In 1936, at age 26, Vernon Jenkins took over the operation at Barnes Motor Company, the Ford Store located in Hopkinsville, KY. This was because the previous owner, Blondie Wallace, left to run the new Ford Store in Sturgis.
Because of the Draft, Vernon Jenkins joined the Army in 1942. In a letter written home to his friend Aubrey Lyle, Vernon is quoted saying: “If this war is ever over, I’m going to have a Ford Dealership, and I want to us become partners.” (Referring to WWII)
Although Vernon was not yet released from the Army for another two years, he bought his first dealership in Springfield, TN. At the time, he had a choice of two different locations: Jeffersonville, IN or Springfield, TN. He chose TN! In 1944, while still in the Army, Vernon and friend Will Summers purchased a Ford Dealership and named it Summers & Jenkins Motor Company.
While Vernon was away with Army duties, Evelyn Jenkins, Vernon’s wife, chose to work at the store until Vernon got out of the Army. In 1948, he sold that Store, went to Franklin, KY, and he purchased the Ford Dealership there. He talked to MB ‘Briz’ Wynne, who was a Feed Salesmen, and encouraged him to go into business. They became business partners and opened Jenkins & Wynne. In the beginning Jenkins & Wynne sold Ford Cars, Ford Trucks, and Tractors. Vernon was living in Springfield, TN at the time and was driving back and forth. He would call on the farmers in his area and deliver what they needed on his way home.
In December 1953, Vernon and Briz sold the Franklin, KY store and moved to Clarksville, TN with the Lincoln Mercury franchise. Jenkins & Wynne Lincoln Mercury opened in December 1953. At that time, it was located on Madison Street. It was an inauspicious beginning, with less than $100,000 in inventory and eight employees.
But the business quickly established a reputation for fair dealing, honesty, and good service- attributes not always associated with car dealerships. And by the end of the first year, sales totaled around $1 million.
About the same time they acquired the Lincoln Mercury franchise in Clarksville, they also had the Lincoln Mercury franchise and a Volkswagen Franchise in Florence, AL. While in Florence, AL, Vernon met Jim Sloan who was a Manager of Associates Financing in Florence. They soon hired Jim Sloane as a Manager for the Lincoln Mercury store in Florence, AL.
In the late 1950s, Clearance Carney was the Ford Dealer in Clarksville. Mr. Carney sold Carney Ford to Jim Kerney, who was a Ford Factory Rep. at the time. Jenkins & Wynne acquired the Ford franchise from Jim Kearney in 1959. A new Ford Store was built on College Street to join the Lincoln Mercury store. Jenkins & Wynne Ford Lincoln Mercury was born! When they sold the Franklin, KY store, Vernon and Briz brought Warren Hendricks and IL Gammons from Franklin, KY with them to Clarksville. Both of these gentleman stayed over 30 years (close to 40) and retired from Jenkins & Wynne.
In the early 60’s, Jenkins & Wynne Volkswagen in Nashville was the largest VW store in the southeast. Around 1961, Jenkins & Wynne acquired Ben Page Ford in Goodlettsville. Once this purchase was complete, Vernon made plans to build a new Ford dealership at the corner of Nolensville Rd and Thompson Ln in Nashville and relocated the Goodlettsville store to Nashville. They named this store—Crown Ford.
Wilber Kates was moved from Jenkins & Wynne in Clarksville to the new Ford Store in Nashville. Murray Keeter was hired soon thereafter. Murray Keeter came to work at the Clarksville location in 1962 as a Parts Counterman and then the Parts Manager.
Keeter has been an instrumental backbone of Jenkins & Wynne ever since. Vernon hired Keeter from Lawrenceburg, TN; at the time, Murray was employed by a different Ford Store. Vernon heard glowing reviews about Murray Keeter through a Ford Motor Company Rep. who traveled throughout the Region.
The 60’s were turbulent times, not just for society but for the dealership as well. When the 101st Airborne Division deployed to Vietnam, Jenkins & Wynne lost a major chunk of its customer base. Then in 1967, a fire destroyed the Ford building.
At a later date, when the Interstate System was being constructed through Nashville, it ended up coming right through the VW Store location. Therefore, Jenkins sold the VW store to George Hadad and another gentleman. Mr. Wynne then moved his office into the Crown Ford location. When Vernon & Briz sold the Crown Ford location to Carl Sweeney, Mr. Wynne moved back to Clarksville, which is where he stayed until he sold his portion of the store in the early 70’s.
In the mid-70’s, when America was reeling from the aftershocks of the Arab oil embargo, Jenkins & Wynne recognized the potential of the small-car market.
