Yancey Bros. Turned Picks, Shovels Into Thriving Dealership

Wed December 08, 2004 - Southeast Edition
Pete Sigmund

Yancey Bros. Co., which celebrated its 90th anniversary in April, has progressed from the days of picks and shovels to one of the nation’s leading Caterpillar dealers, as well as the oldest one.

Brothers Goodloe H. Yancey, Jr. and B. Earle Yancey founded the company in 1914 as Yancey Hardware Co., which sold hardware, picks, shovels and striped uniforms to government agencies — especially county prisons — for road construction.

Hard work grew the business. The two opened branch offices in Birmingham, AL, Ft. Pierce, FL, and Greenville, SC.

In 1918, Goodloe heard of a “Caterpillar” crawler tractor made by the Holt Manufacturing Co. of Peoria, IL, which could do the work of “40 mules … or 40 horses and countless humans.”

The two brothers traveled to Peoria and asked if they could represent Holt in the Southeast.

Holt was less than enthusiastic, saying Holt had failed in its attempts to sell its tractors for roadbuilding, and that the machines had to be sold direct, rather than through a distributorship.

For all their pains, Goodloe and Earle left Peoria with only a photograph of the Holt 45 tractor and a price quote of $4,750 COD (collect on delivery) per machine.

The brothers turned their attention back to producing crawler machines for the U.S. Army.

However, using their salesmanship and the single photograph, they had phenomenal success selling the Holt tractor. Within 12 months, they had sold all the 45s in Holt’s inventory. When they returned to the Holt factory in Peoria the following year, they were hailed as conquerors, and received Holt’s first jobber’s contract.

Holt merged with the Best Tractor Co. in 1925 to become the Caterpillar Tractor Co., now the world’s largest manufacturer of earthmoving equipment.

Caterpillar records indicate that, based on the original agreement date of Dec. 19, 1918, “Yancey is the dealer with whom Caterpillar and its predecessor companies have had the longest business association,” leading to Yancey’s title as “the nation’s oldest Caterpillar dealer.”

Growth of Company

Yancey’s partnership with Caterpillar has seen much growth and change over the past nine decades. In 1924, the brothers established a new headquarters in downtown Atlanta. The company also saw its territory shrink, from four southeastern states (Georgia, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina) with Holt to just the state of Georgia with Caterpillar in 1925.

The brothers decided to split their territory in half in 1927. Goodloe (known as the years progressed as “Mr. Goodloe” as a term of respect and affection) continued the company alone as Yancey Bros. Co. for the counties in the northern half of the state while Earle moved his operations to Albany, as the Yancey Tractor Company, to become the Caterpillar dealer for the southern half of Georgia. Joining Earle in Albany was another brother, L.D. Yancey, who was the father of another generation of Yancey brothers, Don and Goodloe III.

As Georgia prospered, so did Yancey Bros. Co. The company continued to grow and flourish, and does so still, based on Goodloe’s fundamental principles: standing by your word, delivering what you promised, and offering assistance when you can.

In 1947, Yancey Bros. Co. expanded with the addition of a branch facility in Augusta. That same year, Earle’s family sold the Yancey Tractor Company, thus interrupting the Yancey family’s service to customers across the entire state. Six years later a second full-service product support branch opened in Macon.

Don A. Yancey, a nephew of Goodloe, became president of the company in 1959. Don started his career working for Earle and his father, L.D., with the Yancey Tractor Co. in Albany in 1936 as a salesman. In 1969, he led the company in its move to the current corporate headquarters located at the intersection of I-20 West and Six Flags Parkway 4 mi. outside Atlanta’s I-285 perimeter highway. These new facilities gave Yancey room for expansion and growth into the next century.

In 1974, Goodloe H. Yancey III assumed the presidency of the company upon the retirement of his older brother, Don. He worked as one of the company’s first parts and service sales representatives, as a machine sales representative, as sales coordinator and later as sales promotion manager. Goodloe III became vice president of the company in 1966 and executive vice president and general manager in 1972.

Under Goodloe III’s leadership and guidance, Yancey Bros. Co. reached heights which Goodloe and Earle could only have dreamed of.

In 1987, a new division of Yancey, Sunbelt Power Systems, was established to provide truck engine support and primary and auxiliary electric power systems.

