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By CINDY SIMPSON
In a changing of the guard at a prominent Roane County business, Marty Duncan has taken the helm at Jerry Duncan Ford.
The sale was complete on March 1, the anniversary of when Marty’s father, Jerry, bought the Harriman dealership in 1975.
“It is a really good deal for both of us,” Marty said.
Jerry Duncan is also selling his share of Duncan Automotive, a high-end preowned car lot in Knoxville, to Marty. The two went in together on that endeavor years ago.
While the son rolls up his sleeves, the father is looking forward to enjoying more of the fruits of his own labor.
“I hope to spend more quality time with (my wife) Judy and my family and play a little golf,” he said.
The elder Duncan isn’t planning to retire completely, however. Jerry intends to keep his office and help his son.
“I’m going to work for Marty,” he said.
Jerry Duncan began his career in the parts and service industry in Clinton, then moved to a dealership.
He later worked for Good Year Tire and Rubber Co., first as a credit manager and later as a store manager. The work involved traveling around the state to stores that needed help.
He decided to return to Clinton with his young family and went back to work at local dealerships.
Charles Lee, who hired Jerry Duncan at Reeder Motor Co. in Oak Ridge, bought a Chevrolet dealership in Rockwood in 1972.
A short while later, Jerry decided he was ready to go out on his own, purchasing the Harriman Ford dealership, in part because of its location in the then-bustling downtown.
The decision was not without risk.
“Chevy was light years ahead of Ford at that time,” said Marty.
By the 1980s, however, Ford had replaced Chevy on top.
“He made a really good business decision,” Marty said. “He felt this was a good place to put his family.”
Ford rewarded Jerry for his success.
“In early 1980s, they gave me the Lincoln Mercury franchise because we were doing so good selling the Lincoln Mercuries,” Jerry Duncan said.
What really helped the business thrive was a focus on maintaining the vehicles after the sale.
“We built our business on our service department and doing what we said we’d do,” Jerry said.
Early on, they had one technician and by 10 a.m. the work would be done.
Now the service department is bustling in its own right.
“Today we work on appointments,” Jerry said.
He also focused on community involvement with civic organizations, church and the Chamber of Commerce. Jerry Duncan Ford also partnered with Rocky Top Markets to donate a vehicle to a student winner for perfect attendance.
Much of the dealership’s business today comes from loyal customers.
“Eighty percent of our business is repeat and referral,” Jerry said. “A satisfied customer and word of mouth — you can’t buy that.”
One of those loyal customers is Ken Alred, who was waiting on an oil change at the Exxon across the street when he rushed to the dealership to use the bathroom.
Jerry showed him a used truck when he came outside.
“Long story short, I traded with him,” he said. As Alred was leaving, “he turned around and yelled, ‘Jerry that is the most expensive restroom break I’ve ever taken.’”
Alred has been a repeat customer for more than 30 years, Jerry said.
The dealership has been recognized for excellence many times, receiving the Presidents Award — the highest award Ford gives — four times. The service department also has garnered its share of honors.
The transition should be easy for Marty, who was a presence at his father’s dealership as young as age 11. He began selling cars there as a teen.
In 1988, Marty became sales manager, then moved on to oversee the operations in Knoxville.
The younger Duncan has his own plans for the future, including a likely move to Midtown, but he intends to stick with the business model his father taught him.
“I had a really good teacher in Dad,” Marty said.
“You come into the world with one thing, and that is your word. In business, you are only as good as your word,” he said. “It is always about integrity.”
Marty is joined at the dealership by former coworkers Robin Wampler and Jason Taylor.
Another generation of Duncans is also getting involved.
Marty’s son, Jacob, has expressed interest in the business.
“He’ll be working in the service department this summer,” Marty said.