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The Gwatney gimmick: obnoxious ads sell cars for Harold Gwatney Chevrolet Co.

When central Arkansas television viewers are asked to name the most obnoxious local commercials, the advertisements for Harold Gwatney Chevrolet Co. of Jacksonville are mentioned more often than others.

"People laugh at them and make fun of them," admits Bill Gwatney.

Then, he adds, "They don't ever forget them."

He has proof.

Last year, Gwatney Chevrolet was the No. 1 Chevy dealer in a region that includes Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and parts of Oklahoma and Texas.

Gwatney says he doesn't think a central Arkansas Chevrolet dealer has ever achieved that distinction.

Gwatney Chevrolet's $51 million in 1991 sales was more than one-third of the $132.9 million in combined sales the company had with its three dealerships in Tennessee. Those include two Chevrolet dealerships and a Saturn dealership.

Gwatney's Jacksonville dealership employs 110 of the company's 370 employees.

Bill Gwatney's father, Harold, founded the Jacksonville dealership in 1957. In 1988, he purchased a Memphis, Tenn., dealership and added a second one in 1989.

Last year, the Gwatneys were awarded the Saturn dealership for Memphis.

"It seemed like 5,000 people applied for roughly 100 dealerships," Bill Gwatney says.

The Gwatney family is hoping to open at least two additional Saturn locations, one of which will be in the Memphis area.

The Gwatneys also might try selling Fords. A bankrupt Ford dealership in Millington, Tenn., could be sold to the family in 60 days.

A New Factor

Bill Gwatney will replace the retiring Sen. Max Howell of Jacksonville in the state Senate. Gwatney won the Democratic primary and has no Republican opposition.

Although Gwatney does not expect to sell more cars because he's a senator, he says politics has an effect on his business.

"Running for the state Senate didn't help it any," he says.

Gwatney was away from the dealerships for 95 days. He says his management team -- most of its members have been in place for four years or more -- was able to keep sales strong.

Gwatney says business shouldn't suffer when he's in office, either.

"I don't think serving in the Senate will hurt business as much as running for it did," he says.

Gwatney Chevrolet showed a 6 percent increase in sales last year. New car sales aren't as good this year. Gwatney says the Jacksonville dealership's sales could fall to $45 million.
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Title Annotation:Top Fifty Profile
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Jul 20, 1992
Words:386
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