The Crain Companies began as “Paul Crain Wholesale” in Searcy, Arkansas in the early 1950’s. “Mr. Paul,” Larry Crain Sr.’s father, started out “peddling” tire repair items, health and beauty aids, fishing tackle and other general merchandise out of the trunk of his car. His customers were primarily small town “mom and pop” grocery stores and service stations. His business grew first into a van and later to a small “warehouse” (also his garage) and association with other peddlers, namely Hartsell Capps and Wendal Pettus. The seat-of-the-pants operation grew up to the time Larry Crain, Sr. came on the scene in 1966. Larry had graduated from the University of Arkansas with an accounting degree, passed the CPA exam and worked three years for the Peat Marwick Mitchell accounting firm and decided he wanted to go into business for himself.
In 1966, the company, then known as Crain Sales Company, built a new sprawling (10,000 square feet) headquarters on Highway 36 in Searcy, which in an expanded form (50,000 square feet), served as the company’s headquarters and main distribution facility until July 1992 when the company moved to a new office and warehouse in North Little Rock.
Beginning in the early 1980s, the company saw an industry trend and customer need for free-standing auto stores and opened its first KarPro auto parts store in Searcy. During the 80s and up until 2000 the company expanded by acquisition and new locations to more than 16 locations. In September 2000 a majority of the automotive parts distribution facility was merged into the O’Reilly Auto Parts operation.
Third generation Crains joined the family business after graduation from the University of Arkansas — first Larry Crain, Jr. in 1985, then Chris Crain in 1994.
In 1990 The Crain Companies purchased a Ford Dealership in Benton, Ark., and renamed it Freeway Ford Lincoln Mercury. In 1992 a sister dealership in Memphis was purchased and operated as Midway Ford. In 1999 Crain acquired the Landers North Facility from United Auto Group and was awarded the Kia franchise. Later that year Crain acquired Service Chevrolet Oldsmobile from Cliff Peck, and Crain sold Midway Ford in Memphis to United Auto Group to focus on growing the Central Arkansas market.
Crain began operating all dealerships under the Crain Automotive Team umbrella as Crain dealerships. Throughout the next decade Crain further expanded the dealership operations to include multiple dealership locations and an RV store. Led by company president Chris Crain, in January of this year the Crain Team acquired two Hyundai dealerships in Northwest Arkansas, marking their first venture in that part of the state. Many stores have recently been relocated or renovated to meet the changing needs of its valued customers.
Of all the dealership operations one of the most successful franchises are Crain Buick GMC on Museum Road in Conway. Purchased from Jody Brown 11 years ago, Crain Buick GMC has grown to one of the Top 12 Buick GMC dealers in the nation. The GM Giant is led by General Manager Jay Myers. “One of the things we pride ourselves on is that we don’t just work in Conway and Faulkner County, this is home, our kids go to school here, play little league and soccer here; we invest in this community because it’s important to us.”
The Crain Team presence in the area is hard to miss. Whether you’re at a UCA football or basketball game, Toad Suck Dayz, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Faulkner County, Soaring Wings Ranch, Relay for Life or countless other community events, you’ve noticed the Crain Team.
Earlier this week Crain broke ground on the all new Crain Kia of Conway. The project is expected to be completed in the spring of 2014. “We’re excited about Kia” said Myers. “Not only does Kia back every vehicle with a 10 year, 100,000 mile warranty, they are some of the safest and most fuel efficient vehicles on the road.”
The new Kia store will be the second Kia store for the Crain Automotive Team. “We believe in the Kia brand and their vision. The product is fantastic; it’s safe, offers the latest in technology and is competitively priced,” said Chris Crain. He continued, “We are looking forward to continued growth in the Conway area. It’s an exciting time for the city and for the Crain Team.”