A Dealer Remembered

By Jeffery Bellant June 24, 2021 299

As a journalist for more than 25 years and writing thousands of articles over that time, many of the stories start to fade like that last Honda Civic an independent dealer sold.

Still, over that time I’ve been blessed to meet and speak with a lot of industry folks and, especially, some great independent dealers.

I love entrepreneurs because of their optimism and grit. They are problem-solvers by nature and their businesses are often family-oriented. They also look out for their employees.

My experience is when good entrepreneurs hit a rough patch, they don’t think: “How can I make sure I get mine?” They usually think, “How can I make payroll?”

Anyway, I was doing a little memory lane the other day and thought of the late Todd Smith, who I met in the early 2000s. He was president of Dothan Motor Company in Dothan, Ala.

He was also Alabama Quality Dealer of the Year in 2008.

Todd was a third-generation dealer running the store his grandfather started in 1946. I met him in one of my first dealer conferences and liked him immediately.

One of the more challenging parts of being a reporter is getting people to talk to you. We’re like car dealers, some people just don’t trust us.

But in this industry, the dealers who go to conferences, education sessions and industry events are generally more open. 

They appreciate what they’ve learned and are often generous to pass along that knowledge to others.

Todd was like that.

He was one of the first buy-here, pay-here dealers I got to know. I picked his brain about his business: from the cars he sold and his average down payments to his repossession rate.

What’s great about interviewing thoughtful business owners is that they don’t just tell you what they do. They explain why they do things the way they do.

People like that can teach you a lot.

I learned a little more about him indirectly through a story I wrote about a trainer/consultant, Jim Jackson, who’s now based out of Las Vegas.

Anyway, Todd brought in Jackson for some team-building exercises. He was always trying to make his employees better.

Through my conversations with Todd, I learned he was an avid reader. Like the saying goes, “Leaders are readers.”

As a book guy myself, that interested me.

Todd read a lot of leadership books and told me he encouraged his staff to do the same. He would keep a bunch of books he liked in his office to use as sort of a lending library for his employees.

What a great idea!

Todd was a Christian and seemed to walk the walk. He traveled to Haiti for mission trips and visited an Ethiopian orphanage.

He explained that you can’t take short cuts or do things the wrong way because eventually, “It’ll tell on ya.”

That’s a great line because it’s true.

Todd Smith would be a great asset to the industry today if he were still with us.

But in 2014, while enjoying an outing on the river, he suffered a heart attack and didn’t recover.

He was 47.

Smith left behind a wife and four children, and his death was so sudden that Dothan Motor Co. – the business started by his grandfather – had to be liquidated.

It was a loss to his family and to this industry.

But I’m sure his influence lives on in things he taught his children and his former employees.

It's been seven years and I haven’t forgotten his example either.

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Last modified on Thursday, 07 October 2021 04:19