The business of car sales has impacted the Shepherd family for generations, with current owner David Shepherd’s father, grandfather and great-uncle each being involved in the business.
But that heritage will change in the upcoming weeks as Shepherd completes the sale of the Shepherd Team Auto Plaza in Fort Scott to the Briggs Auto Group and begins a different stage in his own life.
“I’m looking forward to really being able to move on to the next chapter,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd’s father bought the Fort Scott Ford dealership in 1952 when there were 13 car dealerships in the community. But that number decreased as the business changed over the years with consolidation and the addition of internet sales.
Shepherd said he first started helping his father’s business as a 10-year-old washing and cleaning the vehicles there.
After going through the Fort Scott education system and attending McPherson College, Shepherd turned down the opportunity to join the Peace Corps as well as an offer from the Ford Motor Company in order to stay closer to home and a woman he met at college, a decision he does not regret now after 43 years of marriage. Shepherd worked at a dealership in McPherson for a year before returning to Fort Scott in 1972, the same year he married his wife.
“My father was very happy when I came back,” Shepherd said of that move, which also allowed him to again work in the family business.
Working as a sales person and then a sales manager, Shepherd continued to learn about the business as he trained to become his father’s successor.
“As time went by I was given more and more responsibility,” Shepherd said, saying he was even given the task of improving the sales of certain areas of the dealership as it continued to expand to include other manufacturers’ vehicles.
Shepherd eventually took over the business from his father, having now run it for about the past 30 years. Shepherd’s father continued to visit the business however until Alzheimer’s prevented those visits.
In 1981 the dealership added Buick, GMC and Pontiac vehicles to those already on sale, including Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Dodge, Chrysler and Plymouth. In 1988, they added Chrysler and also became one of just two dealerships in the country that year that were asked to add Toyota vehicles to their dealership.
“That was a big year for us,” Shepherd said. “We felt real honored.”
While the dealership continued to expand to include four manufacturers and employ about 50 employees, Shepherd said he never found the one employee that could be his successor. His two sons never showed an interest in the business and Shepherd said he never pressured them to follow his own profession.
“It takes a special kind of person to be a dealer in a small city,” Shepherd said, saying he has had great employees but none that were the perfect fit.
After searching for that right person for the past seven or eight years, Shepherd said a combination of his age, time in the business, no growth in the dealership and tiring of working six days a week for 43 years led him to the decision to sell the company.
After beginning the process before Christmas of last year, Shepherd said he came to an agreement with dealership owner Russell Briggs, who started in auto repair 40 years ago and currently owns nine other dealerships in Kansas. With the months-long process finally reaching an end, the dealership will switch hands within the next two to six weeks.
“He’s a hard worker and has been very successful,” Shepherd said of Briggs, who he said is known for taking good care of his customers and employees and having a high volume of vehicles. “I think that’ll be very good for the people in this area…We’re leaving the store in good hands, I believe.”
Despite selling that dealership, Shepherd said he will continue to own Bourbon County Cars, but looks forward to having more time available to be a part of the community through programs such as Circles and the Fort Scott Area Community Foundation.
“I don’t really think of myself as retiring,” Shepherd said, but doing something different.
Shepherd said the same employees will continue to work at the dealership and it will continue to service vehicles purchased there while it was Shepherd’s.
Since announcing the sale, Shepherd says he has heard from customers and friends who congratulated him but also said they were sorry he was selling.
“We appreciate greatly their support,” Shepherd said of those customers, saying because of them and his employees the dealership lasted 63 years instead of the average 10 years and sold about 100,000 vehicles.