Curnel George Hairston, known as "C. G." among friends and associates, has the distinction of being the longest tenured African-American new car dealer having spent more than 40 years being a dealer principal. Very little, if anything, has appeared in the black media about his successful endeavors, but when interviewing "C. G.", you understood that his reputation of having a 'bull dog' attitude about business was recognizable. It was evident that he just went about his business in spite of racial and other issues negatively impacting his business.
Born in Cascade, Virginia, Hairston joined the Army and upon his return, he made the decision to go into the used car business. He was 22 years of age. In the Spring of 1955, he obtained a used car license and with $1,000, began selling used cars in both Cascade and Danville. Hairston remembers vividly that "every time I would drive one of my cars to a customer in Danville, I would be pulled over by the local police wanting to know where I had gotten the car." It was part of the normal pressures a black had to endure doing business.
Nevertheless, business was growing and as a result, in 1959, Hairston opened a second lot in Danville. Over a period of time, he realized that it would be beneficial to consolidate both operations and in 1963, he located a building in Danville which included a showroom and service stalls. There was sufficient land to hold an expanded used car inventory.
In 1966, Hairston was contacted by Fiat. He concluded that for an investment of $6,000 for signs and parts, it was worth the risk and subsequently signed their sales and service agreement. Although Fiat was not a car that had great sales appeal in Danville, having a new car franchise helped his image in the market.
But the next step was an important one. When the Volvo representative for the general area contacted him in 1970 about adding Volvo to his operation, Hairston elected to do so and retained the franchise for more than 30 years. Volvo had a sound reputation and again, the incremental gross and service business helped benefit the dealership. Although Fiat and Volvo were small volume lines, they gave 'Hairston Motor Sales" an up scale reputation in the Danville market that complimented his used car business.
During this period, C. G.'s son, Gary, joined the business and has been an integral part of the business for many years. Also, using the dealership as the base, Hairston invested in a number of other business activities; e. g., real estate, a radio station, and an oil company. He noted that all endeavors were within the Danville general area which enabled him to keep close contact with all his businesses.
When asked the secret to his success, Hairston responded by saying that his motto was rather simple: "I tell my customers that I'm going to sell you a good car, I'm going to give you good service, and I'm going to make a little money doing it." It worked for C. G. Hairston, an African-American new car pioneer.