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The Tri-Jones dealerships: what the car business should be.

In the most recent Arkansas Business listing of the state's top-volume automotive dealers, TRI-JONES was ranked second, with sales of nearly 5,000 new and used units last year between its Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Benton franchised locations.

But the sales volume for the dealer that was ranked first on the list included out-of-state locations.

When it comes to unit sales volume from in-state locations only, the TRI-JONES dealerships are number one.

Herbert Jones, Sr., who began in the 1940's what has become an Arkansas automotive institution, remembers how he got into the car business.

"I had started selling the Arkansas Democrat on street corners around town in 1934 to help out my family," Jones says. "In 1939, when I was 18, they promoted me to circulation substation manager, supervising 22 other carriers."

Jones liked his job, but it didn't pay much for someone helping to support a family.

"As a sideline, I started buying some used cars I saw advertised in the paper, cleaning and fixing them up, and then selling them by putting my own ads in the paper," he relates.

Drafted into General Patton's 3rd Army in World War II, Jones returned to Little Rock after the war and began his formal automotive career by opening a used car lot in 1946 at 3rd and Ringo streets in downtown Little Rock.

For the next 20 years, Jones learned the car business, experiencing ups and downs - including a failed Nash-Rambler franchise in downtown Little Rock in the 1950's that broke him financially.

Then in 1966, Toyota Motors came calling. They wanted Jones to establish what would be the first Toyota franchise in central Arkansas and only the second in the entire state.

"It was not an easy sell," Jones explains. "Volkswagens were doing great, but few people had ever heard of a Toyota. I liked the product, but I was making a living in the used car business and of course had gone broke once before with a franchise."

But the Toyota distributor was persistent, and after being courted for three months, Jones agreed. The new dealership opened on University Avenue, near what is now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

It was indeed several tough years before the Toyota brand really caught on with area consumers. By 1973, however, business justified a larger location. Jones moved to 5909 South University (where the dealership remains today). Shortly thereafter, he added a Volvo franchise -- and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Jones Toyota-Volvo, now in its 27th year, is the oldest Toyota dealership in Arkansas under continuous ownership.

A second franchised location at North Little Rock was established in 1981. Jones Nissan-Isuzu-Subaru is consistently the state's top-volume dealer for its brands.

Since 1981, Jones and members of his family have established six additional locations, including Jones Buick-Pontiac at Benton and five non-franchised used car sales lots at Little Rock, Jacksonville, Conway, and Russellville.

Now 72, with nearly 50 years invested in the car business, Jones still works full-time. Three of his nine grown children and various other relatives are also involved in the business.

He attributes the automotive chain's success to hard work and to recognizing that the customer is the reason they come to work every day.

"I experienced an act of true kindness back during the war," Jones remembers.

"A fellow G.I. at Camp Hood offered me bus fare at a time when I had been ill, couldn't walk back to base, and literally didn't have a penny to my name. I've never forgotten that."

Since then, Jones has looked for opportunities to give a "break" to a deserving person whenever he can.

That attitude extends to the business, of course -- countless Arkansans have vehicles to drive because Jones was willing to extend credit when no one else would, for example.

But it also underlies how generously Jones gives back to his community, especially his involvement with youth-related causes.

Arkansas Children's Hospital has recognized the family's financial contributions by naming a pulmonary care ward after them. Saline Memorial Hospital's pediatric unit is the beneficiary of a major benefit funded and conducted each year by Jones Buick-Pontiac.

And the attitude influences how strongly the TRI-JONES dealerships emphasize customer satisfaction.

Jones Nissan-Isuzu-Subaru, for example, ranks consistently among the top volume Nissan dealerships in the nation in the manufacturer's Customer Satisfaction Index surveys.

But customer loyalty is perhaps the most telling indicator of how much the TRI-JONES traditions of satisfaction, savings, selection, and service make a difference.

Jones has customers who first bought a car from him 20 or 25 years ago and have come back numerous times since, and customers who have never bought a car from anywhere else but a Jones dealership.

"That's what the car business should be," Jones emphasizes.

"At least, that's what we've tried to make it."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Aug 16, 1993
Words:808
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