So exclaimed the Car-Mart managers when they spotted Steve Watson two weeks after he had applied for a job at the Discount Auto in Russellville, Ark. (a subsidiary of Car-Mart at the time). While they had inadvertently misplaced Steve’s application, they remembered Steve and knew he was the right person for their vacant position.
Fortunately, Steve returned to the store to check on his application and was ultimately hired on the spot as a full-time Lot Attendant. It was 1995 and he was attending college at Arkansas Tech, Russellville.
If Steve had not checked back, he may not have enjoyed a stellar 25-year career at Car-Mart. That’s eight moves in seven different cities, mostly in Arkansas – Bigelow, Benton, Malvern, Hot Springs, Russellville, and Bauxite, as well as Poplar Bluff, Mo. where he opened the first Car-Mart in that city. He’s held a variety of positions – Lot Attendant, Management Trainee, Account Manager, Senior Account Manager, Assistant Manager, General Manager, and District Manager – earning one promotion after another.
Fast forward to today, Steve is an Area Operations Manager for America’s Car-Mart in Bryant, Ark. With his vast Car-Mart experience, he’s found his niche in the operations aspect of the business. “I love my position. I truly enjoy managing areas and having multiple dealerships and associates that I can impact,” says Steve, who also worked with co-workers who became supervisors and supervisors who became subordinates.
Every day brings a new challenge, as well as changes to Steve. “The company constantly evolves, and it evolves from the ground up and not from the top-down – what they say will make us a better business and be a better part of the community,” Steve comments. “It’s the lots and the associates and that’s what makes Car-Mart a special place to work.”
“As I look back at my Car-Mart career, the longer I worked at Car-Mart and the way they treated their associates I wanted to stay. I wanted to be a part of that,” continues Steve. “It’s the best job anyone could have.”
Reflections on 25 years – stories to share
During his tenure with Car-Mart, the affable Steve has enjoyed many notable moments with his fellow associates, customers, and even competitors.
A phone call from the CEO – “Come to Rogers tomorrow,” said Nan Smith. When at the meeting with Nan, she said, “You’re promoted again.” And, that’s how he was promoted to District Manager. “She saw more in me than what I saw,” says Steve, who had been with the company for five years at that time. “Years later working in Russellville as the Assistant Manager, I rode with my GM to the meeting. He was my supervisor on the way to the meeting and I was his Area Operations Manager on the way back.”
Steve’s most proud Car-Mart moment – One of his mentees won ‘Lot of the Year.’ “I worked for him and I also served as his District manager. It was great to be there on stage when we won his award,” smiles Steve.
Steve’s best memories – Seeing his associates advance in their careers is immensely rewarding for Steve. “It’s not about me. What really drives me is seeing my people excel,” Steve says. “I love promoting associates. I love working with associates. It’s great to have that ‘lot moment’ where they get the business and they start excelling. And, then one day, you’re at a meeting and your former associate is a General Manager. That’s special.”
A special customer in Little Rock, Ark. – When Steve was an Account Manager in 1997, he worked closely with a customer to help get her into a vehicle. Ten years later, that customer returned to the store. She remembers Steve telling her, “You’re that little skinny account manager who gave me heck.” Steve recalls the serious conversations he had with the customer, and as a result, she bought four vehicles over the course of several years. And, this time she brought her 20-year-old grandson to Car-Mart saying this was the only place she would bring her kids to buy a vehicle.
“That tells me that what we do as a company – everything I’ve been taught about the customer experience – that tells me we truly do make a difference when we do things right. It’s generational. Three generations buying from Car-Mart because of how we treated them. That’s special,” Steve says.
A competitor in Poplar Bluff – An owner of a competitor welcomed Steve and Car-Mart to Poplar Bluff, while surreptitiously offering to buy the store when things didn’t work out for Car-Mart. Many years later, that owner returned to Car-Mart to apologize for the ‘rude conversation’ many years earlier. “Tell him [Steve] I’m sorry and congratulate him on his success,” said the competitor.
“This story tells you that the company – yes, we may stumble from time to time – we made an impact on the community and other businesses took notice,” recalls Steve.
Car-Mart – associate and family-focused
For Steve, the family atmosphere at Car-Mart is what makes Car-Mart a special and unique place to work.
“The company is extremely family-oriented. I tell people I have two families – my family and my Car-Mart family,” says Steve. “At Car-Mart, everybody knows everybody. The regional management staff knows everyone they oversee all the way to the lot attendants. That makes a good impact for someone who wants to make a career here. And, we’re big on promoting from within. It doesn’t matter your background or degree. If you show initiative and are hard-working, you’re going to be offered a promotion at some point.”
Indeed, Car-Mart is a family affair as Steve’s twin brothers once worked for Car-Mart. The Watson boys held three management positions in the company at one point in time. In addition, his future son-in-law is employed as a Sales Associate in Russellville.
“It’s the family atmosphere. The company truly takes care of its associates. They care about the personal and family side,” mentions Steve. “The company is more concerned about an associate’s wellbeing. The associate comes first, the business comes second.”
The well-traveled Steve
Moving as a kid prepared Steve to be ready to uproot and move when opportunity and promotions presented themselves at Car-Mart. He grew up in Glenwood, Ark. where his Dad was a forest ranger and his Mom was a teacher. They moved frequently from one small town to another – Hector, Ark.; Joana, S.C.; and Marianna, Ark.
His Father raised pure blood Beagles in their kennel ‘Valley High Beagles’. In fact, Steve’s childhood nickname was Beagle. They were known as the ‘house with all the Beagles.’ When Steve was 10 years old, he selected a beagle to enter competitions. Named ‘Valley High Jimbo,’ the dog placed 2nd in the nation and was a National Field Champion. Steve’s photo and accomplishments were published in the magazine Hounds and Hunting.
Today, Steve and his family have a Catahoula dog, named Sig (named after gun manufacturer). Steve, a quintessential country boy, enjoys hunting and fishing, as well as shooting competitions.
“Car-Mart cares about a work/life balance. We’re allowed to enjoy our passions and hobbies,” says Steve, who with his wife, Joyce, has six children, ages 16 – 25.
On the move to 50 years at Car-Mart
And, now, Steve has set his sights on being with Car-Mart for 50 years.
Steve’s goal is to be the company’s first fifty-year associate. In fact, he has a plan. He’ll serve as an on-call driver working at least one day a week so he can get his 50-year pin. “It’s part of my master plan. I’m curious about what kind of plaque or monument they will come up with,” Steve laughs.
When Steve receives his 50-year milestone, Car-Mart associates will once again say, “That’s him!”