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Farragut family sells dealership
After 75 years Nelsons call it quits

Seventy-five years and three generations of car dealership success for a Farragut familycame to an emotional end last Tuesday, Sept. 14, in Lenoir City.

Starting in the car business in 1929, Claude Nelson probably never dreamed what he sparked in 1948 when he went to work as a used car manager for Knoxville Buick Company on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville.

“That’s where my dad started when he was eighteen … he came on as a salesperson,” said Jack Nelson Jr. about his father and Claude’s son, Jack Nelson Sr., after he graduated from Central High School in 1948. “My grand-dad was a registered pharmacist … I guess when times were tough, he came back from Florida and started selling cars.”

Absorbing knowledge of the car dealership business while earning a marketing degree at the University of Tennessee in 1952 then serving in South Korea in the U.S. Army from 1953 to 1955, Jack Nelson Sr. worked for the Buick Company for several years before beginning an Oldsmobile-GMC dealership in Lenoir City in May 1974.

And perhaps it wasn’t so ironic that Jack Nelson Jr. not only followed in his father’s footsteps, but did so right out of high school just like his father upon graduating from Central High School in 1974. “I started changing the oil and all that stuff,” Jack Jr. said.

Describing the business relationship with his father as “becoming more like brothers than father-son because of working together,” Jack Nelson Jr. and his father officially ended a 30-year business relationship when Jack Nelson Olds-Pontiac-Buick-GMC — located along Hwy. 321 N. since 1988 — officially changed hands Sept. 14.

“I think for him it was a lot sadder … work was his hobby, so it’ll be more difficult on him,” Jack Jr. said of that final day for his father. “This was his baby.”

Although saying the decision to sell the dealership was “a tough decision,” Nelson Jr. added, “it was the right decision.”

As for Jack Jr.’s emotions on that final day, “I’ve been in charge of the sale and everything, so for me I had already dealt with that process,” he said.

On having three generations in the car business, “I guess it’s fate,” said Nelson Jr., who also earned a marketing degree at the University of Tennessee.

As for working alongside his father for 30-plus years, “that’s a unique opportunity that not too many people get.”

But each had his strengths according to the junior Nelson. “My dad really has more of the car blood in him, and I’m probably more relational, I’ve enjoyed the people,” he said. “I guess what I’ve enjoyed more than anything about it is the relationships, dealing with friends, building relationships and networking among those relationships.”

Having owned Jack Nelson Motors, a used car dealership along Broadway from 1967 to 1972, Jack Nelson Sr. went back “home” to become general manager for Laggit Buick Co. (the former Knoxville Buick Company) from 1972 to 1974.

Then came 30 years as father and son.

“Probably the thing that made us different was our sales process,” Jack Jr. said. “It was straightforward, you didn’t have to talk to ten people; we tried to get to the bottom line as quick as we could. Almost everything deals with people, this is just a relational business … it’s not a behind-the-scenes job, it’s out front with the people.

“The people are why it’s a been a great business.”

Relationships became friendships.

“We knew most of our customers were friends,” Jack Jr. said. “That’s sort of unusual. They were either neighbors or people that we met in the community, people from the church. We had a network of really great friends.

“Also our service, we felt like this was really was a family operation,” the junior Nelson added. “In the car business that’s a dying breed. There’s economies of scale in bigger operations, and that’s what it’s going to. But we were more of a mom and pop dealership.”

New owners Bill Rodgers and Richard Fore have renamed the dealership Rodgers-Fore Auto Mall.

“I’m just winding up here,” Nelson said about winding up leftover business last Friday, Sept. 17, at the dealership. “Collecting, paying bills … all the documentation, it’s mainly administrative.”

While Jack Nelson Sr. has now retired altogether, Jack Nelson Jr. said he’s not sure what’s in his employment future.

“I’m too young to retire, so I’ll be finding something,” he said.

Jack Nelson Jr. and wife, Karen, have a son, Matthew, a 2004 graduate of Wake Forest University and a 2000 Webb School graduate; and daughter, Kathryn, an eighth-grader at Webb School.


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