basically, I was in need of some funding.”
He said the owner of one of his advertising customers, Hippodrome Oldsmobile Datsun, offered him a job handling the dealership’s advertising.
“I was working there doing advertising, and he asked me to investigate starting a leasing department,” he said. “We started a leasing/rental department, and I became the leasing manager and the rental manager. In time, I ended up becoming sales manager.”
Carr eventually left Hippodrome for Scoles Cadillac, its competitor across the street, where owner Martin Scoles made him a deal that was hard to pass up.
“He told me if I came to work for him, he would send me to the NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association) dealer candidate school, which is run by the NADA primarily for the sons and daughters of automobile dealers to prepare them to succeed their parents,” he said. Carr was getting ready to become a partner with Scoles.
At that time, he said, General Motors allowed its dealers to be dealer/operators in five dealerships and be an investor in 10 more. Scoles had dealerships in Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., Nashville and Memphis, Tenn., and was looking for dealerships in smaller markets where he could be an investor.
That brought Carr to Vicksburg.
In 1989, Heritage Motors was owned by Milton Schaffer, who also owned a Buick Dealership in Memphis, and wanted to sell Heritage because his partner was leaving Vicksburg for a dealership in Huntsville, Ala.
“I came and visited Vicksburg, I liked the community,” he said. “Initially, I was thinking I was only going to be here for a few years, but in 1992, with the help of First National Bank and Mr. Earl Lundy, I borrowed money and bought my partner out. Since then, we’ve made this our home.”
In 1992, the dealership handled GMC trucks, and Cadillac, Buick, Pontiac and Subaru automobiles. In 2002, Subaru ended its 10-year relationship with Carr when the automaker changed its marketing strategy to selling in markets of 250,000 or larger. Pontiac was removed from the inventory in 2009 when GM filed for bankruptcy and had to drop its four unprofitable lines — Pontiac, Hummer, Saab and Saturn — to qualify for a government bailout.
Pontiac, Carr said, “was a car line we did extremely well with.” He said GM’s decision to sell Pontiac to rental car companies then buy the cars back at a later date doomed the line, because it lost money.
“Had they kept Pontiac with just the private dealers, it would have been a profitable line,” he added.
“We feel fortunate to have three of the four General Motors brands that remain,” he said, adding the GMC truck and SUV lines, especially the GMC Sierra, are the best sellers.
“GMC is our bread and butter,” he said.
“Really, if you look at the dealerships in this town, to be successful, it’s important that you’ve got to have a good truck line, because so many people in this area use pickup trucks and SUVs, and GMC is GM’s professional grade line,” he said.
“It fits well with the demographics of this area, a lot of people are farmers, a lot of people hunt and fish, or buy trucks for whatever reason. It’s been a strong truck market, and the GMC brand has done well for us.”
Buick and Cadillac sales, he said, are rebounding and doing much better since the bailout.
“I think with eight brands, maybe they (GMC) had too many irons in the fire,” he said. “They were doing a lot of things, but they weren’t doing them well. Now, each brand seems to have its own mission and its own demographic target.”
Overall, he said, GM’s products have improved drastically, making the cars better and more reliable, “which is great for the consumer, but it has also meant some challenges for us in the service end of the business.”
The improved workmanship, he said, means the dealership’s service department is doing less major repairs. “We’re more geared toward maintenance,” he said.
“Used to, we had two mechanics that did transmission repairs, where now we have one guy who does transmission work, but now he does 10 other things because we don’t have that many transmissions fail,” he said.”Engine replacements and engine failures happened, and now they hardly ever happen.”
“The amount of warranty work we would do in the mid-1990s was $60,000. Now we do a tenth of that, maybe $5,000 to $6,000.”
The biggest change he’s seen in the past 25 years has been in technology.
“In 1989, cars were still basically mechanical,” Carr said. “Today, everything is electric or electronic. Today, all the cars have at least two computers on board, so the cars are more complex, but they’re more dependable and the technology is changing all the time.
“We’ve got cars that now brake on their own if somebody stops in front of you, that have radar that shows blind spots.If a car passes you, if a car pulls into your blind spot, the car will alert you. Cars are safer. In 1989, few cars had airbags. Now, some cars have five and six airbags.”
When he took over the dealership in 1989, Carr said, the Lexus was introduced. Now, he said, Nissan, Toyota and Honda all have a luxury car line.
“There’s more competition,” he said.
And the used car market is bigger than it was 25 years ago.
“In Vicksburg, we used to sell two new cars for every used car,” he said, “(but) because cars have gotten so expensive, and people’s incomes haven’t climbed relative to the (price of) cars, today we sell 21/2 to three used cars for every new car.
“We’ve had to be more focused on the pre-owned market. We used to stock about 40 used cars and today we stock about 160, just because there area a lot of people who can’t fit a new car into their budget because of payments, but a used car will do fine. We try to position ourselves as the used car dealer in this market, and try to do a really goo d job with the other three lines we have, and they all seem to be gaining strength.”
Carr said the secret of his business’ success is his employees.
“I’ve been blessed with good employees,” he said. “I’ve still got six employees who have been with me the whole 25 years. It’s a family business. My wife’s (Debbie) been involved, my son (Brandon) has been involved, and my daughter (Heather) has been involved. My wife is supportive of the business. We’ve had a lot of stability. We’ve got a lot of people who have stuck with us.”
And will there be another 25 years?
“I’m 58 years old. I was 33 when I became a dealer,” Carr said. “I don’t know if I’ll necessarily be around for the 50th anniversary, but I hope this dealership is around 25 more years, and I hope it will be run by my family.
“I hope my son, Brandon will one day take over, but I’ve told him not to be in a hurry about that, because I’m going to be here for at least another 10 years.”