On his first day on March 20, 1985 as a Sales Associate for Car-Mart, Ted Taylor was instructed to hand wax every vehicle on the lot. The count that day was 21 and they sold three vehicles.
One cold winter morning, Nan Smith, Car-Mart’s Chief Operating Officer, called Ted, the General Manager of the Rogers lot, asking him to drive a tractor to ‘job #850’ approximately five miles away and unload 2,000 lbs. of copper roof flashing because their contractor was out of town.
Another day, Bill Fleeman, founder and Car-Mart’s President at the time, showed up at Car-Mart of Fayetteville with a tape measure, along with remodeling plans splashed on a napkin. Right then and there, Bill and Ted started to remodel the store.
Ted’s 1989 Spring Break promotion featured 30 tons of sand where Ted and his staff created a beach scene. They borrowed a jet ski and sailboat and built a lifeguard stand, board walk and volleyball court. The scene was a definite head-turner. At the conclusion of the promotion, they returned the sand and Ted took a vacation to a real beach.
Such are commonplace occurrences at Car-Mart, according to Ted, the company’s Director of Expansion and Lot Development. It’s the Car-Mart culture to do whatever needs to be done and to help your fellow associates and customers. And, when it comes to Car-Mart, Ted knows a thing or two. After all, he is a 34-year Car-Mart veteran having joined Car-Mart in 1985 when the company boasted 12 locations.
This committed, dedicated and enthusiastic mindset exists today at Car-Mart. “These are authentic elements that define the culture of our company,” says Ted. “Everything is your job if you’re assigned to do it.”
Baby blue and $600
Ted’s Car-Mart story started with his purchase of a 1976 baby blue Mercury Cougar in 1983. He spotted the car on Car-Mart’s lot in Fayetteville, Ark. The sign on the window said ‘cash.’ He did not have enough cash and the manager accepted a deposit even though it was a cash sale. The previous owner had towed the vehicle to trade it in and they allowed Ted to repair it so he could take it home, hence the $600 price. Ted kept that car for several years.
That was the moment when Ted experienced what he refers to as the ‘uniqueness’ of Car-Mart. Shortly thereafter, he purchased and financed a car from Car-Mart for his wife – another distinctive Car-Mart moment for Ted.
And, then there was his first day at Car-Mart of waxing cars.
“It became abundantly clear to me early on what I was being told about the company wasn’t just hype. The plan was to grow a large business and be a profitable, successful company,” says Ted, who asserts that Car-Mart offers opportunity to both associates and customers. “It’s not just about a check, it’s about making a difference. The opportunity that Car-Mart allows people to have is unparalleled. It’s been proven time and time again. At Car-Mart, you can experience personal growth and financial stability and impact lives of our customers. The culture makes it unique.”
Car-Mart culture – more than a poster
Car-Mart has benefited from strong leadership, starting with the founder, Bill Fleeman. Indeed, Car-Mart’s vision has not wavered since its founding – to deliver an experience that provides customers with quality, used vehicles that meets their needs.
“Many companies display their company values on a poster on the wall. But at Car-Mart, we live it,” says Ted. “Our culture is not just something we talk about. We walk the walk and talk the talk at Car-Mart.”
Ted recalls two stories that underscore the Car-Mart culture. Mr. Fleeman required managers to refer to their lots’ kitchen area as “Customer Lounge” – not “Break Room” – and to serve fresh popcorn to customers. He, also, once delivered an older Ford LTD (not really an inventory type vehicle), to Ted and asked him to write a check and purchase it to help a customer. Mr. Fleeman always had much to say, but his vision has impacted Car-Mart since starting in 1981.
“It was this kind of focus on customers and associates that occurred back then and still happens today,” Ted says.
“And, when it comes to customers, I can’t begin to tell you the number of people who have had credit challenges and have been successful with Car-Mart’s assistance to pay off their first vehicle or second or even third. And then bring their new car to Car-Mart – and thank us for the opportunity we gave them.
“It doesn’t get much better than that. While this company is not perfect, it’s the closest I’ve ever found,” continues Ted. “What makes Car-Mart successful is we’re willing to work harder and longer hours than our competition.”
From mechanic to Car-Mart
Ted, a gainfully employed mechanic in 1985, was asked to apply for a job at Car-Mart. During a third interview with Mr. Fleeman, he was offered and accepted the job as a part-time salesperson in Fayetteville and Springdale. After one month, he entered the company’s Management Trainee program, and three months later, he assumed responsibility for the Bentonville store.
He has opened a new Car-Mart location in Arkadelphia, worked as an assistant manager and manager at several locations and served as a district manager. Early in his career, he received the Manager of the Year Award for his leadership and performance.
By working at Car-Mart, he has learned the value of relationships. “Relationships are extremely important at Car-Mart,” says Ted. “We do what is best for our associates and customers, as well as what is best for our company. That is unique.”
For Ted, the best thing about working at Car-Mart is the satisfaction of helping people. “That’s the biggest reward,” Ted says. “There’s something – even from the outside people can see – what’s so special about Car-Mart – it’s the people.”
It’s also the sense of fun that exists within Car-Mart as Ted recalls a story from the early days.
During the company’s ‘Trade for Anything’ contest in 1986, Ted’s lot in Arkadelphia received the most unique item – an 11-foot, 3-inch python named Stanley. The idea was to donate Stanley to the Little Rock zoo; however, the zoo declined the generous offer. Fortunately, a customer was interested in the snake. That customer traded a motorcycle for Stanley, and Car-Mart sold the motorcycle to another customer on payments.
“It was a fair trade,” smiles Ted.
Car-Mart’s special element – its people
Ted’s personal values align well with Car-Mart as he’s always been a person of action. Growing up on a farm, he learned to be resourceful and creative in solving problems. He was active in various activities and worked part-time jobs throughout high school and college.
And, while he doesn’t hand-wax vehicles at work these days, Ted still enjoys the company he joined when he was just a young man starting out in his career. At the end of the day, it’s the people who he believes are Car-Mart’s secret sauce and why he’s stuck around for so long.
“If you enjoy what you’re doing, that’s key to a long and successful career at Car-Mart,” concludes Ted.