Nelms Enjoys Challenge Of Building Family Legacy

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 1,036 views 

Tanned and windblown from working at the construction site of the new Adventure Subaru on a warm, sunny day, David Nelms is clearly in his element.

Nelms is in charge of new facilities for the family-owned dealership, which is scheduled to move into the new building and lot on June 22.

He enjoys the whole construction process.

“It’s fascinating,” he said, “from taking some lines scratched out on a piece of paper to constructing a three-dimensional model of it to actually overseeing the construction phase of it.”

At 20,000 SF on 4 ½ acres, the location at the Porter Road exit off Interstate 540 in Fayetteville will be nearly twice the size of the current site on North College. Nelms said they’ll take advantage of the added space to increase the size of the used-car operations.

He said the dealership’s sales have doubled in the last five years, which justified moving it to the more accessible I-540 site. They’ve added six employees in the last six months to keep up with the increased business and prepare for the move.

When Nelms was named to the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class in 1999, he was the general operations manager of the Nelms Auto Stores.

In 2000, Don Nelms — David Nelms’ dad and the company founder — opened Nelms Auto Park at Arkansas Highway 112 off I-540. A year later, Don Nelms sold the franchises at that location, now called Fayetteville Auto Park.

He kept the Subaru franchise, though, moving it back to the store at 2781 N. College Ave. where he started out selling Honda motorcycles in 1971.

Since that building has been in the family for more than 40 years, David Nelms said they’ll likely hold on to it and lease it after the move to the new location.

Nelms grew up in the business, washing cars in the summers from age 14.

“I’ve done about every job in a car dealership,” he said.

He moved to Portland, Ore., after college, returning to Fayetteville in 1996 to help build the Auto Park.

Around 2007, his brother, Dennis, took over as general manager at Adventure Subaru, while David turned to managing the family businesses. These involve several companies and partnerships, as well as his dad’s photography business.

For the last year and a half, though, his focus has been on the new building, “from picking out the site, developing the site plan, coordinating engineers and architects, hiring the general contractors and coordinating on a daily basis while it’s been under construction.”

The site is on a tract of about 20 acres the family has owned “for some time,” and Nelms is eyeing future opportunities to develop more of the property as Northwest Arkansas’ economy continues to improve.

“We have a vision for some commercial development in the future, if it makes sense,” he said, without mentioning any specific plans.

Still, “we’ve never seen ourselves as commercial developers,” he adds. “We stick to what we know, which is the car business. It’s sort of an offshoot of our core business that we got into developing properties on the bypass.”

The biggest challenge of the last few years — “and the most satisfying” — has been raising daughter Ella, 4 ½, and son Hollis, who’ll turn 2 next month.

Nelms, once an off-road cycling enthusiast, now does his cycling on local trails with the children, riding to the farmers market or around Lake Fayetteville.

He also spends as much time as work and fatherhood allow hiking along the Buffalo and Kings rivers.

He and his dad have long been involved in The Nature Conservancy, and he’s served on its Northwest Arkansas advisory board for about 10 years.

A musician who plays rhythm guitar and sings “old traditional hill songs” and “outlaw country,” he was part of an acoustic duo called Three-Legged Dog, with Jeff Fox, from 2000 to 2004. He and Fox still get together and jam with Jed Clampett and other local musicians “most any random weeknight, until we just about fall asleep.”

“Which isn’t as late as it used to be,” he said with a laugh.

As for future plans, besides possibly developing the rest of the Porter Road tract “as we see how the demand for commercial property develops over the next five years,” Nelms would also like to take a more active role in water quality and conservation in some form.

“It’s still a work in progress,” he said.