Jeff Williams, 57, was named CEO and president of America’s Car-Mart Inc. in January 2018, replacing longtime CEO Hank Henderson, famous for his folksy “Drive Easy” television commercials.
Williams, who was born in Fort Smith, joined America’s Car-Mart as CFO in 2005. He previously had spent seven years in accounting with public firms such as Arthur Andersen & Co. and was CFO of Wynco LLC, an animal health products distributor. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
America’s Car-Mart reported income of $51.3 million in fiscal 2020 and $47.6 million in fiscal 2019.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, how did Car-Mart proceed from an employee standpoint, both in work hours and safety?
Our No. 1 priority was the health and safety of our associates. We followed CDC guidelines and adjusted to state, county and city regulations that were literally changing by the hour at points during the pandemic. We eliminated group meetings and travel to minimize exposure. We retained all full-time associates during the pandemic. We did furlough our part-time associates and eliminated overtime hours and adjusted work schedules for child care challenges. We have been very flexible with our associates.
What changes in the sale process were adopted?
We developed and implemented “curbside” and home delivery processes to minimize exposure for our associates and our customers. We have cleaning, hand-washing, social-distancing and mask-wearing requirements to help keep everyone safe.
How satisfied were you with the local, state and federal response?
The pandemic came on so fast and so intensely that everyone was scrambling to figure out which way was up. We were able to adjust and be nimble and show our customers and our communities what we really stand for — keeping our customers on the road and giving them peace of mind in transportation. We learned a lot about ourselves and the strength of our culture and the positive difference we make every day.
You were a CFO for a long time. Did your financial background help you as a CEO?
We are a retailer that also provides financing for most of our customers. To have a financial background has been invaluable as the industry has changed significantly in the last few years (both on the retail side and the financing side), and we expect it to change even more rapidly. We are growing significantly and making investment decisions for the business so that we are still the market leader and relevant in 10 years.
Has it been harder or easier to find inventory for your lots?
At the same time demand has been high (because of stimulus checks), the supply of used cars has been constricted, causing a significant increase in prices and overall difficulty finding used cars.
The supply constrictions are ongoing and have resulted from a number of factors tied to the pandemic. New car production temporarily stopped and new car dealers did not have a regular flow of used car trades, many of which would make it down into our market in normal times; car auctions closed down for a period; repair shops closed down; tag/title agency closings slowed title times; and there were deferments and extensions of off-lease cars and lender deferments of repossession. These constrictions affected the lower price point cars to a larger extent.
Demand is very high for the lower cost units even in normal times.
What is your future in commercials?
Well, the short answer is that I have no future in commercials. Anyway, it would be impossible to replace Hank, who did such a great job for all these years.