Carville’s Auto Mart (right at 25 Road and U.S. Highway 6 & 50, but also interestingly enough off of two Independent Avenues), is a place that I’ve driven by literally countless times. Certainly at their location above, but also at their previous location off of North Avenue (across from the VA Hospital—though I should point out that they’re not there anymore. They’ve been on the Western Slope for 30 years, and they are celebrating that anniversary this week.
There’s a good chance that, if you’re reading this, and if you’re a driver, that you’ve driven past their lot. If you’ve lived on this side of Colorado in the past 30 years, you’ve probably driven past a few of their other sites that the company has moved into over the years. You might call them a Western Slope staple.
Owner and founder, Royce J. Carville first visited our mountainous region in the mid 1970s on a trip with a friend. When he returned back to his home in Texas, he told his wife Janice (and I admit to a bit of paraphrasing here) ‘We are moving to Colorado, right now.’
(That was the gist of it, anyway. I hear that happens to a lot of people after visiting Colorado, naturally.)
He packed up his family (his wife, Janice, and his boys Kevin and Darin, who were 5 and 2, respectively) and headed a bit north and west and generally upward, and arrived in Paonia around 1978. There wasn’t a gold rush around that time, but real estate was doing well, so Royce tried his hand at that.
Unfortunately, real estate (as well as the region in general) stopped doing as well when the coal mine went bust in 1986. He worked with a builder doing remodeling and refurbishing, eventually working on around 180 homes in the area, but eventually he asked that question that starts so many adventures: “What’s next?”
He felt the natural answer was to sell cars and trucks. I can’t explain my logic, but I can tell you that I agree — it feels like a very natural progression.
His first dealership, around 1989, was a little piece of property in Paonia on a side street near the railroad. It had a 12-foot by 12-foot building for the office. You can see a black and white photo of the lot below. It had room for about six vehicles and that little building (it looks like a cube about two-thirds of the way across the picture from left to right).
“Things got going pretty well, so I bought the old Dodge/Chrysler dealership in Delta around 91 or 92, and started looking to expand,” Royce said.
He bought another old Dodge/Chrysler dealership in 1994. This time it was in Grand Junction on North Avenue, across from the VA.
Then they opened a store in Montrose, then one in Glenwood Springs (which was actually in a store in the mall, with the inventory parked in a portion of the parking lot, of all things). Then Silverthorne, Rifle, Craig, Gunnison.
It’s not that there wasn’t enough employees, but Royce realized (probably with a little help from Janice and the boys) that it’s comparatively easy to open the stores, but it’s also easy to get stretched between them trying to run them right.
“I thought Grand Junction is the hub of all of these places, right here between Denver and Salt Lake City,” Royce said. “I knew if I could do one place really right that people would come to us.”
So he sold the Delta store, the Montrose store and so on, narrowing down to that one location on North Avenue.
It did well for them. His boys Kevin and Darin learned the business and started taking bigger parts. “2002 to ‘07 were good years,” he said, leaning in a bit to what came next.
In 2008, the Great Recession started, basically right in the middle of the purchase of the property that would turn into their current lot.
“We started construction in 2011, but that feeling of having more than one store started,” he said. “In 2015 we moved everything over here. One location just makes much more sense.”
Later he expanded again, but much more cozily, taking over the acres next to the store to expand their on-hand inventory.
Carville’s Auto Mart has made around 49,000 customer sales in the last 30 years. If spread out evenly, that’s over 1,630 cars per year, and would naturally produce concern about some kind of strain in that little six-car lot in Paonia.
Granted the numbers probably trend higher in later years at the big dealership off in Independent Avenues. It’s still a feat for a family (plus a little help) dealership.
“We’re a dealership with a difference,” Royce said proudly. “See, we don’t compete head-on with the big dealerships. I mean, we actually have inventory priced from $5,000 to $50,000 (we try to be able to fit any need of customers coming in), but we really specialize in the mid-range cars, around $15,000 to $25,000.”
I think that attitude struck me as one of my favorite parts of my visit to Carville’s. I walked around the lot to take photographs and there was, frankly, a lot (I know, that’s actually a pun) to photograph. There were many more trucks than I expected, big ones, little ones, work trucks, play trucks — even a white cargo van. There were some RVs and motor homes there (in case you know anyone that wants to follow Royce in moving here to Colorado in an RV). There was a big white motorcoach resting by the east fence, and it reminded me a bit of what it would look like if the White Whale from Moby Dick went into hiding in Colorado.
