December 1939, a 25-year-old young man was approached by Bob Belew about becoming an automobile dealer. That young man was Albert Barnett. Albert was the son of a migrant farmer. He left the farm at age 18 to work for his older brother in a general store. That is where Mr. Belew first talked with Albert. December 15, 1939, found Albert with 2 new Dodges and 1 new Plymouth backed against the courthouse lawn in Waynesboro, Tennessee, across from his brother’s general store. Albert Barnett was an automobile dealer.
It wasn’t long until Albert purchased a gasoline station one block from the courthouse. He converted it into a new car dealership with the addition of a service area.
The business grew. Then came World War II. Albert was too old to be drafted but volunteered. Two of his brothers operated the automobile business during the time that Albert served in the Army Air Core. Albert found himself stationed in Iraq fueling bombers. Seems he could not escape petroleum products and things with motors and wheels.Albert returned to Waynesboro following his discharge, married and had two sons, Phillip and Russell. Following the war, Albert’s brother, Vernon, became a partner. They represented Kaiser-Frazier, Willis Jeep, Hudson before becoming Studebaker dealers in 1948.
In 1951, the two brothers built a true dealership building. The attached pictures show the success that came with the opening of that building. Ever the entrepreneurs, Vernon moved to Florence, Alabama, in 1953 to open a second location. Studebaker merged with Packard and opened the door for the Barnett boys to sell a luxury vehicle.The Barnett brothers sensed future problems for Studebaker. When the opportunity presented itself, they purchased the Ford-Mercury franchise January 1, 1957. The brothers closed the Florence location and consolidated operations.
During the 60’s, the automobile business grew but so did the desire of the Barnett brothers to expand. They became real estate developers, steel fabricators, and furniture/appliance, dealers. Their families grew as well. Recognizing that their children wanted to become involved in their business, in August 1970, the brothers ‘played Monopoly’ and divided their business assets. Albert retained the dealership assets. His son, Phillip, joined him in 1970. Russell came on board in 1975. Phillip and Russell purchased the dealership from their father in 1976. Russell had the desire to venture out. After investigating several locations, he purchased the Ford-Mercury franchise in Tullahoma, Tennessee in April 1981, becoming a dealer at the month he turned 28. He sold a total of 15 cars his first month in business.
In November 1981, Phillip & Russell closed the Waynesboro, Tennessee, location. Phillip moved to Tullahoma. His wife, Pam, became the comptroller for the Tullahoma location. Under Russell’s leadership, the Tullahoma store continued to grow. The basis for that growth was the family tradition of customer service. Not only was his emphasis on customer service recognized by the community, in 1996, Russell was recognized as a Good Housekeeping Automotive Dealer Service Excellence award in recognition of “the importance of customer service beyond the call of duty. This award was created by Good Housekeeping and Automotive News to annually acknowledge 10 dealers across America for their exceptional service.”
Fifteen years after moving to Tullahoma, Russell sold the Ford dealership to allow him to spend more time with his wife and two sons. Not wanting to leave automobile sales, he opened a used car operation. This location also housed a rental car operation which had begun in 1984. Phillip’s youngest son, Keith, joined his “Uncle Russell” in 1993 as a third generation Barnett boy in the automobile field.
After an extensive time of travel and time with family, Russell ventured back into the new car arena with the purchase of the Winchester, Tennessee Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep franchise in 2000. A Kia franchise was also acquired and established in the Tullahoma location. And the business grew. Again the emphasis was customer service.The original Barnett boys entrepreneurial DNA became more evident in 2009. Russell purchased both the Ford-Mercury and Chevrolet-GMC franchises in Winchester, Tennessee. By this time, Russell’s oldest son, Alex, had joined him in the Chrysler dealership. Alex moved to Sales Manager of the Ford dealership and nephew, Keith, became the General Manager in 2009.
Russell’s son, Adam, graduated from Cumberland University in December 2011 and began his orientation into the automobile retail industry.
Four dealerships seemed to be where the expansion would end but God evidently had other plans. The Ford dealer in Tullahoma tragically had a massive heart attack and died in May 2012. His family contacted Russell that fall. Russell, his sons, Alex and Adam, plus nephew Keith, purchased the Tullahoma Ford location and reopened in December 2012. Keith became the General Manager of the store where he washed cars while in middle school.
The five dealerships continue to serve their communities with a wide array of vehicles. Right-hand drive jeeps for postal service, farm trucks, commercial trucks, fleet vehicles including police cars and the cars and trucks that ‘every day folks’ drive can be found at each of the five locations. Each location has a well-equipped service department staffed with factory-trained staff. Each is backed by well-stocked parts departments. You will be greeted by men and women who are proud to serve your automotive needs.
~Thank you for allowing us to serve you since 1939. We hope that you will continue to see the Russell Barnett Automotive Family as the place you can trust for your automotive needs in the years to come.~