Manly Eubank was a youngish partner with former North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford in an insurance firm 45 years ago, when he negotiated a sharp career turn.
Rather than continuing to manage the insurer, he opted to buy a new-car dealership in Charleston.
It's not that Eubank, a Tar Heel state native, was intimately familiar with the Lowcountry. And, to hear him talk now, his knowledge of the auto business at the time was slim at best.
But Eubank was up to the task. His first step was to form Palmetto Ford Inc. in July 1969. According to his biographical sketch, the corporation would then purchase the Ford dealership "which had been the Charleston Ford dealership since 1923."
Palmetto Ford opened July 15, 1969, on Charleston's dealership row at the time, Morrison Drive.
Over the years, Eubank wasn't afraid to promote the business, once giving away a new Ford Maverick to a customer and later hiring his children's babysitter Libby Armstrong as TV pitchwoman "Mama."
His son, Graham Manly Eubank Jr., would start working at Palmetto Ford soon after graduating from Clemson. And daughter Burnam Eubank had her first taste of the business as a 13 year old.
The car store would struggle at times, such as the oil crisis of the mid-1970s when most American built cars were gas guzzlers.
Yet by 1984, Palmetto Ford was a fixture in the Lowcountry and began eying the new "auto mile," Savannah Highway.
"The last thing I know we were the only place left," Eubank, 77, quipped in an interview this week from his second floor office. "I was scouting around, looking to move out there (West Ashley) with everyone else," he said.
Eubank rifled off the names of his competitors. "Let's see, there was Fort Sumter Chevrolet. Murdaugh, they had Volkswagen; Penrod Simmons, Chrysler; Hallman Buick," he said.
"The big one we followed out here was Parsell (Chevrolet). Ford and Chevrolet go together," said Eubank, who still comes to work daily. "We followed as soon as we could."
Palmetto Ford landed at 1625 Savannah Highway on the south side of the four-lane road. The dealership's stayed there since then, a period of 30 years.
Throughout July, Palmetto Ford Lincoln plans to highlight its 45 years as a new-car dealership. The company added Lincoln to its new-car stable in 2010, Graham Eubank said.
Several years ago, the junior Eubank succeeded his father as president and chief executive of Palmetto Car and Truck Group. He's spent 22 years with the company, including as new car and as used car sales manager; and parts and service director. Today the group encompasses Ford, Lincoln, Mama's Used Cars and QuickLane Auto and Tire Center.
As the company marks 45 years in business, Palmetto Ford Lincoln can rightly point out that it's enjoying some of its best business years.
"Products can't come fast enough," said Burnam Eubank, vice president of Palmetto Ford and an active player in various aspects of the business. Most recently, the Duke economics major has concentrated on the company's boat sales business, also on Savannah Highway.
According to Graham Eubank, Lincoln sales are up 74 percent year to year and Ford transactions have gained 10 percent. Moreover, Ford Motor has two big rollouts coming up - the new 50th anniversary Mustang and the all-aluminum 2015 F-150 full size truck later this year. Customers are already ordering the pickup, he said.
With all the extra business, the company plans to remodel Palmetto Ford Lincoln a little in the next year so that Ford, Lincoln and Mama's Used Cars all claim distinct operations including for service.
The dealership sells 180 cars a month, split about evenly between new and used models, said Graham Eubank, immediate past president of the South Carolina Automobile Dealers Association.
The family-run dealership agrees that Palmetto's roughly 100 employees are a vital factor in the company's long-term success. Graham Eubank said scores of current employees have worked for the company 20 years or more.
Kathy Nagle, the chief financial officer, has logged 43 years of service. Her efforts have helped out Palmetto Ford in both lean and hardy sales years, the Eubanks' noted.
Another veteran, Donnie Martin, counts a 37-year tenure as a service technician. He's considered a whiz at fixing transmissions. "Well, I try," he said modestly.
Martin warmed up when discussing Manly Eubank, whom he's known for close to four decades. "Me and this old guy right here, we would close down this place," Martin said, referring to their workaholic natures. Then, nodding to siblings Graham and Burnam Eubank, the technician said, "He's left it in pretty good hands."
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542or email@example.com.
The Eubank family has been involved in Palmetto Ford since the beginning. Manly Eubank (center) started the business in 1969, son Graham M. Eubank Jr. (right) is president and chief executive and daughter Burnam Eubank is vice president. Leroy Burnell/Staff 7/14/2014×
Kathy Nagle, vice president of finance at Palmetto Ford, has worked at the dealership for 43 years. Leroy Burnell/Staff 7/14/2014×
Donnie Martin, service technican, has completed 37 years with the Savannah Highway Ford dealership. Leroy Burnell/Staff 7/14/2014×
Manly Eubank signed this company mission statement, which is located on the stairway wall heading to the second floor executive offices at Palmetto Ford Lincoln. Leroy Burnell/Staff 7/14/2014.×