Also, one of my personally favorite styles of RVs, the lifted, off-road equipped smaller models. Then toy haulers, trailers, and did I mention the cargo van?
There was a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and also a Mercedes roadster (the smallest vehicles on the lot). There was a Cadillac Escalade, an Infiniti SUV, a Mustang, a custom Chevy truck with a clearly upgraded engine, Jeeps, Nissans, and many more. Even a Lexus and more than one minivan for good measure.
In fact, if you’re looking for a vehicle that you might not be able to normally find in Grand Junction, Carville’s is now the place I’d start looking.
All of that inventory (350 or more vehicles, according to that ad on the front page), serves a purpose, filling Royce’s mission to provide Quality, Selection and Service.
“In 1998 we started a separate company: Independent Finance Company. Now, they’re located on our lot, but it’s a separate company from Carville’s . . . we wanted to use the opportunity to finance trades under ten thousand, and provide a wider selection and financing for people to rebuild their credit,” Royce said.
“Many people start with a $5,000 car, then move up, maybe over multiple cars, and then pick something out of our more mid-range inventory. We do a great job working with people to help rebuild their credit. In fact, unlike many similar financing companies, we report payment histories to all three credit bureaus.
The program works, and Royce feels they provide a service, though there’s going to always have a few issues in the used car business. And Independent Finance Company (hmmm...maybe related to all of those Independent Avenues that surround the lot) isn’t the only finance company they use. “If someone’s not able to get financing anywhere else, we tend to be able to find financing for them. I think our guys — Matt and Jerry — just work harder.”
Royce explained that they do their best to bring their traded-in used vehicles to the best condition they can be. I saw some of that in action as I walked the lot, where staff members were cleaning a truck so thoroughly that the seats were drying outside the cabin.
“We really pay attention to the vehicles, trying to get them to their best condition, but there’s always risks when you buy a used car.”
“We also provide a majority of our pay-here financing vehicles with a service contract, and every vehicle we sell has an available service contract to cover unexpected issues. Some even have them available out to 60 months.”
People trying to rebuild their credit may want to spend the little bit more money for the peace of mind the service contracts provide, but it can be difficult, especially since a car is such a large part of life here for most people.
Still, word of mouth gets around. 49,000 is not a number to sneer at. But here’s a few more: their best month ever? It was March. March of this year. With 153 cars sold. They’d been averaging about 115 a month.
How about most cars sold to one person? One gentleman, who fancies himself a bit of an auto trader, has bought almost 30 of those 49,000 vehicles over the past few decades. And, there’s plenty of happy customers that have bought 10-12 cars from them over the years. This is anecdotal, but my mother’s friend swears by them and bought quite a few trucks from a number of their lots over the years.
Where is Carville’s Auto Mart and the Independent Finance Company going?
“I think we’re going to continue to grow,” Royce said, “but I’m pretty sure we’re not going to expand to different locations.”
I think that’s a good bet.
“Really, though, it’ll be up to the new generation where it goes. I’d like to see it continue to succeed. We have a good following, our finance company is a valuable service, and really without peer here in the local market in having local people locally to help deal directly with issues.
“We’re really a niche market in that, but we’ve been in that niche since we started.”
His sons have started taking over more and more of the business, giving Royce a bit more free time (which he’s been looking forward to). Kevin and his wife Kim work primarily as the buyer of vehicles and inventory managers. Darin does IT, but he’s also the general manager and handles the marketing and advertising.
Royce made a special point to note that he feels good about that next generation. Not just his sons, but also the other employees, naming Matt Frahm, finance manager, Jerry Young, sales manager, and Michelle Serrano, sales professional and Independent Finance Company’s Shaylynn Berkley, the loan manager, as well as the rest of the staff now and over the years.
“I really don’t want to forget my wife,” said Royce. “We’ve been married for 48 years, and Janice has been my partner in the auto business for the past 30. While she hasn’t been that active the past few years, I might not have made it through the first 10 without her.”
Carville’s continues to expand, looking outward to later model vehicles and to filling their newly increased lot to provide selection, quality and service to their customers. Drop by and check out their wide selection of both vehicles and financing, or just see what unusual vehicle you can find. I imagine you’ll have at least another 30 years (or more) to do so, but I suggest taking advantage of their anniversary specials and the drawings to win one of three vehicles (above and on the ad on page 1E).