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April 2005
Driving the Family Business into the Future
By Chris Jensen

Jim Scott, better know as “Scotty,” is the third generation Scott to oversee a family car business with a history of more than 50 years in Charlotte. Located at the Tyvola Road exit off Interstate 77, it’s hard to miss the majestic mounted silver leaper perched over the Scott Jaguar dealership.

 

In the beginning

Scotty’s grandfather, William B. Scott, got his start in the car business in Memphis, Tenn., working for a long-time General Motors dealer, Chuck Hutton. Fortuitously, there came a time when Hutton offered to help Scott acquire his own dealership.

After an initial deal for a dealership in Arkansas fell through, Hutton advised Scott to come to Charlotte, and so in 1954 he did. Scott bought the Atkinson Dodge dealership that used to be located on the corner of Poplar and 5th streets. That first business was operated under the name, “Hutton Scott Dodge.”

Meanwhile, back in Memphis, Scotty’s grandmother, Lydia, was left to pack up the house and move the couple’s three children – Jim, Bill and Dene – to their new home in Charlotte.

“We arrived here on Halloween night,” she recalls, “and there was a big costume parade proceeding down South Tryon Street. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of city we were moving to,” she says with a smile.

But clearly, the years in Charlotte have agreed with her. In true Southern style, Lydia still refers to her husband, Scotty’s grandfather, as “Mr. Scott.” She was born in the Mississippi Delta area, but was working in Memphis when she first met her future husband.

Now 84 years old, the patriarch of this 51-year-old business remained vital and active until he fell ill about three years ago. Lydia proudly recalls that he started the 100 Club in Charlotte and was elected president of the Merchants Club.

“Mr. Scott helped a lot of other local car dealers, like Scott Clark, get into the business,” she says.

Scotty adds that his grandfather received the Ambassadors Club Award from the NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association), meaning that an annual scholarship in the amount of $1,000 is awarded to the institution of his choice, forever.

 

New site, new franchise

After his first decade in Charlotte, in the mid-1960s, the elder Scott acquired a Buick dealership and built a new store at 501 South Caldwell Street, where the old Arnold Palmer Cadillac store used to stand. As an interesting side note, anyone who follows commercial real estate in Charlotte might like to know that Scott bought the Caldwell property when it was auctioned off by the city. His winning bid: $175,000. In fact, someone else bid just one dollar higher that Scott, but that bidder was late, so the sale went to Scott.

After operating successfully for about 20 years at the South Caldwell site, Scott bought the land where Scott Jaguar sits today.

“At the time, everyone told him he was crazy to build so far out, so far away form the downtown area,” Scotty says. But with the growth that has erupted in the area over past 20 years, Scott says, “That turned out to be the second best investment he ever made.”

So what was the very best investment his grandfather ever made? The purchase and sale of the Caldwell property, Scotty says, smiling.

With a more thoughtful expression returning to his face, Scotty goes on: “The fact that my grandfather moved the business to this location 20 years ago shows what a visionary he was.”

“Vision” and “values” are words that keep coming up whenever the conversation turns to the company’s founder. And words like honesty, integrity, generosity.

“One of his favorite sayings was, ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness,’” Scotty recalls from his own childhood. And those who knew William B. Scott understood that cleanliness was as characteristic of his business dealings as it was of the cars and the stores that he operated.

 

A second generation that passed too quickly

Both of the founder’s sons, Jim Scott and William Scott II, were brought up in the car business. Jim, Scotty’s father, joined the family business right out of college, but unfortunately, he died in 1999 at the age of 58. Scotty speaks warmly of his father: “He was a lot like my grandfather: honest. And the relationships he made while he was growing up in Charlotte – the people he chose to be associated with – were quality people. They are community leaders today, and winners in life.”

Jim’s brother and Scotty’s uncle, “Bill II,” also worked in the business and died at a relatively young age; he was only 56.

Their sister, Scotty’s aunt, is Dene Smith of Charlotte. Some of her striking modern artwork is showcased in the Scott Jaguar building today.

 

Enter Jaguar

When the Scotts moved the dealership to the Tyvola Road location, they were carrying three or four franchises – among them Buick and Suzuki. It was about this time that they decided to add the Jaguar franchise.

Scotty says the previous Jaguar franchisee “was tired of messing with Jaguars,” which were hand-built at the time and not particularly reliable. “The cars had a lot of problems, but their owners loved them so much that they were willing to accept the problems that came with them.”