New Leadership

Yancey Bros. Co. has announced a plan of management and ownership succession for the company in 1994. James E. Stephenson, son-in-law to Yancey’s former president, Don Yancey, became the company’s primary stockholder. A successful trial lawyer with experience in construction law, Stephenson was named president and chief executive officer in September 1995, thus continuing the long and proud history of the company for another generation.

Stephenson completed his purchase of the company in February 1996, and assumed the responsibilities of leading the company into its 10th decade of service to the northern half of Georgia.

Under Stephenson’s leadership, Yancey Bros. Co. has made solid advances, but he downplays it personally.

“I have some people who are trying to call me Mr. Jim and I tell them I haven’t earned it yet,” he told Construction Equipment Guide (CEG).

In addition to growing the Earthmoving and Power Systems Divisions, three new divisions of Yancey Bros. Co. have been created during Stephenson’s tenure. The company’s Rental Services Division, known as The Cat Rental Store, was formed in 1997 and markets Caterpillar’s full line of construction and building equipment to customers with daily, weekly and monthly rental options.

The second division created during Stephenson’s tenure is Yancey Building Construction Products (BCP). Yancey BCP was started in 1999 and markets Caterpillar’s line of compact construction equipment as well as Cat building construction equipment. These machines include backhoe loaders, skid steer loaders, mini-excavators and most other Cat equipment in the 100 hp and under range.

The newest operating division of Yancey Bros. Co., Yancey Agricultural Products, was established in 2002. When Caterpillar sold its “Challenger” line of agricultural tractors to Georgia’s AGCO Corporation in early 2002, Yancey Bros. Co. was granted the service territory of Georgia, Alabama and the panhandle of Florida for AGCO’s “Challenger” and “Fendt” brands of agricultural tractors and equipment.

Perhaps the most important sign of the company’s growth under Stephenson’s leadership was in December of 2002. Yancey Bros. Co. purchased certain operating assets of the former Caterpillar dealer in the southern half of the state, and became the exclusive Caterpillar equipment and power systems dealer for the entire state of Georgia.

Just as things had been 90 years earlier, the Yancey family once again serves its customers across the entire state of Georgia. Now in the fourth generation of the family, Yancey is proud of its history.

“You don’t see the changes from one day to the next, or one month to the next, but our company has experienced phenomenal changes over the years in organization, locations, facilities, and even some aspects of our culture,” Stephenson said. “They almost all reflect changes in our customers. As our customers’ businesses, and the demands on them, change, that drives change in Yancey Bros. We do what it takes to serve our customers and help them solve their problems. As those problems change for them, and change them, they also change us.”

Stephenson said that unparalleled financial success during the 2004 anniversary year reflects this partnership: “Reflecting the excellent business conditions that many of our customers have been experiencing, our 90th year has turned out to be our best year ever, financially. Our company has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade thanks to our partners at Caterpillar, our dedicated employees, and the thousands of individuals and businesses that count on Yancey to be their equipment supplier of choice. As much fun as I’m having now, I can’t wait for what’s in store for our 100th anniversary celebration in 2014.”

Yancey’s anniversary celebration took place on the weekend of April 16 to 17. The company hosted approximately 300 owners, presidents and principals of its larger customers on the 16th for an informational program and luncheon at its corporate campus. James W. Owens, Caterpillar’s chief executive officer and chairman, was the featured guest. On the 17th, Yancey then hosted almost 1,000 customers at a customer appreciation day, also at its campus. This was complete with barbecue lunch, equipment displays and demonstrations, and operator contests.

Yancey Bros. Co. currently has 24 customer sales, parts and service facilities located in 17 Georgia cities; Albany, Augusta, Austell, Bloomingdale, Brunswick, Calhoun, Columbus, Conley, Cumming, Dacula, Dublin, Jefferson, Kennesaw, Macon, Resaca, Savannah and Valdosta.

Stephenson said further expansion is in the works, particularly in rental stores: “We have land for new facilities under contract at several locations right now. Several other rental store facilities are approved but we don’t have their specific locations. We also have some new parts and service facilities. As we celebrate out 90th birthday, everyone is still having fun.”

For more information, visit www.yanceybros.com.