Driven To Succeed
N & J Auto Sales is Still Rolling After More Than 70 Years in Business
Photographer / Jubilee Edgell
N & J Auto Sales is a small car dealership – it carries about 35 or so cars at any given time. As owners, the Johnson family likes it that way, because it allows them to provide customers with quality service and exclusive used cars.
“We specialize in a six-month to maybe a two-year-old car,” Vice President Clay Johnson says. “We have cars older than that, but that’s what we specialize in – really nice, quality cars that have not been wrecked, beat up or banged up. They’re next to new. We like to say, ‘New car for a used price.’”
The business started in 1947 with Don Nussbaum and his partner Art Johnson.
“We came about because my grandfather liked cars and wanted to sell them,” Clay says.
Together, Nussbaum and Johnson started two N & J Auto Sales shops, one in Huntington managed by Nussbaum, and the other in Warsaw managed by Johnson.
Although the Huntington branch closed relatively quickly, the Johnsons’ branch has a different story – largely due to the family’s focus on reputation.
“When we started out, we were a buy-here, pay-here car lot,” Clay says. “We sold cars on weekly payments. When my father started here around 1973, he decided he didn’t like buy-here, pay-here because he didn’t like the reputation that came with it. That’s when he turned around and decided to become a lightly used place, selling newer used cars with lower gas mileage and warranties on them.”
The resulting reputation that N & J garnered through the years is still vitally important to the Johnsons, who get most of their customers from word-of-mouth advertising.
“We don’t sell junk,” Clay says. “I want to know where [the car] came from, who had it, and why they got rid of it. I want to put it through my process before I will turn around, put my name on it and sell it.”
Ultimately, the N & J reputation is based on something that is rare in the used car business – old-fashioned excellence.
“We’re an old-fashioned, old-school, low-overhead operation,” Clay says. “We like to keep it personal. We know each and every one of our clients.”
This personal touch keeps clients coming back. It’s not only about the cars – it’s also about the relationships that the Johnsons have built with customers.
“We’re kind of a coffee shop,” Clay says. “Multiple people come through the doors – the retired guys, and people we haven’t seen who may be on vacation visiting their parents. They’ll come in and say, ‘Have you seen this person or that person that we grew up with?’ And soon it may be standing room only in our little front office here. It may get loud and it’s fun.”
Part of maintaining a small car lot is having few employees. Today, N & J Auto Sales is owned by Clay’s father Tim, and operated almost entirely by the father-son team. Clarence “Boz” Boswell services and details the cars on the lot, and is a car expert in his own right.
“He’s been here for 33 years,” Clay says of Boswell. “With all the new navigation, he figures out how everything works and so when people have problems, I will help them but Boz knows everything. A lot of the people who do a lot of business here will go straight to Boz. He knows every customer and he takes care of every one of them.”
Since N & J operates without a large service department, the company doesn’t offer much car maintenance in-house. However, N & J does have working relationships with several car maintenance shops in the area.
“We’re a big relationship-built business,” Clay says. “We will funnel our customers to the best repair shop for the best price, and help them that way.”