Mike Smith’s vision is an asset and an inspiration to those in and around western Kentucky.
One of Paducah’s pioneer entrepreneurs has never ceased to grow his business in the fertile soils of his beloved Paducah. His most recent venture is a flag-waving example of a premier dealership with regional roots. “It’s a dream that just keeps on happening,” says Mike Smith. Imagine where his dreams might go from here.
Mike Smith’s career started early and launched like a bottle rocket. He began at the age of 20 selling cars in Clarksville, TN. “I found out that I was good at it!” says Mike. “By the time I was 23, I was sales manager at a General Motors lot. I was then able to open up a used car operation, and it just took off. I also sold Datsuns, which later became Nissan. I was the youngest Nissan dealer in the United States when I was 24.” The times were also good to Mike. “That was during the Arab oil embargo. When gas was short and money tight, Japanese cars were the way to go.”
Even though Mike’s career was revving up beyond expectations, he envisioned a journey that would take yet a different path. After a successful run in Clarksville, Mike moved his operations to Paducah and bought a Toyota dealership in 1991. “My family and I love it here! These have been extremely delightful years. We’ve been able to raise three fine sons in Paducah, whom, I might add, are extraordinary because they have their mother’s genes. We’ve developed wonderful relationships, and we serve the best customers in the world.”
Mike’s dealership on the south side of Paducah thrived as Toyota established itself as a leader in the automotive industry with vehicles that displayed increased reliability and longevity. Mike even added more lines to his Toyota lot with the emergence of Mitsubishi and Kia. “We just love the South,” adds Mike. “We love grits and sweet tea . . . and we absolutely love the south side of Paducah. It’s been a wonderful place to do business. When we were thinking about building our new location, we knew we couldn’t leave the south side. It was hard thinking about it. But then it struck me; we can do both!” The wheels in Mike’s head, which never stop turning at an accelerated rate, began to take him down a road that eventually led to his premier dealership along Interstate 24.
Mike decided to move his Toyota and Scion operations to a prime piece of property between Coleman Road and I-24 and add a Suzuki line at his south side location. “My vision was to open up a regional store,” Mike relates. “I met George Bush, Sr. on his last campaign stop when he was running for president. He came to Paducah for a reason. He could have gone to any major city anywhere in the U.S. but he came here. It’s because through Paducah, you can touch four different states. I thought that idea presented us with a wonderful opportunity to serve clients in a broader market. From Paducah, you can reach out to people in Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, and Tennessee. Just the location itself speaks to that. Over 105,000 people a day see this store.”
And Mike’s vision of regional marketing paid off. “No one sells more cars locally, and no one sends out more vehicles to more states than we do.
We could not build a store such as our new one without reaching out to a broad market. This is a store that you normally see in big cities.”
But Mike’s business philosophy does not end with regional marketing. “I wanted to create an extraordinary place,” adds Mike. “We wanted to make it sharper, nicer, and even more entertaining than any other store you’ve been in before. We think Paducah deserves it. And many people who visit say they can’t believe this is here. But it’s about stopping the cookie-cutter process in the U.S. We want people to feel important because they are! And we prove that to them. Profits cannot be our only goal. When customers come in, we want them to reflect on the buying process and know it was the best. We have the best customers in the world. We have the most loyal customers in the world. And if you want loyal customers, you have to do things differently.”
And Mike Smith does just that. Upon entering the dealership, you are greeted with warm, smiling faces. . . and a menu. “We offer all our guests a place to relax and even have a drink. We have coffee, tea, sodas in glass bottles, espresso drinks, and a couple of flavors of fruit smoothies. It’s all about separation, meaning that we are vastly different from others. We make a visit here something to remember. From the drinks to the fresh cut flowers in the ladies restroom, we have built a first-class store.”
In addition to the changes in service and scenery on the inside, one of the first things every customer notices, even before they reach the store, is the American flag that flies high and proud above all else. “We think it may be the largest American flag in Kentucky,” says Mike. “We present that here in a way that is rarely seen. We have received thank-you notes and phone calls, but it is really our humble honor to be able to display the flag.”
Not only is Mike Smith’s new store unique in terms of customer service, it serves as this area’s only museum of baseball memorabilia.
“It began when Mickey Mantle’s widow, Merlyn, held an auction at Madison Square Garden. I went and was able to purchase things that were not only baseball related, but items that were from their home and part of Mickey Mantle’s personal life,” Mike explains.
Among many of the artifacts Mike bought were Mickey Mantle’s cowboy boots, a ball signed by Richard Nixon, and Mickey’s personal scrapbook that sat on his coffee table. “These things go much deeper than your average collection. These items were very personal.”
Mike also added many other pieces—seats from the original Busch Stadium are one such example. “We were able to buy the seats when they built the new facility. They are in front of a big screen, and there is a dome overhead for audio. You can sit there and watch old baseball films. You really feel like you are there! And it’s amazing to see people come in and get lost in something like watching Bob Gibson set a World Series record. We had one customer who was terminally ill. He came in, sat in the stadium chairs, and his face just lit up. He loved it so much. It was fulfilling to see him traveling back in time.”
The collection winds its way around the inside of the store and offers customers a chance to experience something totally different. “When you come in for an oil change or servicing, you get entertained. You get something you won’t find anywhere else.”
Mike Smith considers it an honor to work with Paducah Bank. The relationship dates back to his first days in Paducah.
“When I say Paducah Bank,” says Mike, “I am saying leadership. They are not my bank, they are my partners. And they are consultants to me. When they have something to say, I listen because they are experts on Paducah and on banking. When I make decisions, I want to go to the experts. I can’t make a decision about my business in Paducah based on what someone from New York or Los Angeles says. They don’t know this market, this area, and the people like Paducah Bank does. It wouldn’t make sense to do business with anyone else. It doesn’t make sense to do business with anyone but the best.”