Dean named state#039;s top retailer

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 29, 2005

BIRMINGHAM- In today's retail atmosphere of self-service, many businesses see customer service as secondary to speed of purchase and "convenience." For the past 35 years, Earnest Dean and Greenville Cash and Carry has made customer service job one, something that has earned him a solid reputation a good, fair and honest man to do business with.

Tuesday, Dean was honored by the Alabama Retail Association with its Retailer of the Year award. Dean won the Gold Award in the category of "annual sales over $5 million," which was the highest category the association presented in. He was nominated for the award by the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Jerry Beasley, chairman of the Alabama Retail Association, said receiving the award is no easy matter since the association represents more than 4,000 businesses in the state that account for nearly 75 percent of all retail sales in Alabama.

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"To be nominated is an honor, to win is very difficult," said Beasley, addressing the more than 100 people in attendance at the Summit Club in Birmingham. "There's a variety of reasons the winners are here today, but they all have one thing in common; customer service."

In his acceptance speech, Dean said his family, who is involved in the day-to-day operation of the business, was his motivation for why he had invested so much of himself in making Cash and Carry a success. Later, he emphasized that it was his employees who were responsible for the business being so successful and the award was a tribute to them more than anyone.

"I accepted the award, but my employees are really what won the award for me," he said. "I take responsibility for hiring them, but I have to give them all the credit for making us successful."

With only $10,000 in capital, Dean started Cash and Carry in 1970 in what's commonly called the "Red Barn," which sits at the intersection of the Greenville Bypass and Hwy. 10 and later moved just up the road to his current location. He later opened a Cash and Carry in Luverne and Andalusia and also owns several rental buildings in downtown Greenville. His seed capital is now worth several million dollars and Dean's businesses now operate debt free, something he's very proud of.

"I was disappointed after five years that I was not debt free," Dean said. "But I finally figured out that if you're growing, it's okay to owe money. It took 30-years to get what I call self-sufficient, but we're in command of our business and last year was the best year we've ever had."

Giving back to the community is a top priority for Dean, who said he gives approximately $15,000 per year in sponsorships and donations to local organizations. He also sponsors a free music concert for senior citizens in the community at the Ritz Theater each year and helps sponsor numerous events throughout the year. Long-time employee Danny Haire, who has worked for Dean for 35-years, said it's no secret why Dean won the award.

"He's just a good, honest businessman and that's hard to find," Haire said. "He also gives a lot of stuff, and he's very free-hearted with it and people don't see that. They envy him because he's done so well, but they don't see that side of it."

Dean's daughter, Jody Slagley, who started in the business with her father as a teen before getting a business degree, now works in the floor covering division of the business. She said her father preached customer service to her from an early age and for him to be honored by the ARA was very inspirational to her.

"I told daddy when I came back from college that he could be a professor, because everything he taught me about customer service, they taught me at college," she said. "For him to be recognized with an award for something I always knew he was so good at is exciting and very emotional for me."

Cash and Carry always putting the customer first and providing quality product and price to go along with quality service has been a component of making many local contractors successful in their own right. One of those, Randall Nicholas, has seen Dean from both the employee and customer side of the fence.

"For the first 13 years I worked for him and have been in business buying from him for the last 15," Nicholas said. "You can buy from one place today and one place tomorrow, but he's always been there. Customer service there is better than any place I've ever bought. He got the award for a reason. He deserved it."

Dean, 66, is in the twilight of his business career and since he started drawing Social Security last year he cut his company salary by two-thirds. A few years back he started "slowing down" a bit and began taking Saturdays off to play golf and spend time with his family. Dean also has a son, Stan, who manages Luverne Cash and Carry and a son-in-law, Gale Slagley who helps with the Andalusia store. His oldest son, Earnest Dean, Jr. worked for his father for several years before recently going into the insurance business in Greenville.

"I reached a point a few years ago where I could have sold," said Dean, who now says he's "working for free." "But I have family involved in the business and one day when I get old I'd like to turn it over to them. But for now, I feel good and I just enjoy working."