Preserving Arlington Memorial Bridge

Retiring Salesman Proves Equipment Can Be a ’Hoot’

Tue March 27, 2007 - Southeast Edition
CEG



Paul Winfrey, better known as Hoot, retired late last year from his job as equipment sales representative of A.E. Finley & Associates of Tennessee Inc.

While he won't be a constant presence at the dealership anymore, his stories will likely remain.

"Hoot is a character," said Danny Meador, president of A.E. Finley. Meador said Hoot always had something funny to say and that he made many friends throughout his career and had excellent rapport with his customers.

"He had a good following of customers and they really liked him," Meador said. "He's been around the industry a long time. He could walk into a customer's office, bypass the secretary and go straight to the owner. Some people can't do that, but people enjoyed being around him and talking to him. He was a natural salesman."

But Winfrey said the personalities of equipment salesmen have toned down over the years.

"Personalities don't sell equipment like they used to," Winfrey said. "There used to be a lot of parties and you don't see that anymore. Before the highway lettings, they would have a hospitality hour."

When Winfrey was discharged from the Army in 1955, he started working for Bellsouth Phone Company. After falling off telephone poles three times, he knew this was not for him.

"Back then you had to wear those hooks," Winfrey explained, "and they kept giving me problems. Now they have those bucket trucks, but we didn't have those back then."

He began at Story Brothers, selling Oliver tractors and other machinery for 13 years. Winfrey remembers an exciting incident from this period.

"We had a big contractor in Shelbyville, Tennessee, that did a lot of interstate work and I had sold them about $300,000 worth of drills. I went over there to collect the money. On my way back, I stopped on Eagle Mountain at Tubby's and I got hung up there for a couple of days. Story Brothers got to looking for me. Then they called the customer and the customer said, 'We gave Hoot cash two days ago.' Then they really started looking for me. They thought I had skipped town with $300,000 worth of their money."

In 1968, Winfrey became a factory representative for Gardner-Denver covering five states. In 1981, he became a sales representative of Thompson Green Machinery in the Nashville area. From there, he was lured to Power Equipment Company in 1984.

He joined the Nashville branch of A.E. Finley and Associates in 1986, where he became a popular salesman, and he stayed there for the rest of his career.

Equipment has changed since Winfrey started selling it 51 years ago.

"I've seen a lot of modernization in machinery," Winfrey said. "Like one drill will do what four would do in the past."

Environmental regulations and new laws have increased dramatically since Winfrey started selling equipment.

"Contractors now are more limited because of environmentalists," Winfrey said. "Contractors used to just come in and do a job. Now it takes a lot longer."

As for his retirement, Winfrey, 73, plans to spend his days with the "Breakfast Club" at Mrs. Winners restaurant with "young men" in the 50-year-old range.

The rest of the time he wants to "loaf." He laughed as he described himself driving the seniors' bus at his church and tooling around on his newly purchased scooter.

Meador said A.E. Finley & Associates wishes Hoot the best for his retirement.

"We sadly say goodbye to our friend and buddy Hoot, as well as his sweet wife, Shirley, who has shared her life with him for 51 years," he said. CEG Staff