In December 1976, they took on the Honda franchise. With this acquisition, the dealership’s sign was changed again adding Honda to the mix—Jenkins & Wynne Ford Lincoln-Mercury Honda. The ISUZU franchise was acquired in January 1981.
To date, Jenkins & Wynne has helped create 15-20 Dealers: spanning from Nashville, to Bowling Green, KY (Bill Quick Lincoln Mercury), to Florence, AL, to Columbia, SC (Bob Bennet Ford), and Bob Bennett LM in GA, to Sloan Ford in Columbia, TN, Brooks Jarrell in Murfreesboro, TN, Jim Ayers VW in Clarksville and Gorden Hawkins (formerly Hawkins and Corlew Chevy)…just to name a few. All worked for Jenkins & Wynne at some point in time and later became Dealers.
Current President and CEO, Don Jenkins, is the only son of Vernon and Evelyn Jenkins. Don was just three years old when his dad founded the Clarksville dealership. He has been surrounded by cars and car talk his entire life. Starting in the mid-60’s, Don began washing vehicles on his Dad’s lot and did this through high school. As he prepared to enter Rhodes College in Memphis, Don decided he wanted a career that had nothing to do with cars. He certainly didn’t want to be a car salesman. “Car salesman wore silk suits and orthopedic shoes,” Jenkins says. “I didn't have a lot in common with them.” His career choice was made. He was going to become a banker.
But something happened that would change that decision. In 1971, just as young Jenkins was about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business and go to work for a bank, he received a letter from his dad. “Give me one year in the car business,” it said, “just one year.”
A year was all it took! “I came to the dealership and loved it,” Jenkins says. Forty plus years later, he still thrives on the interaction with people, love for vehicles, and the challenge of running a dealership that became dear to him that infamous first year.
Vernon Jenkins continued to work at the dealership until he retired in 1985 at the age of 75. His work ethic was contagious. “Dad believed you learn by doing,” Jenkins says, “and he was wise enough to let me make my own mistakes. As long as they weren't severe ones,” he adds with a smile.
When he died in 2002, Vernon Jenkins left big shoes behind. He had been the President of the Tennessee Automotive Association. He won the Time Magazine Dealer of the Year award for the state of Tennessee—the criteria for this award is having highly ethical business practices and strong community involvement. ‘Vernon’s key to success was that he personally oversaw every aspect of the business and brought a human touch that is rare today in this business.’ –Aubrey Lyle, 1997
Over the past 60+ years, Jenkins & Wynne has experienced immense growth- in property, vehicle inventory, sales, service and the number of Team Members. Jenkins & Wynne started with one building and is currently busting at the seams. Land from all surrounding properties has been purchased and borrowed to aid in the growth.
In 1992, the Truck Center was built to cater to expanding business.
In August 1996, Jenkins & Wynne trademarked our ’48 Hour Love It or Leave It Price and Product Guarantee,’ which overrides TN and KY State contract law. If for any reason you are not completely satisfied, you can bring your vehicle back within 48 hours and driven less than 200 miles for a complete refund. Your satisfaction is our obsession. We want you to feel good about the purchase you have made!
In 2006, Jenkins & Wynne completed the Honda image program which updated and modernized the facilities.
Whether change was forced by a devastating Fire (1968) or the Tornado (1999) that heavily damaged property, buildings, and vehicles, Jenkins & Wynne has become stronger with the opportunity to re-grow with fresh beginnings.
Why such success during constant change? There was a reason. While Don Jenkins may have wanted to change his salesmen’s suits and shoes, he wasn't about to change the company’s operating principles of fairness, honesty, and knock-your-socks-off-service. “Anybody can sell you a car one time,” Jenkins says, “but it is service after the sale that brings you back.”
“The goal is not to sell a car but to build a relationship,” he says. And that requires employees with longevity. “When people come in to buy a vehicle, they want to see the same person time after time. They want a relationship.”
At Jenkins & Wynne, they are likely to find a relationship. “Very few people leave our dealership once they start working here” Jenkins says. “That’s a significant achievement when you consider that the dealership has nearly 200 employees. The average manager has been here 20+ years.” The General Manager, Murray Keeter, has been a vital part of Jenkins & Wynne’s success as he has been the faithful backbone for over 50 strong years.
Though the dealership’s operating principles haven't changed, its footprint certainly has. Five mammoth showrooms, enough asphalt to hold over 1000 vehicles, and three service centers have replaced the original one-story building. “People come here in part because of our selection,” Jenkins says. “If you treat customers well and have the vehicle they want in stock, chances are you'll make a sale.”
