In 2012, Dan and Marcy Baker decided to do something risky, especially given the economy at the time, and that was to start a “Buy-Here-Pay-Here” car dealership in Athens. It is known as Rocket City Motors, and it is located at 26912 US-72, right across from Butler’s Home Furnishings. After a decade of working at car dealerships, no one knows better than Dan and Marcy that car shopping at a used vehicle dealership is all too often an unpleasant experience. They asked themselves, “Does it really have to be this way?” And, seven years later, they have successfully proven that it does not!
Rocket City Motors began as a grand experiment, with a battle cry of, “Let's treat people fairly!” It also began in a building that has a wonderful history in Athens, and that is the old Rocket gas station, the one with the rocket on the roof. “I fell in love with the building,” said Dan, “and I found out that Raymond Roberts started it. Ray was famous for the way he treated people, and back in the day, Rocket Gas sold fresh vegetables, gas, and put on fireworks displays each year on the 4th. People still talk about what a good man he was, and his family still owns the site. At first they weren’t planning on renting, but then they said yes, and we couldn’t be happier. They are nice landlords.” Dan also loves the building because he is kind of a “nostalgic, retro-guy,” and you can find everything from old auto memorabilia to an Elvis clock in the shop. He also collects old license plates, and they are displayed on the ceiling.
Dan said further, “Let's be clear, 90% of vehicle customers who seek out a Buy-Here-Pay-Here dealership do so because most often, for one reason or another, they are unable to obtain traditional bank financing. Does this really mean that they have to get a bad vehicle on very bad financial terms? Our ongoing experiment is to find out if we can survive and possibly thrive by treating customers better,” he said.
I always like to patronize as many local businesses as I can, and I would like to go on record that I am a raving fan Rocket City Motors customer. Here’s our story: We loaned out one of our cars to a family member, and it got totaled. We needed to replace it, and we always pay cash for our cars. So, we were looking for a high quality used car in the $4,000 range, and got a 2005 Ford Escape with leather seats and a moon roof for less than that. Because we paid cash, Dan made the deal even sweeter. I love the car, and I’ll recommend Rocket City to anyone.
Here are some more principals that are part of the “Rocket City Experiment.” Daniel said, “Fair prices. Customers will not pay $10,000 for a $5,000 vehicle. We don’t do a credit check, and we finance at only 9.99%. This is just as important as the fair pricing principal. Over the course of our typical short term loan, the interest expense at 9.99% is $360. By comparison, at 28%, which is the going rate at most other dealerships, of it would be over $1200. This makes us very different. We may not be making as much money as we used to, but we can look at ourselves in the mirror,” he chuckled. “Of course for customers not seeking Buy-Here-Pay-Here, we do work with several local lenders who offer even lower interest rates --- and for the cash buyers, they quickly notice that our pricing is very, very good,” he added.
Most of the vehicles are in the $4,000 - $7,000 range. A mechanic inspects each car, but Rocket City Motors does encourage their customers to take the vehicle to their own mechanic before they purchase. Dan and Marcy have found that the price range allows most customers to completely pay off their loan in only about 18 months. “This is great for people who are trying to rebuild after something like a divorce. There are good people who fall on hard times, and we want to help them dig out, not dig deeper. It doesn’t matter to us how they got there, what matters is that they want to turn it around,” said Dan. If you want to be a part of the Rocket City Motors Experiment, here’s what you need to do: bring your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and, yes, a down payment.
“So, Daniel, I want to know, how is the experiment going?” I asked. Here is his reply: “So far, so good!
We do have to watch our pennies, we don't have the fanciest location, and we do not have much of an advertising budget; but we are proud to be in our 7th year and have managed to grow every year. Best of all, we are treating people right and are sleeping very well!” Come try “the experiment” for yourself and see what I mean!
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner