New face behind the wheel: Greenville businessman buys Toyota dealership

Published 12:06 am Sunday, January 11, 2015

From left, Chief Financial Officer for Oaks Auto Group Tammy Oaks and Oaks Toyota of Natchez owners Patsy and Bryan Oaks stand outside the former Trace City Toyota dealership. The Oaks plan to open a new location on U.S. 61 South by Trinity Episcopal School and Roux 61 restaurant, below.  (sam Gause/The Natchez Democrat

From left, Chief Financial Officer for Oaks Auto Group Tammy Oaks and Oaks Toyota of Natchez owners Patsy and Bryan Oaks stand outside the former Trace City Toyota dealership. The Oaks plan to open a new location on U.S. 61 South by Trinity Episcopal School and Roux 61 restaurant, below. (sam Gause/The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — A new face and name will take over the selling of Toyota vehicles s in Natchez.

With the face and name change will come immediate upgrades to the existing dealership facilities, which will eventually be followed with an expanded sales and maintenance operation at a new location.

Greenville native Bryan Oakes recently completed the purchase of the Trace City Toyota dealership on D’Evereaux Drive, which will be renamed Oakes Toyota of Natchez.

Oakes, who owns and operates a Toyota dealership in Greenville, began the process of purchasing the dealership and finalized the agreements Jan. 1.

The dealership opened under the new management earlier this week after some interior and exterior renovations, including new paint and furniture.

In addition to building renovations, another area that took priority during the transition of ownership was the service department.

New hydraulic lifts were installed to help with the maintenance of vehicles, and Oakes said he plans on hiring three more employees to ramp up production in that area.

“We have some more equipment ordered and on the way, because we really want to improve the service back there,” Oakes said. “Anything we can do to speed that service process up is a good thing.”

Those renovations will help improve service at the D’Evereaux Drive location, but that won’t be the long-term home of Oaks Toyota.

Construction is slated to begin in the coming months on a new dealership on four acres of land on U.S. 61 South in between Trinity Episcopal Day School and Roux 61.

Oakes said the dealership would nearly double the size of its current location with parking spots for 200 vehicles.

The plans for the new dealership, which have already been approved by Toyota’s corporate offices, will also increase the number of employees from 28 to 35 or more, including service technicians, selling associates and others.

Oakes said he hopes the new dealership will open sometime in the first quarter of  2016.

“We’re hoping to sit down with a couple of contractors soon and get started in the next couple of months,” Oakes said.

“All the plans are in place, so we just need to get started.”

Oakes said he began looking at the possibility of expanding his business by purchasing another dealership after having success in the Greenville market.

Oakes met Danny Hammett, the former owner of Trace City, years ago and had kept in touch with the Natchez business owner as time passed.

Approximately four months ago, Oakes received a call from Hammett asking if Oakes was interested in buying the Natchez dealership.

“He told me he had decided to sell and wanted to see if I was interested,” Oakes said.

“I had never been to Natchez before in my life, but we knew it was the right decision.”

The chance to interact with customers is what has kept him in the car business for nearly 11 years, Oakes said.

“This business is a people business, and it’s something I guess I got addicted to,” Oakes said. “Just getting to interact with people and help them is something I’ve really enjoyed.”

That interaction was something Oakes said he was missing in his previous line of work, running Port City Trucking, the company that served as the majority carrier for all Uncle Ben’s foods.

“In the trucking business, you don’t really get to deal with people a lot,” said Oakes, who operated that business for 40 years. “It’s a good business, but that interaction with people just wasn’t there.”

Oakes will stay on as general manager of the dealership for the time being, but said he hopes to eventually pass the reins to longtime Trace City employee Craig Sanders.

Until that happens, Oakes said he’s looking forward to becoming more involved with the Natchez community.

“It seems like every time we turn around, we meet someone we know that knows someone from Greenville,” Oakes said. “Everyone is so friendly here, and we’ve not been anywhere where we weren’t treated just like we were home.”