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Jack Ingram Motors
By Melissa George Bowman
Photography by Robert Fouts
The array of shiny new cars on display in one of Jack Ingram Motors many showrooms is certainly eye-catching, but something even more impressive can be found upstairs in the hallway just outside company president Ray Ingram’s office: the portraits of his parents Jack and Lucille Ingram who started this family business more than 50 years ago.
When Jack Ingram began his company in 1959, he might not have guessed his name would eventually occupy much of the property up and down the Eastern Boulevard. Today the company operates six franchises: Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Porsche, Volkswagen and Volvo. Additionally, two used car dealerships and a full-service body shop make up the Jack Ingram Motors family of companies. And the company’s reach extends far beyond the Boulevard. Although the majority of its business is local, Jack Ingram Motors’ reputation has helped it earn clients from as far away as 400 miles.
The company’s success can most likely be traced to the work ethic of its founder Jack Ingram. Ray Ingram, his son and the current president of Jack Ingram Motors, remembers as a child watching his father work and being impressed with what he saw.
“He taught me a lot about selling. He was an excellent salesman,” Ingram said. “He had so many customers that at times I saw as many as six or eight people sitting outside his office just waiting to see him to buy a car from him. Of course that doesn’t exist in modern times.”
Prior to starting his own company, the elder Ingram worked at a Ford dealership where as the top salesperson his customer traffic was so high that a special office was built for him on the showroom floor. In 1959 when he decided to go into business for himself, he became a Studebaker-Packard dealer. It was only two short years before he acquired his second franchise – Mercedes-Benz. At the time, Studebaker-Packard was the import distributor for Mercedes-Benz cars. While on a business trip in Jacksonville, Fla., Ingram got the opportunity to drive a Mercedes and there was no turning back.
“He’d never driven a Mercedes before,” Ray Ingram said. “He drove the car for the weekend and he got back and couldn’t quit talking about how great that car was. He would not leave Studebaker-Packard alone until they gave him the franchise.”
Established in 1961, Jack Ingram Motors’ Mercedes-Benz dealership is just two weeks shy of being the oldest in the Southeast. By only days a dealership in Coral Gables, Fla. holds the title of oldest.
Over the years Jack Ingram Motors would add additional franchises and eventually need more space, but the company’s original location was on Bell Street in downtown Montgomery. A unique problem prompted its move to the Eastern Boulevard in 1975. At the time, a University of Alabama satellite campus was near the Bell Street dealership. At certain times of the day students would park in the lot leaving few spaces for Jack Ingram’s customers. What was initially a problem soon became a blessing for the growing company.
“When we moved out here (Eastern Boulevard) our business just about tripled,” Ray Ingram said. “It was amazing the difference because people could drive in and park and look at our inventory.”
That was 40 years ago and the company has continued to grow ever since, gradually expanding its footprint on the Boulevard.
“The franchises have grown since we acquired them,” he said. “That’s why we’ve had to have more and more space.”
With all of the expansions and additions what has always remained constant for the company is the importance of family – in more than one sense. Literally, this is a family business. After working for his own father, Ray Ingram now has three sons and a son-in-law who work for him. But this family includes more than blood relatives. The company considers its employees part of the family and tries to “do little things to make it interesting” for them, Ingram said. There are often fun events and opportunities to participate in service projects at work. The camaraderie extends beyond the office as well. A company team represents Jack Ingram Motors at the annual dragon boat races, one of several community events in which employees participate.
While a sense of family ranks high among company values, just as important is giving back to the community. Throughout its history, Jack Ingram Motors has supported numerous charities. This record of community service combined with the dealership’s reputation for excellent customer service recently earned Ray Ingram the prestigious TIME Dealer of the Year award for Alabama.
“It was certainly an honor. A lot of it (the award) is based on the dealer’s reputation – how the public perceives them as a business. Are they good, ethical people to do business with? We insist on that here,” Ingram said. “But a big part of it is community service. We have always believed in giving back to the community because it’s the community that keeps us in business. We enjoy doing it.”
It is no surprise that Ingram would be a good corporate citizen. He has not only given back to his community but also to his country. For 34 years he served the U.S. military and often while still working at Jack Ingram Motors. For 28 of those years he served as a helicopter pilot for the Alabama Army National Guard.
Community service is not the only area in which Jack Ingram Motors has been recognized. The company has also received numerous industry awards. DealerRater presented Jack Ingram Volkswagen a 2015 Consumer Satisfaction Award. In 2014 Jack Ingram Nissan was named the No. 1 volume dealer in Alabama, and the Mercedes and Porsche dealerships have both received top industry honors several times.
Part of the reason the company has done so well may be its ability to adapt to change. For a business that is more than 50 years old, Jack Ingram Motors has no trouble keeping up with the times. One of the biggest changes Ray Ingram has seen is the development of modern technology.
“That’s (the Internet) something that didn’t exist when this company was started,” he said. “We pride ourselves in keeping up with the latest technology because a lot of people will buy a car and never come in here. They’ll just find what they want, and they’ll buy it right on the Internet.”
Whether browsing the lot with a client in the more traditional way or helping them click their way to a new car online, Ray Ingram says offering the best possible customer service is a top priority for the company. Providing that kind of service is easy when you love what you do. According to Ingram, he and his staff are privileged to sell quality vehicles to their clients.
“I love automobiles, so that puts me in the right place,” he said smiling. “I love the cars that we sell. You’ve got to be proud of what you sell.”