Lyons buys Roberts' portion of dealership

Friday, February 27, 2009
Tara Stiles, left, and Suzanne Roberts enjoy themselves during the Fat Tuesday celebration on Tuesday.

Amid the Fat Tuesday party at a Lewisburg business this week was the announcement that a business partner purchased family holdings in a dealership that's been here for half a century.

"It was a very friendly transaction," said Mary Roberts whose late husband, Charles Edward "Bay" Roberts, started a car dealership on Verona Avenue in the 1950s, around the corner from where Roberts & Lyons Chevrolet Buick Pontiac GM is now.

"We had planned this for two years," Roberts said the day after more than 750 people enjoyed seafood gumbo, red beans and rice, jambalaya, chicken and sausage gumbo, dirty rice and other Cajun food prepared for an annual Customer Appreciation Day.

Richard Lyons is now the sole owner of the business and property in the transaction closed on Thursday last week, Lyons said, explaining the Richards family helped him buy the dealership through the application of sales bonuses toward his purchase of shares in the dealership and its real estate.

While Lyons bought out the Roberts family ownership, the name of the dealership will remain Roberts & Lyons, the new owner said. And the nature of the business, its staff and service will also remain the same, Lyons said.

It had to be a personal triumph for Lyons who, on Wednesday morning, shared some of his background: What got him started in the car business. Now, Lyons can look back on what's arguably a rags to riches story.

He was, no doubt, using rags when washing cars some 27 years ago.

"I was in a detail shop working for a guy, cleaning cars and I asked the price of a car," Lyons said in his office surrounded by a maze of other offices. "He asked, 'Why do you want to know? You can't afford it.'

"It motivated me to sell and I've been in sales ever since," Lyons said.

"We sell to a lot of Titans and Predators," he continued. "The dealership has been built on networking..."

He sells a lot of cars by talking to people on the phone, he said. Cars are delivered to customers' homes.

"We ended up third in GM new car sales" in the region that reaches to Bowling Green, Chattanooga, the Alabama line and toward Jackson, Tenn., he said. "It brings a lot of money into the county."

His records reflect the business forwarded nearly $1,367,000 in sales taxes to the state last year. From that figure, the city and county get two parts: the local option sales tax, and; state-shared taxes.

Before moving here, "I was in Tuscumbia, Ala., at Bishop Chevrolet for 12 years and I had to make up my mind," he said.

The question was whether he'd just run a dealership for someone else, or become an owner. The answer is clear, now.

Lyons and Mark Wright, a dealership manager, went to Columbia from Tuscumbia to buy a dealership, and along the way, Lyons spoke with Eddie Roberts, son of Bay Roberts.

"Eddie had called saying if you have trouble with that deal, call and I'll have you set up in 60 days, so I did," Lyons said of a minor detour in Maury County. "That was over two years ago.

"The Roberts family has been just like family to me," Lyons said.

Eddie Roberts was scheduled to return from a Mexican vacation today, so he was unavailable for this story.

His mother, Mary Roberts, recalled: "My husband went into business in 1945 and built all that territory. In 1955 we were in 920 Verona Avenue. In 1986 we build the new facilities that they're in now at 861 Ellington Avenue."

She worked at the dealership off and on when bookkeepers went on vacation or when they changed bookkeepers and says, "I worked closely with my husband."

Bay Roberts passed away 4-1/2 years ago.

"Mr. Lyons is a close friend of the family and we are pleased that he is continuing the business... It is a milestone for the family. It was in our best interest to do it this way."