In the 1960s, the oil fields of West Texas and east New Mexico were pickup truck country.
But that didn't stop Jack Price from opening his first Volkswagen dealership in rural Hobbs, N.M., in 1967. Price, 76, a revered auto dealer in New Mexico, died Saturday. The cause was pancreatic cancer, his son, Randy, said.
"Those guys are used to driving big cars, and he was selling little round cars, so they were the weird car on the road," Randy said. "But he made it work."
Jack Price was an energetic salesman, and his passion was selling cars. In 1975, he sold the dealership, moved from Hobbs, bought a Volkswagen dealership in Albuquerque and renamed it University Volkswagen.
In an era when many dealers began forming megadealerships, Price remained focused on his Albuquerque store, later adding a Mazda franchise on the same site, because he was able to interact with his customers and his staff.
"In order to do that, you had to quit selling cars. You had to quit talking to customers," Randy Price said. "And that was what my dad really enjoyed: talking to customers and knowing his employees' names."
Jack Price was a "walking history" of the automotive retail business in New Mexico, Charles Henson, president of the New Mexico Automotive Dealers Association, said.
Price served for 16 years on the board of the National Automobile Dealers Association and was an active and influential member of the New Mexico and Albuquerque dealers associations, serving in many capacities on the boards of those organizations through the years.
Price was readily available to give help or advice to a colleague, and he often encouraged staff members to pursue opportunities at other dealerships if they could advance their careers.
Still, he knew to take a step back.
As Randy became more active in the business, Jack allowed his son to learn for himself and make mistakes, despite his decades of experience selling cars.
"He encouraged me to make decisions," Randy said. "Over and over again he said, 'You're going to make mistakes. You'll probably make big mistakes. But I'm going to let you make them because sometimes you're going to need to make a decision and it's going to be big, and you need to know that there are consequences with that."
Still, even in recent years, after Randy took over the dealership, Jack remained involved. He knew the names of the dealership's 80 employees and considered them family. University Volkswagen still employs two people who worked there when Price bought the dealership nearly 40 years ago.
But Jack Price wasn't shy about what it took to make it in the automotive retail business. In a 2000 interview with Automotive News he said people looking for an easy line of work should not sell cars because he looked for "highly motivated" people to work at the dealership.
"We try to create a good environment," Price said. "I'm not going to work them to death. Most applicants know this is not a 40-hour-a-week job, but I'm not going to demand 70 hours. I don't want them to get burned out."
Price said flexibility and understanding were the keys to motivating a sales staff, and making them feel like they were part of the family. He emphasized that if, for instance, an employee had to attend a son or daughter's soccer tournament, he or she could switch shifts with another staff member without hassle.
Similarly, Price said he or his managers would meet with salespeople one-on-one at least three times a week to talk about their sales but also about their life outside the dealership.
"If someone hasn't sold a car in, say, 10 days, I want to know if something is going on personally or if they're just not working at it," Price said.
Jack Price was born in Littlefield, Texas, on July 15, 1935. After graduating from high school, he joined the U.S. Air Force, serving for four years before he started selling cars in Odessa, Texas.
He began his career selling Buicks and then moved on to sell Volkswagens at the only VW dealership in West Texas. He opened the dealership in Hobbs in 1967 and moved to Albuquerque in 1975.
Price was an avid golfer and fisherman, taking trips to Alaska, Mexico and elsewhere to fish.
Besides his son, he is survived by his wife, Kay, and daughter-in-law, Cynthia.