03/11/18 — A legacy of customer, community service

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A legacy of customer, community service

By Joey Pitchford
Published in News on March 11, 2018 3:05 AM

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Former owner Dan Wise poses for a photo with general manager Johnathon Johnson in front of Deacon Jones Chevrolet in La Grange Wednesday. Formerly Dan Wise Chevrolet, the dealership changed hands on March 1.

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This hand-drawn photo hangs above Wise's desk in his office.

Over 37 years in the auto business, Dan Wise has been more than a car salesman -- he's become a community institution.

When it's time to go, however, it's time. Effective March 1, Wise handed over ownership of his franchise to the Deacon Jones auto group. As he prepares for retirement, Wise looked back on the decades he spent at the dealership.

Wise started his career in the auto business in July of 1980, when he and business partner Charles Daniels bought the store at 6595 U.S. 70 East Daniels would later allow Wise to buy out his share of the company, leaving Wise as the dealership's sole owner.

"When I started, we had like nine employees, and through the years we grew up to as many as 20 or 22 employees," he said. "Seems like some highs and lows, you know how any retail business goes. But all in all it's been a good ride."

As the business grew, Wise said he tried to be a good "corporate citizen" and member of the community.

"We've tried through the years to support various causes and other things that have a positive influence and betterment on the community," he said. "We've tried to do that."

With time came inevitable change. Updates in technology forced the business to adapt, but Wise said he always tried to keep the businesses core Christian principles intact.

"We've always been a little bit of a mom and pop deal, and I take pride in that," he said. "We've never sort of outgrown our ability to maintain a personal relationship with our customers."

Almost all of the same employees are continuing on at the dealership after the sale, Wise said. He is hopeful about the future of the business, and said that new general manager Johnathon Johnson and the entire Deacon Jones crew adhere to the same kind of Christian principles that Wise values.

"Philosophically, the Deacon Jones Auto Group, our motto is 'You're more than a customer, you're part of the family,' and their motto is 'We treat people the way we want to be treated,' so you see how they tie in," he said. "As far as the aspect of giving your child up for adoption, I couldn't be more pleased with the fact that that group and that family-owned business is taking over this business, because it's going to be a seamless transition."

Now 73 years old, Wise doesn't move quite as fast as he used to, and he knows it is the right time for him to move on. He will still be around the dealership part time to help out, but he is ready to step aside and let Deacon Jones take over. Looking back, he said that he will always remember the good days, even though the business has always had peaks and valleys.

"There are winners and losers every day, you open the doors and just hope you make money that day," he said. "People ride by and just sort of assume things are okay, but things are not always okay."

Through it all, Wise has felt support both from God and from the people he did business with. His sales were often predicated on the relationships he built with families -- a customer tells their brother or aunt about the dealership and convinces them to buy there -- which made treating people like family members themselves all the more important.

"God has looked after me, but people have been so good to us, they really have," he said. "It's amazing how people can just get behind you and support you by doing business with you, and you can only attribute it by God's grace."

Wise encouraged community members to pay attention to their local retailers, in an age where shopping online has become the norm.

"People should be sensitive to their brick and mortar businesses in their communities, and that they know that those businesses need their support," he said. "Whether it's the gift shop downtown or these other things, surely you can go on the internet and do a lot of things, but these businesses need you to walk in those doors."