A lot of those problems went away just a few years later, when Ford Motor Company bought Jaguar in 1989. Ford invested a great deal of money in research and development, resulting in a car that today is state-of-the-art and very reliable. So in the mid-1990s, the Scotts made a strategic decision to drop all of their franchises except Jaguar.

Has that strategy paid off for the family business? Scotty doesn’t hesitate to answer, “Yes.” Sales that were initially four or five per month have skyrocketed to as many as 30 per month.

 

Grooming the third generation

Like his father and his uncle, Scotty was brought up in the car business. Beginning at the age of 14 he worked at the store full-time every summer, beginning in the clean-up department and rotating through the different departments from year to year.

Unlike his father, his uncle and his grandfather, however, Scotty was – and is – very mechanically inclined. He loves to work on both cars and motorcycles.

Scotty’s first time working “out front” as a salesperson was in 1987, when Scott Cars also was operating a store in Myrtle Beach, S.C. After two years in that position, he moved into the finance and insurance department, and later was promoted to sales manager of the Myrtle Beach store.

He moved back to Charlotte in 1996, but initially found a full house at the Charlotte dealership. So when the service manager left, he stepped into that position for three years. Scotty credits those three years with helping him to develop a keener understanding and appreciation of the service staff. Never one to shy away from a mechanical challenge, even today, he says, “If I can pinpoint the problem in the car, I can fix the problem.”

While he was working as service manager, Jaguar awarded him the Service Masters Guild Award. That award came with the requisite plaque, of course, but he also received a one week trip to the U.K., where all Jaguars are manufactured.

In 1998, when his father Jim was diagnosed with cancer, Scotty enrolled in the NADA Dealer Candidate Academy and graduated in 1999. When his father died in May of that year, Scotty moved out of the service department to become general manager of Scott Jaguar, where he is today.

 

Away from work

As much as he genuinely enjoys running the family business, Scotty’s first love would have to be his family. He and his wife Jennifer were high school sweethearts in Charlotte, and they were married in 1992 at Pawley’s Island, S.C. They are parents of two daughters, whose photos adorn his office.

And, no surprise, he is a real Jag enthusiast. “It’s more like a hobby,” he says. He drives a 2005 XK8 model, black.

And Scotty is a bit of a motorcycle fiend, as well – the proud owner of a Road King and a custom chopper.

 

Scott Jaguar today

Today there are four family members filling key roles at Scott Jaguar. Scotty’s first cousin Andy Smith (son of Dene Scott Smith) is the business manager, and first cousin Zack Smith (also son of Dene Scott Smith) is the used car manager. Brother-in-law Greg Smith (a different Smith, married to Scotty’s sister, Jenni) is the new car manager.

Scott Jaguar customers come from Charlotte and the region – from Hickory, Lake Norman, Rock Hill. The nearest competing dealers are in Columbia, S.C., and Greensboro, N.C.

Is there a typical Jaguar buyer? “They are all over the board,” Scotty says. “But most often, they are repeat buyers. For the true Jag lover, there simply is no other car.” What is typical is that they tend to have a real pride in ownership, so they take very good care of their cars, he says.

There is a common misperception about Jaguars, however. Scotty says that he runs into a lot of people – people driving $50,000 sports utility vehicles – who assume they could never afford to own a Jaguar. What they don’t realize, he says, is that the entry price point is a slightly more than $30,000.

 

Scott Jaguar tomorrow

Scotty’s main business goal is to continue what his grandfather started some 50 years ago, to continue to operate the family business as a family business.

Another closely related goal is to keep their customers happy.

“Our customers trust us,” he says “We realize that car dealers in general have a bad name, and we do everything we can to combat that image.”

Fact is, Scott Jaguar’s customer satisfaction ratings are the 11th highest of all the Jaguar dealerships in the entire world.

The employee retention rate at Scott Jaguar is similarly high – an indicator of the satisfaction and dedication of the store’s 48 full-time employees. Scotty maintains an open-door policy at all times, the same as his father and grandfather before him.

“I was taught to do whatever needs to be done at the moment, whether that is plunging a toilet or taking out the trash. No one here is ‘too good’ for any job.”

It all comes back to the vision and values that the family patriarch instilled in his children and grandchildren: humility, generosity, honesty and fairness at all times – no exceptions.

 

 

Chris Jensen is a Gastonia-based freelance writer and public relations counselor.
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