Haigler sees bright future for dealership

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 26, 2004

Charles Haigler, Jr., better known to customers, employees and friends alike as &uot;Mr. Charlie&uot;, is a man who just might have a little gasoline running in his veins.

Mr. Charlie knows cars.

Considering his family has been in the automobile business since 1929, that’s entirely understandable.

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Visit the Greenville Motor Company dealership just off Interstate 65 and you will see rows of shiny new roadsters, SUVs and the latest in pickups.

Some models seem to hearken back to classic styles of days gone by – a trend of which Haigler heartily approves.

Ask him which vehicle he likes the best and this car man’s face lights up.

&uot;Oh, that would have to be the current Chrysler 300-C with the hemi engine,&uot; he said. &uot;I drove one about four or five thousand miles and I loved it. They’ve brought back the big, classic American car – and yet it’s new and different, too. I think it’s the best thing we’ve had in years.&uot;

Still upbeat

In spite of his ongoing battle with cancer and the rigors of undergoing chemotherapy, Mr. Charlie remains as upbeat as ever and is back to spending part of nearly every day at his Five-Star Chrysler dealership.

When his nephew stops by to check on his uncle, Mr. Charlie greets him warmly.

&uot;Oh, I don’t feel too bad,&uot; he said. &uot;I’m supposed to be at the low point in my treatments – and the radiation does make my ears itch and get sore – but otherwise, I’m OK. Just don’t feel like running any sprints.&uot;

Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon isn’t surprised by Haigler’s positive attitude.

&uot;Mister Charlie and his wife both have such great attitudes and are wonderful people to be around,&uot; he said. &uot;He’s the kind of man who knows how to treat people right, yet still run a business and have it be successful.&uot;

Like father, like son

It was 1929 when Charles Haigler, Sr. moved Canterbury Motor Company (at the time a Ford dealership) from Hayneville to Fort Deposit. His son Charles Jr., a graduate of Fort Deposit High and the University of Alabama, had a stint in the U.S. Army and a job with U.S. Steel before joining his dad at Fort Deposit Motor Company in 1961.

The younger Haigler completed dealer training in Detroit in 1963 and became general manager of the business in 1970. In 1999, the decision was made to move the dealership from Fort Deposit to Greenville, a &uot;good choice&uot;, says Haigler. The Greenville dealership opened in January 2000.

&uot;We were no longer getting the traffic we did when Highway 31 was still a main road,&uot; he said. &uot;I won’t say we were forced to make the move, but the trend was, and is, definitely moving away from small-town dealerships to high-traffic locations.&uot;

&uot;There used to be dealerships in Luverne, Georgiana and Evergreen, just to name three local ones, and they aren’t there anymore,&uot; he added.

Bigger is better

According to Haigler, an abundance of small-town dealerships will likely become a thing of the past.

&uot;I believe we’ll see fewer dealerships as time goes by,&uot; he said. &uot;You have to be bigger in order to maintain inventory and cover overhead, buy all the computers and other equipment needed nowadays and still provide a nice facility for your customers.&uot;

With the move from Fort Deposit, Haigler’s dealership more than doubled its square footage with a new million-dollar facility located on three acres between Winn-Dixie and Cracker Barrel.

The business currently has 17 employers, &uot;some of the best around,&uot; according to their boss.

&uot;When you go to a larger town, you have a greater pool of workers to choose from…I’d say we have some of the best personnel in place in all the years we’ve been in business,&uot; Haigler says.

An asset to community

Greenville Motor Company and the Camellia City have been a great match, he emphasizes.

&uot;Everybody from the mayor on down has been so helpful and supportive of our business and we really do appreciate that,&uot; Haigler comments.

Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce President Carol Lee considers Mr. Charlie &uot;a real asset to the community&uot;.

&uot;I would have to say he goes over and beyond what is expected in helping out schools and civic organizations in the area. I feel so lucky to be associated with a man like Mister Charlie,&uot; Lee says, adding, &uot;In spite of his illness, I think he’s still got such a great attitude.&uot;

Haigler has long been active in his community, whether serving as a Fort Deposit city councilman for two decades or as a church elder in his church, Center Ridge Presbyterian.

Mr. Charlie has been there to help the city of Greenville with its recent opportunities for economic growth, too, says McLendon. &uot;When we had Hyundai representatives show up on very short notice and we needed a van but didn’t have time to pick one up – he would send one over to us.

&uot;I tell you, they just don’t make ’em like that anymore,&uot; McLendon adds.

Life’s a beach

As he continues to phase into retirement, Haigler enjoys traveling and spending time with family and friends. He especially relishes any opportunities to visit the beach, where he can indulge in his favorite pastimes of boating and fishing.

As for wife Susan, &uot;her hobby is the Republican Party,&uot; Haigler says with a chuckle. &uot;She’ll be a delegate to the Republican Convention this year – she really loves George W. Bush,&uot; he explains. The couple’s son, Charles Haigler III, is an attorney in Montgomery.

A viable concern

Haigler sees Greenville Motor Company as a &uot;viable business&uot; that will continue to thrive in the coming years. He believes it will pass into very capable hands when his manager and long-time employee, Ken Gibson, eventually takes the reins. &uot;We are very fortunate to have Ken in place as my successor here,&uot; says Haigler.

&uot;Twenty-four wonderful years and still going,&uot; Gibson says with a smile.

In the meantime, Haigler still takes an active interest in the business he has been an integral part of for over 40 years.

While the he says it is &uot;hard to predict&uot; future trends in the automobile business, Haigler believes sport utility vehicles will continue to reign supreme. &uot;People still like their SUVs, both new and used – all you have to do is look at any parking lot to see that. As long as gas is available and not much more expensive than it is now, I think people will continue to buy them.&uot;

He does see improvements ahead that will benefit car buyers. &uot;Cars and trucks will become more fuel-efficient as time goes by – we’ll see more hybrids, for example – it’s an evolutionary process, you know.&uot;

With long distances to cover and a lack of mass transit, Haigler believes Americans will continue their long-standing love affair with the automobile.

&uot;Americans do love their cars. A car can be an expression of your personality or just a commodity. I think most folks like a little ‘jazz’ with their vehicles, though – and the manufacturers are giving it to them.&uot;

If you want to stop in and chat about the car business or check out the latest models in Chryslers, Dodges, Plymouths, Chevrolets or Jeeps, give Mr. Charlie a call at Greenville Motor Company. Just don’t expect to catch him there on Labor Day weekend.

&uot;I’m planning to be down at the beach, trying to catch some kingfish,&uot; he says.