Patriot Auto Sales owner Josh Wheeler said his company fills an important place in the local automobile market by providing quality used vehicles for people who cannot afford new ones, especially buyers who would be barred by credit issues elsewhere.
Wheeler launched Patriot Auto Sales with a Hinesville dealership in early 2012 and expanded to Statesboro in mid-September. Rather than creating an all new dealership, he purchased the former Car City on South Main Street, which now flies the Patriot colors and is rebuilding inventory.
"No credit check" is a prominent promise on the Patriot sign.
"We don't check any credit. If you have your down payment, proof of income and proof of residence, I'll get you financed," Wheeler said. "We get away with no credit check because we use our own money. We're not having to answer to anybody else."
In other words, Patriot Auto Sales does in-house financing and is not affiliated with any finance company. Wheeler, 35, grew up in Hinesville but got to know Statesboro by first attending Georgia Southern University — where he earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in finance — and further during his decade in banking.
Wheeler worked 10 years for The Heritage Bank, based in Hinesville, where he concluded as vice president over commercial loans. During the decade, he also had management responsibilities at The Heritage Bank's two Statesboro locations and its Rincon branch.
It was banking that Wheeler said led him to see an opportunity in auto sales with in-house financing.
"I saw the market in the banking industry where so many people were getting cut out of being able to get financed from hometown banks like they used to, just because of how the market turned," he said.
Credit scores alone often prompt banks and finance companies to turn down loan applications, but mounting medical bills and neglected student loans can give people bad credit scores, Wheeler said. So when they are turned down everywhere else but need a car to get to work, they visit Patriot.
"Good people can have bad credit," Wheeler said.
He started the Patriot dealership in Hinesville from scratch, but hired Art Mallard, who had put in more than 30 years as a car dealer, as its sales manager. Wheeler said he is calling on Mallard's experience as regional manager for both locations.
Wheeler was able to expand into Statesboro by purchasing the Car City lot from Timothy "Bubba" Hunt, whom he has known for years. Hunt, founder and president of the Statesboro-based Pawn City chain of pawnshops, founded Car City in 2003.
Wheeler has retained crew members who were with Car City at the time of sale. Al "Bo" Deal, now Patriot Auto Sales manager, has 28 years in car sales, including about three years with Car City. Office manager Heidi Bramble was with Car City since 2005. Wyleen Ellis is newly hired as a Patriot salesperson, but brings more than 15 years' experience in other car-related businesses.
Patriot also is continuing an informal working relationship with Statesboro Tire & Brake, which performs checkups and oil changes on the cars prior to sale.
"We get a full inspection and write-up so we know exactly what we're selling somebody," Wheeler said.
Most cars on the Patriot lot are in the model year range 2001-2009. A few older models are offered when Wheeler finds a deal on one in really good shape, he said.
Wheeler said he is rebuilding the dealership's inventory, and hopes to restock into the 40-50 car range. He buys cars at auctions in Georgia and Florida and planned to attend three auctions in the past week alone.
Small cars, sedans, trucks and SUVs are all targets of his quest.
The Patriot Auto Sales founder would like to open a third location and is considering Rincon and Pooler as possible markets. But that will probably wait until 2015, he said. For now he is focused on grasping the opportunity he saw in Statesboro.
"I thought it was a good opportunity and a good market with the expansion that Georgia Southern and Statesboro have been going through over the past several years, and I think they will continue to grow," Wheeler said.