A car dealer for 24 years, T.J. Johnson admits he made a mistake in selling a dealership in Summerville four years ago.
He said he's always liked the metro Charleston market and didn't want to leave. So when the chance to buy Woody Bilton Ford came up this spring, he jumped at it.
Johnson purchased the Ford dealership on U.S. Highway 52 south of Moncks Corner in March. He kept the 40-employee staff intact; Lane Arnold is general manager. Johnson hasn't made changes other than to refocus the business' energies on selling and servicing cars and trucks.
But Johnson has big plans for the dealership.
"This is my baby," said Johnson, who owns eight dealerships in South Carolina, Georgia and the Virgin Islands. "We'll be a formidable foe."
Notably, Johnson said he is looking to grow the volume from 180 cars and trucks on the lot now to 300 vehicles in the next two months. "It (the expansion) will be primarily focused on new cars," he said.
Johnson, a Beaufort, N.C., native who now lives in Ravenel, said he's thrilled with buying the dealership, which he first looked at purchasing close to 20 years ago.
"It's been exciting, challenging. It's been a great acquisition."
The store's location, a few miles south of Moncks Corner, is well suited as neighborhoods pop up along Highway 52 between the Berkeley County seat and Goose Creek.
It's even more centrally situated now than in 1990, when Johnson considered buying the store but instead took an offer to purchase the former Bob Summersett Ford on Trolley Road in Summerville. He eventually renamed the dealership and moved to a new location on Dorchester Road before selling in 2005. The dealership is now called Summerville Ford Mercury.
When he bought the Dorchester County outlet 19 years ago, he owned two other dealerships, Team Ford in Tarboro, N.C., and Conway Ford in Conway, which is west of Myrtle Beach. Eventually, Johnson would own a dozen car stores before scaling back. He currently owns Conway Ford, Conway Chrysler, Strand Nissan in Myrtle Beach, Big Country Chevrolet in Hemingway, a Ford outlet in Griffin, Ga., and two Ford stores in St. Thomas and St. Croix, Virgin Islands, as well as Woody Bilton Ford.
Johnson said he's been notified by General Motors that the Hemingway outlet is on the list of dealerships designated to close by next year. "It was a business decision (by GM)," he said, noting that he's tried to keep the store open as long as possible for the employees.
The Woody Bilton operation opens up opportunities, he said. The dealership has a moderate-sized showroom, currently showcasing a new Mustang; sales offices; a full-scale service center; parts area; and body shop. The property encompasses seven acres, so there is plenty of room to expand.
Johnson said now that he's back in the Charleston area, he has no plans to leave this time. He's involved in the community, including serving on the board of First Federal of Charleston.
"I've always loved the Charleston market. In the next six months, I think our business will double here."
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or firstname.lastname@example.org