Justin Gough couldn’t have started in the car business at a worse time.
While finishing his final semester at Western Carolina University in 2007, his father Ricky Gough died unexpectedly. The younger Gough graduated in December 2007, came home and took over the family business.
“2008 was pretty much the worst year to start in business,” he now says of that experience.
Luckily for Gough, he was not starting from scratch but taking over a business that had been started by his grandfather a half-century earlier, though many long-established businesses failed to make it unscathed through the financial crisis and great recession.
D.A. Gough started Scenic Ford in 1957 on N. Main Street in Mount Airy at the site where Robby’s is now located. A year later, he moved the business to Hwy. 601 to the present location of Mount Airy Collision, where they stayed until July 1965 when Scenic Ford moved a touch south and across the street to its present location.
Justin Gough points to an old picture of the dealership to show that they were on the edge of town back then. The photo shows a stand of pine forest where Simmons Nissan is now. D.A. Gough passed away in 1991 and his son Ricky Gough took over and ran the business until his sudden death in 2007.
When Justin Gough joined on with his father’s sister, Sheree Gough Beasley, as dealer-partners in 2007, he said that everyone at the dealership was solidly behind him. “They got on board and saw the need,” said Gough.
“Our people are, by far, the biggest reason for our success. From top to bottom, the management team, the sales staff, the office staff and the parts and service shop employees are our greatest asset.”
Of the tough economic climate when he took over the business, Gough said, “It was a good time to rebuild. Sales were at a generational low, but it was a good opportunity, and we came out of it stronger than we ever were.”
Both Gough and Beasley credit the staff at Scenic Ford for much of that strength. “We have no turnover here,” said Beasley. “Employees are like family.”
In fact, one of those employees will be retiring at the end of the year, after working at the dealership for 53 of its 60 years.
Gough said, “Our biggest joy comes from running a good, honest family business.” He takes seriously the job he has mapped out for himself, that of taking the dealership into the next generation.
“We’re not doing things like we always have. We’re not a country store. We’re very modern, with all the latest and greatest technology.”
Gough has dedicated himself to taking the business where it needs to be for another generation. Online shopping is a priority, a customer can go through the entire purchasing process via emails and texts if that suits them.
Or they can walk through the door and do it the way it’s always been done.
“We want to be able to communicate with people the way they want to communicate,” said Gough. “We’re taking what’s good and bringing it into the future.”
In reflecting on what has changed most in 60 years since his grandfather started Scenic Ford, Gough said the most interesting thing is how little things have changed. “How steady business has been and how our core values have stayed the same.”
Throughout its history, people have come to work at Scenic knowing it was a job that could take them to retirement. Their service manager started in 1975 and the recently retired parts manager started in 1972. Sheree Gough marveled that “for 43 years, the same person ran the parts department.”
Gough thinks it can still be that way going forward. “We still try to hire people for the long term,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what age you are, it’s possible to retire here.”
“We try to make it a place where people want to come to work,” he said.
“Or not not want to,” Beasley amended.
We enjoy what we do, they agree. It’s kind of a happy place.
Today from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Scenic Ford will celebrate its first 60 years in business with a customer appreciation event at the dealership on Hwy. 601 in Mount Airy. There will be refreshments with a special appearance by Roush Racing’s car number 17, which is driven by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
Gough said it’s not a big anniversary sale. If somebody wants to buy a car, that’s great but “that’s not how I want to do it. Not everything’s a sales event. This is to show our appreciation to our customers.”
When speaking of the business his family has operated in Mount Airy for 60 years, Justin Gough looks at his dealer-partner aunt, Sheree Gough Beasley, and says of the part they have played together in that history, “It’s been 10 years,” he says to her.
“It doesn’t seem like it,” she replies.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.