ATLANTA -- When the Nalley boys -- Clay, Slater and Street -- were old enough to drive, one of their dad's rules took effect: No summer spending money unless they got jobs away from the dealerships that their father, Jim Nalley, owned throughout the Atlanta area.
So unlike many dealers' kids, the three worked various gigs at construction firms, moving companies and restaurants during high school breaks.
And the rules kept coming. After college, the Nalleys were forbidden from working directly for the family dealerships. They ended up selling cars at other groups -- Clay and Slater for Rick Hendrick in North Carolina and Street for the Hennessy family in Atlanta.
They made sure to save some of their earnings because they knew they'd take a big pay cut when Jim Nalley finally called to tell them it was time to start management training at Nalley Automotive Group. They would begin by rotating through jobs in parts and service. If a regular employee was making $10 an hour, the Nalley sons would make $5, Slater Nalley recalled.
Now they value those experiences.
"It's served us very well that he took the time to make us learn all the facets," Clay Nalley, 41, said.
Added Street Nalley, 36: "It's impossible to manage someone if you've never been in their shoes and don't know how cold that detail spray is on a February morning."
The lessons helped when they started their own business -- Sons Automotive Group -- in 2006. Taking over their father's dealerships was not an option. Jim Nalley sold his stores to Asbury Automotive Group in 1997, though he continued to run them until he retired in 2004. Clay, Slater and Street Nalley worked for Asbury for varying periods after the sale.
They all came back together when famed baseball slugger Hank Aaron sold some of his Atlanta dealerships. With a loan from Jim Nalley, the brothers bought Aaron's BMW, Mini, Honda and Hyundai stores.
Today they operate six dealerships. Four are in Atlanta and are owned by Sons Automotive Group. The other two, in Brunswick, Ga., are owned by Jim Nalley and still use the Nalley name. Asbury has the rights to the family's name, but it didn't want the Brunswick stores.
Jim Nalley, now 70, was torn about the 1997 buyout. After spending decades expanding the business, the chance to get off the hook for the financial risk won.
Now his sons get the chance to build their own business much like their father did.
"We wanted to experience some of the stuff Dad talked about when we were growing up," said Slater, 40.
They got to experience it in spades during the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009 when their dad's advice came in handy.
"In 2007, he didn't have any role. In 2007, we knew everything about the car business," Clay recalled, laughing. "In 2008, we didn't know anything about the car business."