Take a drive on East Baddour Parkway in Lebanon, and a few places generally stand out, including J.C. Hellum Funeral Home, the James E. Ward Ag Center at the fairgrounds and a Dollar General.
However, what might be missed is Sharp’s Truck Sales and Accessories nestled in between these locations.
The simply designed green building almost appears to be a garage shielded behind a few trees and a chain-linked fence. There is not a heavy flow of traffic around the business, particularly due to its location. Yet, the inside of the business is as complex and unique as its founder, Donald H. Sharp.
Sharp, who died last year, founded the business in 1984 after moving his family to Lebanon from South Carolina. With no guarantee of success, the former car salesman did not fear new challenges as he relied heavily on his faith and personal beliefs to succeed in an unfamiliar place.
It took nine days for Sharp to sell his first vehicle after opening his doors for business and once encountered a four-week selling drought. Despite the circumstances, he never lost his spirit.
“He would always say that during the darkest hours, trust that the Lord is there,” said D.W., one of Sharp’s sons. “He believed that during the dark times, people’s faith falters, but his never did.”
In the late 1980s, the country faced an economic downturn, and Sharp’s felt the impact of it. But in 1989, against the advice of his close peers, Donald bought and opened a lot near Highway 109 that D.W. managed.
“He always believed don’t pull back during hardships, push forward,” D.W. said. “He would say that everybody gets tight with money during those times, and someone has to lead the way and show them that it’s OK to trust with their money.”
Sharp’s would eventually encounter great success and move from its initial location on Sparta Pike (currently Raceway) to the current location at 710 Tennessee Blvd. in 1994.
Sharp’s success was accredited a lot to his unorthodox, hands-off style of selling. It is a style that D.W., who became owner after his father’s passing, still executes.
“The look on people’s faces when I show them the key rack and tell them to go get the keys is priceless.”
“I’m not going to give you a sales pitch. I’ll let you look at the car without me. I feel like people have lost their own ability to make decisions about cars.”
With the advent of Internet and online car information, consumers now potentially have the ability to make a decision about a car without ever touching it. At Sharp’s Truck Sales and Accessories, they want potential buyers to feel vehicles, not just think about them.
“Look at Carfax. Everybody wants to know the accident history and facts, and then they go to a dealership and get bombarded with facts and forms and checks and by the time they purchase the car, they don’t know what they’ve done. Facts can’t tell you what you feel.”
D.W. said many of his father’s business practices emerged from his strong Christian religious beliefs and notion that relationships, not money, are the most important things in life.
“I’ve seen my father lose money because he was wiling to help someone out who may have needed it,” said D.W., “and he was so selfless and never wanted recognition for it or praise because it was the Christian thing to do. He never turned down anyone he could help.”
Like any other line of work, Sharp’s Truck Sales and Accessories has had its share of upset and sometimes unreasonable customers. D.W. saw his father handle these customers. He taught D.W. to simply smile and be sincere because you never know what that person is going through.
“He would always say that you can’t control others, but you can control yourself.”
It is easier to control actions than it is feelings. You can’t control the emptiness feeling when a household and spiritual leader passes, or the vulnerability you feel when you have to step up and be the manager without the guidance of your lifelong mentor. D.W. could not control these feelings.
“The first day we opened and he wasn’t there was rough,” said D.W., “you just feel vulnerable. But then you hear all the kind words from people and hear them saying ‘anything we can do to help,’ and it gets easier after that.”
One of the biggest challenges for him was being responsible for the entire business.
“I wasn’t used to doing all of the little things that he did to make the business flow smoothly, so that first couple of weeks I really struggled. I never had to do these things or even thought about these things because he did them and did them so effortlessly.”
In one instance, D.W. needed to order new temporary tags for the dealership and had no idea who to call to order them. However, one day he looked up from his desk in frustration and noticed a small envelope with the number he needed, placed there by his father.
“He was preparing me and looking out for me for when he left.”
Whenever D.W. opens the gates of Sharp’s in the mornings or visits the mailbox, he is reminded of the spirit and goodness of his father by the waves and car horn blows. The sounds also serve as motivation for D.W. to fulfill one of his father’s biggest lessons, “leave the day better than you found it.”