It’s clearly a winning formula. Jenkins & Wynne is the largest Ford-Lincoln dealership in Tennessee. In 2014, Ford was the most searched brand, the most purchased brand and the most bought again brand. In 2014, Lincoln was the fastest growing luxury brand. Based on retail registrations in 2014, Honda has three of the top six best-selling passenger vehicles in America! The Honda Accord, Civic, CR-V and Odyssey continue as America's Most Popular Vehicles in their segments with Individual U.S. Car Buyers in 2014!
Jenkins adds that as nice as awards and rankings are, the most meaningful “recognition” is the kind that happens between a customer and a member of the dealership’s staff. It’s about stability, longevity, and managed growth. “I want to be here for customers when they buy not only this car but the next one. And the next one. We have numerous customers who have bought more than 25 vehicles from us,” Jenkins says.
“Right now, 92% of our customers are repeat customers,” he adds. “The national average is 33%. I found that when our employees are happy, they will make our customers happy.”
He does have two goals, however. “My dream is that my children, Casey and Blake, become third generation Ford Lincoln Honda dealers- if they love this business as much as I do.” Casey and Blake both graduated from National Automotive Dealer Academy in 2012, which is a year-long hands-on education of all aspects of a Dealership.
Jenkins’ second goal? To embody the expression “Like father, like son.” “If I can be 50 percent of the man my dad was, I'll feel like I've succeeded in life.”
Unfortunately, things took a tragic turn when Blake died in November 2013 unexpectedly at age 30. Blake graduated from Austin Peay State University with a Business Degree in 2005. He was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity and married the love of his life: Fran Jenkins. Fran has worked in the e-Commerce Department since 2005 and is a co-leader for the Leadership Team. Blake started working at the store before he could drive. Blake worked in Parts, Service, Sales, Finance, and was a Manager. Blake and Fran have 2 children: Chloe and Carter.
Currently, Casey works at the dealership and sees her future as “promising with endless opportunities” as she continues the family-owned and operated tradition. Casey graduated from Murray State University with a degree in Education in 2003. Other than her graduation from NADA Academy in 2012, Casey has received many other professional honors. In 2012, Casey was one of the speakers at the Ford Motor Company Grassroots Dealer Meeting in Detroit. In 2014, Casey was honored with the Automotive News ’40 Under 40” recognition as a high achiever. She has held many positions within Ford Motor Company such as: Ford Young Leader, Consumer Experience, Marketing and Dealer Advisory Board, and Ford Direct. Since 2007, the e-Commerce Department, where Casey spends a majority of her time, at Jenkins & Wynne has ranked in the top 10% of Ford stores in the Nation. Casey is an Ironman athlete and has one daughter: Chandler Kate.
“At the end of my senior year in college, I knew in my heart that God wasn’t calling me to Education and Teaching. So I called Dad from school one morning and told him that my heart has changed but that I didn’t know what I wanted to do once I graduated college. Dad then said, “No worries. Come back home and promise me one year in the car business. If you love it- stay. If you don’t, we will find something that suits you.” Unbeknownst to me, my grandfather said that to my dad. And then 30+ years later, my dad said the same life-changing statement to me! So a year came and went and I knew this was the place for me. I love the opportunity and blessing to work with some of the best people…and now my mentors. The car business is in my blood. Life has become my teacher…and every day I learn all kinds of new things. Even after being here full time for 12 years, I still consider myself a green-pea. There is no time to waste here. Every day is different and busy as I try to learn all aspect of this complex business! Our business is in constant change. Although that can be a scary fact, to me it’s really just an opportunity to dig deeper and grow and be better. My grandfather won TN’s Time Dealer of the Year Award in 1984. My dad earned TN’s Time Dealer of the Year Award in 2011 as well. I have HUGE shoes to fill. I am very proud and humbled to carry on my Grandfather, Dad, and Murray’s legacy and my brother’s voice as I become the next Dealer.. It’s hard at times, but God never promised that Life would be easy…just that He would be there every step of the way. I take on this challenge and there is nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
In July 2013, the Jenkins Family purchased 42 acres at the corner of 101st and Trenton Rd…..4 miles from the current College Street location. In Jan 2016, Jenkins & Wynne will move all of its 11 acres to the new property and expand to 31 acres. 11 acres will be saved for future development down the road. As of 2015, construction has started on this state-of-the-art facility. Don, Murray, Jeff, Larry, and Casey took a year to travel to various Dealerships and successful businesses around the USA to learn and gain ideas for the “new” Jenkins & Wynne.
“We are preparing for not just a destination but an experience. We are preparing to be a bigger member of the community than we are right now!”
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