Brothers Build Legacy in Tennessee
PHOTOS WWW.AMIEESTUBBS.COM & KNOX AUTO PARTS
In the school of life’s hard knocks, the Denton brothers have learned some valuable lessons. First, it’s better to buy an established auto recycling business than one you have to build from scratch. Second, Long Island and Nashville are worlds apart, at least according to your customers. Lastly, with family at your side, and an amazing team of managers that feel like family, you can accomplish absolutely anything.
“We are truly blessed,” notes Tom. “We are heavily indebted to God and what he has done in our lives and blessed with the [management] team that has taken us this far.”
The brothers – Jim, Joe and Tom -- grew up next door to their family’s recycling yard in Long Island, New York. The yard was owned by their dad, Joe, Sr. and their two uncles. Starting in elementary school, the brothers were there helping out every day. They grew up in that yard, joking that salvage was in their blood. But when the business was sold in 1990, there was some question about where they might land.
Jim Denton, the oldest, headed to Nashville to pursue his dream of being a country music songwriter. Joe and Tom decided to buy a yard together. When visiting their brother, they fell in love with the state of Tennessee. They started looking around in Nashville, and after they couldn’t find anything, they ventured a few hours away to Knoxville.
“We didn’t buy an existing business; we couldn’t find someone who wanted to sell,” explained Tom. “So we bought a property with a 23,000 sq. ft. building that seemed massive to us coming from Long Island. Initially, my dad cautioned against it because he said starting from scratch is really hard. But we said, ‘we’ve got this.’”
In 1995, the brothers, along with their dad, opened Knox Auto, named for Knoxville, the town in which it’s located. They quickly found out that their father was right. “It is really hard to start a salvage yard from scratch,” said Tom. “Add to that the fact that we were northerners trying to do business in the south. It took a while for people to accept us.”
In the meantime, Jim was finding success on the country music scene. He co-wrote the hit song, “Rope the Moon” by John Michael Montgomery in 1994, the year before his brothers opened Knox Auto. But by 1996, he was ready to join them at the salvage yard. “He had three young girls, and maybe the pull of family, and the family business drew him back,” said Tom. “Salvage is in his blood, just like all of us.”
The Dentons struggled in Knoxville for the first five years. But eventually, the successes outnumbered the obstacles. Their reputation grew as a quality recycler that was customer-focused. They started expanding their staff. In the meantime, they looked for opportunities to expand in other nearby markets.
In 2015, they got their big break. “We were approached by Express Auto Recyclers and asked if we wanted to purchase the full-service part of their business in Nashville,” said Tom. “We were hoping for an opportunity to expand into the Nashville market. We were already there with some delivery trucks but we didn’t have any production capability, so we jumped at that chance.”
Jim Denton headed to Nashville temporarily to oversee operations, while Joe’s son Kyle was being trained to manage the new location. It turned out that Jim and his wife really liked living there. “One day, Jim called me up,” said Tom. “He told me, ‘We’ve bought a condo. We’re going to stay here.”
That was the first expansion. Then, in May 2018, the brothers closed on their third location in Birmingham, Alabama. “It was always part of our strategic plan to expand into a market somewhere logistically around the Nashville/Knoxville market,” said Tom, “and Birmingham seemed the best fit. We started looking around for an established auto recycling business and found B&D Salvage, who wanted to sell.”
Tom noted that a key factor in their growth is their three-location logistic footprint. “This allows us to have a nightly transfer of parts between our three locations with Nashville being the hub,” he explained. “Tractor trailers from Knoxville and Birmingham meet in Nashville at 11 pm each night, swap out inventory and drive back. That way, we can offer next day delivery for our customers.”
The business belongs to the Premium Recycled Parts (PRP) group and Tom also credits that as a component of their success. “We meet every six months, compare numbers, and talk about things that are and are not working. We help each other.”
But he praises the 100+ employees at Knox Auto who really make the difference every day. “ “We could not have expanded the way that we have without the team that we’ve built,” said Tom. “That includes Greg Peck, general manager of Knoxville; Kyle Denton, general manager of Nashville; Miranda Neeley, general manager of Birmingham; Jonathan Clark, buying manager
Jeff Grooms, sales manager, Knoxville; and Sam Roberts, sales manager, Nashville/Birmingham.”
There is little, if any, employee turnover, according to Tom, and many of their managers are ‘home grown,’ longstanding members of the Knox Auto “family.” The Denton family continues to make its mark as well; another of Joe’s sons will be starting out in the finance department at the Knoxville location soon.
“It’s not just a business to us; it’s more than that,” said Tom. “That’s why a couple years ago, we brought on this corporate chaplaincy for each location. They come around and they talk to our employees about their problems. They’re available 24/7 to them in the event of a death in the family or other crisis. They can provide marriage counseling. Our employees are part of our extended family and we want to support them.”