Then & Now: Retired Car-Mart executive Eddie Hight starts consulting business for auto industry

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 467 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the April 15 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s  Forty Under 40 class.

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Eddie Hight has spent nearly 35 years working in the buy here, pay here segment of the used car industry, the majority with Bentonville-based America’s Car-Mart. About a year ago, he and a former Car-Mart employee established a consulting and software business for the industry.

In 2002, Hight was promoted to chief operating officer of Car-Mart. That same year he was named to the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class. He spent the next decade overseeing the opening of almost 90 car dealerships across the Southeast. The company had nearly 150 dealerships when Hight retired in 2013. He joined the company’s board that year and remained a member through November 2017.

While on the board, he helped the independent directors understand how the company operates and was a voice for the customers and employees. He also spent time as a consultant for small-business owners, did some reading, fished and played golf. But he started to get bored and wanted a new challenge.

About a month before he resigned from the Car-Mart board, Hight reconnected with a former colleague, Rick Reeves, who hired Hight in 1984 as a management trainee for Car-Mart. Hight was looking for a change, and after several months, they decided to form AFS Dealers, a consulting company targeting the lease here, pay here market of the used car industry. AFS stands for Auto Finance Solutions, and like the buy here, pay here segment of the industry, the customers in the lease here, pay here industry have credit scores in subprime and deep subprime levels.

Hight, who is 56, and Reeves founded the business April 5, 2018, after a brief stint doing similar work in the Kansas City area. While he did not intend to compete with Car-Mart, Hight said Car-Mart leadership thought it would be too much of a conflict of interest for him to remain on the board, and he resigned from it.

AFS Dealers has nine employees and is based in Rogers. Hight, who works from home, said the company’s employees work in five states — Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Oklahoma and Michigan — and Toronto. The company provides consulting and training services for dealerships and offers cloud-based software for the dealers’ operations. The company has seven clients that are dealers with 30 locations across Minnesota, Michigan, California, Texas, Indiana and Tennessee.

The company has developed a business model for lease here, pay here and buy here, pay here dealers, and “whether with our software or not, when followed you have to work hard to fail,” Hight said. The company can also help with exit strategies, mergers and acquisitions.

Hight said the company is already working on a succession plan, and the company might look to move to a brick-and-mortar location in Florida over the next three to five years. He looks to another former Car-Mart colleague, Bill Elizondo, who was recently promoted to chief operating officer for AFS Dealers, to lead the company in four or five years “when Rick and I are out fishing or playing golf or doing whatever it is we want to do.”

“I’m already working harder than I intended to,” Hight joked. “This was supposed to be fun and for giggles. But we’re a contender. We are the real deal.”

Highlights of his career include seeing colleagues receive promotions, winning the Car-Mart president’s award and the repeat business of a physically disabled couple who would drive from Albuquerque, N.M., to purchase their vehicles at the nearest Car-Mart in Northwest Arkansas. His personal goals are to have his two youngest daughters graduate from college, see Elizondo awarded for his hard work and to grow the company.

As a side business, Hight recently purchased several rental properties and sold all but two, but he looks to purchase more soon, possibly homes in Bella Vista or Centerton. He’s specialized in high-end townhomes, mostly in Pinnacle subdivision in Rogers.

Hight supports Arkansas Children’s, New Life Ranch, Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter and Samaritan Community Center. Along with fishing and playing golf, he also enjoys hunting. Hight and his wife, Retta, live in Rogers, and they have three daughters and three grandchildren.

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