Tuesday, September 21, 2021
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Richard Connor: Matt Johnson embodies the drive to succeed

🕐 4 min read

Matt Johnson, piercing blue eyes dancing above a quizzical smile, asks a question even though he knows the answer:

“People and companies promise customer service but really don’t deliver, do they?”

No, of course not, says the listener, who also reminds Johnson that most companies love to boast about how much fun their employees have at work – which is also untrue.

“But it just makes sense, so much sense, to be good at customer service,” he says.

For our annual 40 under 40 Selection Committee, it just made sense, so much sense, to name Johnson our first “40 under 40 Outstanding Alumnus of 2016.”

He has made success look almost accidental which, of course, it rarely is.

Superb customer service, says Johnson, is one reason – maybe the one reason – his auto dealerships thrive. He owns Holiday Chevrolet and Holiday Ford in the Grayson County town of Whitesboro. Both dealerships sell more than 15 times the number of vehicles they did when he bought them.

It’s a major reason why you will see the Holiday logo on cars and trucks in and around Fort Worth, a good 70 miles from the dealerships.

Johnson will see to it that a car will be delivered to your doorstep if you want a test drive – and if you buy a vehicle from him, he’ll make certain it gets picked up when service is needed. And, oh, by the way, he’ll give you a free loaner.

Just hours after the recent hailstorm that battered cars throughout North Texas, he answered a distress call from a customer whose windshield and rear window had been shattered.

Johnson asked an employee to send a car to the man in Fort Worth, pick up the damaged car, and, as he said, “let the guy get to work and we’ll deal with everything else later.”

Being flexible, being nimble, moving fast and working hard seem to be hallmarks of Johnson’s approach to business and to life. Listening to him describe how he vaulted from auto dealership employee to owner of both a Ford and a Chevrolet store, a person might get the idea this is the luckiest guy in the world.

A little luck? Well, okay. It happens. A lot of luck? That requires being persistent and risk averse, embracing opportunity when it presents itself. Carpe diem!

Or, to quote the great French scientist Louis Pasteur, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Johnson is 43 now and his still-blossoming career is a strong testament to the Pasteur formula. When a door opens, you have to be ready to enter.

Johnson caught the attention of mega auto dealer Jerry Durant while pouring him a beer at a party, then went to work for him. Started out as a porter and worked his way up the management ladder over a 10-year period.

The next door that opened was the opportunity to purchase Holiday Chevrolet in Whitesboro. Johnson brought in a partner, took out a home equity loan on his house and became an auto dealer. Matt and wife Kim were about to have the first of their two children, both boys.

Skeptics warned Johnson that potential customers would never drive all the way from his hometown of Fort Worth to Whitesboro to shop for cars and trucks.

If they were right, we’ll never know – and it didn’t matter. What the skeptics didn’t take into account was Johnson’s ingenious plan to drive the cars to the customers, in Fort Worth and elsewhere.

And while Johnson was instilling into his employees the true concept of customer service, he was also building loyalty with the people who live in Whitesboro and neighboring communities.

Five years after his 2003 purchase of the Chevrolet dealership, Johnson bought the Ford store, which was literally right next door.

Today he has several other automotive-related companies, more than 200 employees and has turned much of his focus to his new business in Fort Worth, “Defender Outdoors.” It’s essentially a gun shooting range but that’s like calling Augusta National just a golf course.

The business caters to the rapidly growing interest in learning how to shoot a gun – and in learning how to shoot it safely and accurately. Defender Outdoors offers single-member and corporate memberships and features many of the amenities of a country club. It also offers facilities for corporate meetings and special events.

Besides running all of his companies, which he does without a desk at any of them, Johnson finds time to play tennis, at 7:30 a.m. sharp, six days a week

Johnson’s easy manner and laid-back style – you’ll usually find him wearing jeans and old, worn cowboy boots – belie the high-torque motivation that has fueled his success.

Which brings to mind another pronouncement by Pasteur:

“Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.”

Richard Connor is chairman of the parent company of Fort Worth Business, DRC Media. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net.

Richard Connor
Richard Connor is the owner and CEO/Publisher of DRC Media, the parent company of the Fort Worth Business Press. he also owns newspapers in Virginia. Mr. Connor held a number of corporate media executive positions before founding his own company. He is an award-winning columnist and at one time wrote a weekly column on national politics for CQ Politics, the online version of Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Quarterly.

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