Billie and Jim Ellis are shown in 1982 with Jim Fuller from VW of America, when accepting their Dealer of the Year award.(Part two of a two part series)
By Elliott Brack, editor and publisher | Though Jim Ellis has 13 auto dealerships around Atlanta, many of them are concentrated on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard at I-285. Here’s why.
Jim says: “Once we started getting multiple brands, in those days you had to physically visit each dealership each day to look over the accounting and check the sales. It was far different than today. Now with the Internet, you can examine the books no matter where you are. So we originally grouped the dealerships close together as an advantage. Today it also helps having them close, for we can easily offer common training to the different staffs.”
In 1971 when starting his first dealership, it took a tremendous amount of up-front work to get the business going. “You had to hire about 25 people off the street, then teach the various departments how to run the business, so that you could turn that part of the business over to them and they would know what to do. And some people don’t work out, and you have to find replacements.
“Then as you develop people, you must reward them so that the have the loyalty and your respect. That makes people easy to manage.”
That’s how Jim Ellis has been successful in his dealerships. It was in the 1960s when Neal Chrisman opened a VW dealership in Decatur that Jim got his early training. He worked there for five years, eventually becoming the general manager.
By then “Volkswagen wanted to open two new dealerships in Atlanta. They gave me a commitment in 1968, but I had to find and buy land and erect a building. I went to Mills Lane at the C&S Bank, and he told me: ‘You put everything together, and get what you need and I’ll loan you the rest.’” Together with his wife Billie’s savings from her work at Georgia Tech, they scraped together $35,000 and borrowed the rest.
It took until 1971 for Jim to complete his plans for this VW dealership. With Chrisman as his early partner, Jim secured land and erected a building. VW helped by buying the building Jim built, leasing it back to him, and supplying him with autos. But new cars were limited, so “We scoured all over the Southeast for used cars, for we weren’t allocated many new cars, and stayed alive by selling more used cars than new ones.”
Within five years, Jim had paid off Chrisman and VW, and was on his own. His second dealership was Porsche-Audi, which he opened in 1982. His first in Cobb County was a Mazda franchise in Marietta.
Today Jim’s goal is to keep the business going for the more than 1,050 employees and their dependents. “They put their life in my business, and it’s not right for me to go to Florida and sit on the beach while they work. That’s never been my desire. I want to keep the business going so that our employees can know they have a job here and can make a living. And we want them to be able to have Sunday off for their family.”
While successful in business, Jim Ellis is known to be most generous to his church and to the wider community, setting up a foundation to help others. He has particularly helped raise money and facilities for the Norcross Community Ministry, where a building is named for the Ellis’ late son.
Jim Ellis feels that “a lot of people are part of our success. Now at age 85, you look back and realize that every day for you is a good day.”
And what type of automobile does Jim drive? Now it’s a 2017 GM Acadia.
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