Be There When Lightning Strikes

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GENERATION NEXT: Car dealers

It all began in 1940 when a father and his two sons bought a car dealership.

Tom Hunter Sr. and his two sons, Tom Jr. and Joe, founded what would become Hunter Automotive Group.
CliffFreemanandEtowah 006Tom, David and Randy Hunter smile outside of the new Nissan store on Spartanburg Highway.Three-quarters of a century later, the lone dealership has expanded to four in Henderson and Buncombe counties. They sell Subaru, Hyundai, Volvo and Nissan.
Starting in high school or college, young Hunters willing to go into the business learn each department, from detailing cars to service to sales.
"It's a very fluid business, something's always happening, something's always going on, there's never a dull moment, and I kind of liked it," says Randy Hunter. His father, Hal, "mentioned to me after I got out of school, would I like a career in the car business, and it was a great opportunity. I started in the service department and worked my way through the whole company."
Tom Hunter IV and Randy Hunter are co-owners of Hunter Automotive Group. Tom worked outside of the family business for 10 years and then came back.
"Although my timing could have been better (the reins were passed to Randy and me right before the Great Recession)," Tom said in an email, "it has been very rewarding and I'm glad I made the decision to come back in to the business."
The next generation of Hunters, Randy's sons David and Harrison, are currently training at two of the dealerships. David is a second-year sales consultant at Hunter Nissan. Harrison is a parts consultant for Hunter Volvo of Asheville. Thomas Hunter V, known in the family as "T ," and Virginia "Jenna" Hunter may also take up the family business when they are older.
"Not many kids have the opportunity to come into a family business like this," says cousin David. "It's just nice to see a family business and continue to grow it."

Passing the Buick
Louis Campbell Boyd Sr. got his start as a car man in 1932 running a Gulf service station on Main Street at Fourth Avenue.
BoydsCam and Les Boyd, in a Camaro. The senior Boyd bought a Pontiac dealership, which he moved to Five Points in 1948. By 1960 he had added Cadillac and Buick.
"Patience," Cam Boyd, the second-generation owner, says when asked to name a few factors that make a family business successful. Plus "no pay and long hours."
Fresh out of the service in 1969, Cam Boyd, a Vietnam War veteran, came home to help his dad, who had suffered a heart attack. (L.C. Boyd Sr. recovered just fine. He died Feb. 8, 2000, at age 85.)
After Les graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in international studies and a minor in business, he spent six years in sales for a computer networking company in Atlanta and Tampa.
"I felt like he needed to get out in the real world and get corporate experience before coming back into the family business," Cam says.
Les agrees that working for a large company with thousands of employees was a good experience. Of special and relevant value was the understanding he gained about computers.
"In our business people want to research before they buy," Les says. "They're virtual-shopping before they even land here. The Internet is bringing a market that's not just Henderson County or even Western North Carolina. Right now it brings people from all over the country."
Example: Last week a buyer flew in from Ohio and drove home in a tan 2004 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 diesel he found on the Internet. "It was just a rare type of vehicle," says Les, who is 40. "It had low miles and a body style that was unique.... I would say 50 percent of our used car business takes place (from buyers) farther than 30 miles."
The dealership is doing anything but standing still. It bought the Chevrolet franchise from Hunter Automotive Group in 2011 and has invested $6 million in a new showroom on Spartanburg Highway that will open at the end of the year. It opened a new, larger body shop in a former electrical supply warehouse also on Spartanburg Highway.
Cam Boyd, 68, says his own transition to CEO has helped him guide his son.
"It's been easier for Les because I went through the same thing he went through," he says. The president emeritus still comes to the dealership most mornings but he describes his role as "a sounding board."
"I really try to stay away from it," he says. "He's the president. He's going to pay me out at some point so I can get out of here."

Passing down the passion
Before coming to Hendersonville, Bud Egolf owned a dealership in Illinois. He sold that dealership and decided to go into business with his son, Jeff. In 1972, Bud bought Pete Folsom's Chrysler dealership and Egolf Motors was born.
EgolfsJeff and Jay Egolf.Around 1985, Egolf added a Jeep franchise. It moved to its current location on Duncan Hill Road in 1988. Bud retired in 1987. The family business expanded once more, in 2004, when it added Chrysler Egolf in Brevard. The Egolfs added Ford to that dealership four years later.
Jay, the third generation car man, began working in the family business at an early age.
"I started when I was 13," Jay said. "I was selling cars, I washed cars, worked in the parts and service department."
After graduating from high school, Jay earned a business degree from UNC at Chapel Hill. He worked in various car dealerships around the country before returning to Egolf Motors in 1999.
"Dad always told us if this is your passion, if this is what you want to do, we can try to make it work," Jay said. "I went to school not planning on being here but I came back and it's worked out good."
He's learned from his dad and granddad.
"This is a people business and you need to value relationships both with employees and customers," Jay said. "You really have to try to understand and help everyone."

Family franchise
Coleman Freeman opened his used car lot on April 1, 1974.
"Dad believed it made more sense to buy a vehicle with some miles already on it," says Cliff Freeman, Coleman's son CliffFreemanandEtowah 002Cliff and Chris Freeman pose with a portrait of founder Coleman Freeman in the background. and president of the company. "You get more vehicle for your money."
For nearly four decades three generations — Coleman, Cliff and his son, Chris — have worked at the family business.
"When I came to the business, we started getting more sports cars because I knew that's what my generation wanted," Cliff says. "Chris does the Internet because he understands how far people will travel to buy a car and how people shop online for cars."
While different generations of Freemans weren't forced to join the car business, each found it an easy decision to do so.
"As a small business owner, your business becomes part of the family unit," Cliff says. "They want to continue the family business."
Owning a family business means developing a close relationship with your customers, Cliff says. "You want to maintain honesty and your reputation, you never jeopardize those two things," Cliff says "You put yourself in your client's shoes, provide service you'd expect and tackle problems, not ignore them."