Steve Landers Sr. has been in the auto sales business for 43 years but has been transitioning out of the day-to-day operation of the enterprise.
He recently sold his remaining one-third interest in Steve Landers Auto Group, which includes Steve Landers Toyota and Steve Landers Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, to Luther Auto Group of Minneapolis. Landers Auto and Luther Auto have merged to form LL Ark Holding Co. LLC, and Landers’ son Scott is the owner-operator. Landers’ eldest son, Steve Landers Jr., has his own enterprises, including Landers Auto in Benton, and iPawn, which now has two locations in Little Rock.
Landers will remain a consultant at the former Landers Auto Group, taking care of customers and working on putting together auto groups.
How has the auto business changed over the years?
Everything’s more electronic, computerized now. If people want to read the newspaper, they can pull up the articles on their phone. But other than that, it’s not changed a lot, though there’s a lot more information out there for the customer than there was years ago. And you’ve still got to have the car the customer wants. You’ve got to work the deal for them. And you’ve got to give them customer satisfaction. We haven’t changed any of that, and that’s why our business is so good. We continue to take care of the customers like we always did.
That’s right. With the Internet, consumers have a lot of ways to research vehicles and sales prices. How has that affected business?
They’ve still got to trade, and they’ve still got to come to the dealer to get their trade-in looked at. Online websites try to give the individual an idea of their car’s value, but an in-person evaluation is still necessary.
We’re a few years out from the recession, but how did the downturn affect you?
It didn’t really bother us. We chose not to participate in it and just kept selling cars.
What are the particular challenges of running a family-owned business?
Usually the biggest challenge is, you’ve got two or three kids, you know what I mean? And all of them have different ideas. And the older they get, the less they think you know. That’s really the biggest challenge. Then again, like my youngest son told me 10 years ago, I was a dinosaur. He said that the Internet had really changed the auto business, what with eBay and all this kind of stuff. I listened to them, and let them do a lot of that, so we do pretty well with the e-commerce side of the business now.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in business?
Probably not listening. I probably talked when I should have listened. But I’ve learned from my mistakes. The more mistakes you make and then get yourself out of them, the better you learn. I try to give these young guys the benefit of my experience from the mistakes I’ve made, so it helps them bypass some of those errors.
So younger workers can learn from your mistakes?
Yes, they can. I take more of a coaching role. I still work deals with customers. I still take care of the day-to-day stuff with my son Scott. When he has a problem, he can come to me. I guess I’m a sounding board for him now. I’ve been doing this for 43 years. It’s time to start passing the torch to him. He’s clearly qualified because he’s done it on a daily basis.
What was the best decision you ever made?
To buy the Toyota store back in 2003, because it’s been the No. 1 store in the South for several years. Scott was young then. My oldest son and I started it, and Scott came along and got more experience, and now he’s running it. Steve Jr. designed the store. It’s really a first-class operation.