ELLSWORTH — The year 2008 wasn’t the most auspicious time to open a small business, but that’s exactly what Jimmy and Shanon Card did. They opened Card Enterprises in August of that year.
“The economy wasn’t that great, but Jimmy had always wanted to own his own dealership,” says Shanon Card. “We said, ‘You know what? Let’s jump off the porch and do it,’” “So we cashed in the 401k, rented this place and started buying cars.”
Card Enterprises started with three employees in what had once been a dealership for Argo amphibious vehicles.
“I really liked the character of the building. We always wanted to keep some of that,” says Shanon.
Sadly, Jimmy Card passed away last August. He had worked for the Linnehan family as a car salesman for more than a decade, and had developed a loyal following.
“Jimmy was just such an institution here. He had a huge clientele. He was a destination, people followed him,” says Shanon. “If people didn’t know him, I’d have to ask ‘Where are you from?’”
Transitioning from strictly sales to managing a dealership wasn’t without its challenges, though. Card Enterprises started small, selling older vehicles with in-house financing.
“Jimmy hated being the bad guy, having to go knock on someone’s door and take back the car,” says Shanon. “Sometimes there would be someone older, or someone with kids, and Jimmy would say ‘just let them keep the car.’”
Shanon relays a story from the early days of Card Enterprises, when the dealership was responsible for all financing.
“One couple was very delinquent with payments, and Jim found out they had a sick child. He signed the back of the title releasing our interest in the vehicle and sent it to them free and clear. That’s who he was. It may not have been a great business decision, but it was always about the people and the relationships.”
Making sure customers get the vehicles they truly need
Within a few years, Card Enterprises expanded to a staff of nine people, and today sells a full line of cars and trucks.
“The trucks are definitely the most popular,” says Shanon Card. “Jimmy wanted to be called ‘The Truck King.’”
While trucks may be king, that’s not all that Card Enterprises offers.
“Sometimes people would come in saying ‘I definitely want that truck,’” says Shanon. “But Jimmy would talk to them, ask them if they really needed it for their family, and they’d walk out of here with a Buick.”
Card Enterprises also offers repair and detailing services for their vehicles. Card Enterprises also does inspections for cars and motorcycles.
“We want people to gravitate towards a small business because it’s more personal,” says Shanon. “And so much of this place is Jimmy.”
Auto techs bring pride, know-how to the job every day
ELLSWORTH — Jason Seavey is the head technician in the service department at Card Enterprises.
“I knew Jimmy when we were growing up,” says Jason, “I was here pretty much from Day One.”
With four people in the service department, Card Enterprises offers a full range of detailing and repair work. It generally starts with a diagnostic, although Jason says sometimes you can tell what is wrong with a vehicle just by starting the engine and driving it around for a bit. Even with a small staff, the service department can work on up to five or six vehicles per day.
Jason says Jimmy really instilled a sense of hard work in all of the service department employees.
“He liked to give us Bill Belichick quotes,” says Jason.
Still, Jason says that Jimmy always had a way to keep things positive.
“He could always say something to lighten up the mood, to keep people laid back.”
Dedicated employees make Card Enterprises the business it is today
Shanon says the employees are like a family, both figuratively and literally.
“Fran Leyendecker, our accountant, she is my stepmother. Jodi Carlisle, our office manager, finance manager and sales manager has known Jimmy forever since the ’80s,” says Shanon.
In the garage, Jason Seavey is the head technician and Shanon Card calls him her “rock star.” He’s joined by Gary Dow, Jeramie Sawyer and Harold Lindsey
“My technicians, I’ve got one that’s been doing this for probably 15 years. I’ve got two other younger guys that haven’t been doing this as long, but because they went to school more recently, they have a different skill set,” says Shanon.
She adds that Card Enterprises has recently updated all diagnostic testing equipment used in the garage.
“If there’s something that’s really tough to figure out through a diagnostic test, they’ll all work together,” says Shanon. “It’s a collaborative effort.”
Corey Cyr is head of sales, and has been with Card Enterprises for eight years.
“He’s like my right-hand guy,” says Shanon. “He’s in charge of buying new cars and he manages the lot.”
Shanon says he’s responsible for the way Card Enterprises looks today.
“Without him, this would be tough, because he’s been with Jimmy for so long,” says Shanon. “We have this thing, ‘What would Jimmy do?’ And we’ll look at each other and I’ll say, ‘Yeah, you know what to do.’”
Customer service means “making sure they’re happy”
Corey Cyr started at Card Enterprises a few months after it opened, in the fall of 2008.
“I’ve known Jimmy for a long time. I used to pick blueberries for his dad in the summer.”
Corey started out managing the service department, and continues to do that today along with purchasing inventory and conducting sales.
“The most important part of sales is customer service, making sure they’re happy with the product, and taking care of them.”
That’s something that’s always been a part of the Card Enterprises business model, going back to the first couple of years when they handled all financing in-house.
“Jimmy would sell a car to anyone, but he hated having to repossess a vehicle when someone couldn’t make payments,” says Corey. “There would be times when he’d send me out to repossess a car, and by the time I got back to the dealership with it, Jimmy would tell me he’d worked something out with the owner and that I could take the car back to them.”
Corey says that is the same way Jimmy treated the people who worked with him.
“He’d always give my kids money for the vending machines when they were here. We go up to his camp in the summer, he’d let them go digging for clams and frogs,” says Corey. “One time, we were both at the dealership on a Sunday. We decided to go snowmobiling and ended up all the way in Lucerne. Jimmy was normally all about work, so that’s probably my favorite memory of him.”
Being a small, local business, it’s incumbent on Card Enterprises to provide a positive customer service experience.
“Jimmy and Shanon knew so many people in this community,” says Jodi Carlisle.
Jodi started at Card Enterprises almost eight years ago, when Shanon asked her to come in one day to help out around the office.
“Jimmy was just the best salesman. He would be so excited for a sale. I think he’d be more excited than the person buying the car.”
About six months after starting, Jimmy asked her to get started in sales.
“There was a woman buying a Jeep Cherokee, and we were both very excited about it,” says Jodi. “We closed the sale, and I went to tell Jimmy about it. He asked where the money for the vehicle was and I realized that I’d forgotten to actually get the check from her!”
Having learned to collect payments, Jodi is now the office, finance and sales manager for Card Enterprises. She says she greatly enjoys working for smaller, family owned business.
“It’s really great working here, because you get to know so many people. Jimmy was such an institution here. People still come around because of him.”