Arizona and its residents are not foreign to the famous “That ain’t no bull,” and it’s spokesperson. Everyone knows the famous Tex Earnhardt and his business, Earnhardt Auto Dealerships. But only a few have an insider on the backstory of the well-known business.
The journey of how Earnhardt Auto Dealerships started from scratch and became one of the largest family-owned businesses in Arizona is an American success story.
Earnhardt Auto Dealerships is a family business run by three generations of the Earnhardts. Initially, the business was started by Tex Earnhardt, who was born on December 9, 1930, in a small Southern Texas town in the Rio Grande valley. Tex was only a teenager when his family moved to Chandler, Arizona. There, his father opened a small gas station. In the 10th grade, Tex dropped out of school to become a professional rodeo cowboy. He started working at his father’s gas station, too.
Tex had a friend who worked for Ford, and the company was looking around for dealers. At first, Tex wasn’t interested in selling cars. But then, he was offered a deal he couldn’t refuse. They said, “And we’ll furnish you with a pickup truck worth $800 if you can manage a Ford dealership.” Seeing it as an opportunity, Tex told his friend, “‘I’ll take it.”
Tex borrowed some money from his father to open a small dealership at the gas station. And on September 4, 1951, Tex became the youngest person to own a Ford franchise, just shy of his 21st birthday!
When the dealership was still fresh, Tex sold one or two vehicles per month (because that’s all he could afford, literally!) He used to put the automobile on display, and once it was sold, he would order the next one.
Even though Tex owned a dealership, he was quite new to the business and said, “I didn’t know what being a Ford dealer was, to be truthful.”
Selling cars was not much of his forte, and Tex remembered his first few days going downhill. He shared a memory saying, “Now this was a basic black truck with no radio or anything, but it was $800. And he says, ‘$800? Well, I’d never pay that much for a truck. I’m going to buy a Chevy.’ That night I called my mom and said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to like this.
However, Tex was smart, determined, and a quick learner. He swiftly gained a grasp on the business. It only took him a couple of years before his auto dealing empire started shining unlike any other in all of Arizona. In 1978, Earnhardt Auto Dealership purchased Arizona’s largest Chevrolet location, Thoroughbred Chevrolet.
Savvy and hardworking, Tex did not trust his success to word of mouth; he realized that he’d need to advertise to stand out from the competition. Back in the 1960s, when black and white T.V. was the norm, Tex appeared in the dealership group’s ads sitting atop his steer wearing blue jeans, cowboy boots, a silver belt buckle, and a cowboy hat, and featuring its “And that ain’t no bull,” tag line, which he coined.
In 1994, Tex took a leap in the digital sphere and launched the first website for the business. By 2005,
Earnhardt Auto Dealership had generated $1 billion in revenue. A couple of years later, the dealership had expanded to 11 locations!
The business might have started with sharp edges, but in 2012, the dealership sold 19,049 new vehicles, 9,793 used vehicles, and generated total revenue of $890,092,424. The following year, expansion had reached to 17 new locations, all based in Arizona!
In 2016, the dealership launched the 67,000-square-foot, Earnhardt Lexus, in Phoenix, Arizona. Earnhardt Lexus is not just a fancy shop for selling cars; this multi-use facility regularly hosts community events as well. The same year in June, Earnhardt’s first Chevrolet franchise was opened, offering one of the largest selections of Chevrolets in the Valley. Two years later, Tex opened the business’ first auto dealership in Queen Creek, a location that covers an area of 6.65 acres. Earnhardt Auto Centers also include two QuickLane Service Centers and two body shops.
Tex was a friendly and funny guy with a habit of giving back to his community. It wasn’t long before he started a program called “H.E.A.R.T.” The program is an open invitation to all employees who agree on giving a fraction of their salaries to those in need. The amount collected is donated to different charities every month.
Earnhardt Auto Dealership’s success was quick, and it gained immense recognition on several platforms. From 2008 through 2018, Earnhardt Toyota was a recipient of the President’s Award. The dealership was awarded the Customer First Club from 2013 to 2018. Earnhardt Volkswagen has been a recipient of the Wolfsburg Crest Club Award for four consecutive years from 2015 to 2018. The dealership is also a recipient of the President’s Cabinet Award for three consecutive years from 2016 to 2018.
In 2016 and 2017, the dealership also received the Board of Governors Award. In 2017, the Phoenix Business Journal ranked the dealership as the 2nd top family-owned business, and the same year, Earnhardt Honda received its 5th Five Star Dealer Award.
In 2018, the business was presented with both the Consumer Satisfaction Award and Dealer of the Year recognition by DealerRater in 2018. It was also named as the number one LEED Dealer in North America the same year.
As of today, the company misses Tex, who passed away on April 19, 2020. Earnhardt Auto Dealership has spread its roots to 24 locations, employs more than 2,200 people, and offers 18 brands. Tex’s sons, Hal and Jim Babe Earnhardt, along with their sons, Derby and Dodge Earnhardt, are running the Earnhardt Auto Centers’ dealerships, keeping their grandfather’s empire and legacy alive!