Dale Benton is one of a select group of 49 dealer nominees from across the country who will be honored at the 107th annual National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, on February 3, 2024.
The TIME Dealer of the Year award is one of the automobile industry’s most prestigious and highly coveted honors. The award recognizes the nation’s most successful auto dealers who also demonstrate a long-standing commitment to community service. Benton was chosen to represent the Automobile Dealers Association of Alabama in the national competition – one of only 49 auto dealers nominated for the 55th annual award from more than 16,000 nationwide.
“The automotive industry has been the vehicle for me to achieve the American Dream,” nominee Benton said. “The most rewarding part of my career has been building a business that makes a difference in our communities. It is also a privilege to provide a place where employees are proud to work.”
Benton attended Jefferson Davis Community College (now Coastal Alabama Community College) in Brewton, Alabama, and Kennesaw State College (now Kennesaw State University) in Kennesaw, Georgia. His plan was to play professional baseball but two years into his athletic scholarship, he suffered a career-ending injury.
While Benton contemplated his new path forward, he met his future wife, Victoria, his “dream girl.” He needed money to buy her an engagement ring, so he answered an ad for a sales consultant at a car dealership in Georgia.
“The ad said there was no experience necessary,” he said. “I had never really sold anything but, nonetheless, after one week of training, my new employer told me to get to work.”
Benton found that the challenges of selling cars satisfied his competitive spirit, and he saw the retail automobile industry as a way to determine his own destiny. He married his college sweetheart and set out in a new career direction, which took him from Georgia to Alabama to Florida and back to Alabama as he rose through the ranks of dealership operations.
“When not helping a customer, I would sweep floors, pick up cigarette butts, or do whatever it took to stay actively engaged,” he said. “It was important for me to work at each position as if my name was on the building.”
And eventually it was. In 2010, after 17 years in the business, Benton invested his family’s life savings to partner in a Nissan store in Oxford, Alabama. He bought out his partner in a few years and has since added three Nissan dealerships to his Benton Auto Group portfolio, two in Alabama and one in Tennessee.
“I could not have achieved this dream without Victoria and the sacrifices we made together,” he said. “Not everyone is willing to take the risk or do what is necessary to be successful. My career path was not a straight line, but each step brought me closer to my goal and strengthened my resolve.”
It is important to Benton that his business and brand are respected in the communities that his dealerships serve. “Investing in the community and helping others is good for business, but when it comes from the heart, it is contagious and creates a culture of generosity,” he said. “When you are part of something bigger than yourself, it feeds the soul and gives life more purpose.”
He is proud of founding the annual Benton Nissan Bass Fishing Tournament to benefit King’s Home, which serves youth, women, and children fleeing abuse, neglect, or homelessness across Alabama.
“King’s Home provides more than just shelter, it offers rehabilitative programs to help bring restoration and hope,” Benton said. “In the past six years we have raised and donated $217,000, and we could not have achieved this milestone without the support of our employees.”
For the Foundry Ministries in Bessemer, Alabama, which helps men and women break the chains of addiction and rebuild their lives, Benton is a major benefactor, has sponsored several events, and given over $130,000. in the last few years. And he has made significant donations to Christian Service Mission in Birmingham, Alabama, which was used to provide food for needy families, as well as food boxes for Thanksgiving.
“Over the past three years, we donated more than $100,000 to the mission, feeding more than 13,000 people,” he said. “And we pledged another $50,000 for the 2023 ‘Thankserving’ Day food box and turkey distribution.”
In addition, Benton’s employees fill backpacks with essential supplies for the company’s annual Backpack & School Supplies Giveaway which helps children in need. “Across our family of stores, we have given away over 7,000 backpacks representing $80,000 in school supplies in the last 10 years,” he said. “We have been overwhelmed by our team’s enthusiasm for giving back to the community.”
Other organizations he has supported include The Donoho School in Anniston, Alabama (currently on the board of directors); Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Alabama; Rotary Club of Calhoun County; Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama; Cystic Fibrosis Foundation; Autism Society; Habitat for Humanity Greater Birmingham; and Hoover Helps, to name a few.
Dealers are nominated by the executives of state and metro dealer associations around the country. A panel of faculty members from the Tauber Institute for Global Operations at the University of Michigan will select one finalist from each of the four NADA regions and one national Dealer of the Year. Three finalists will receive $5,000 for their favorite charities and the winner will receive $10,000 to give to charity, donated by Ally.
In its 13th year as exclusive sponsor, Ally also will recognize dealer nominees and their community efforts by contributing $1,000 to each nominee’s 501(c)3 charity of choice. Nominees will be recognized on AllyDealerHeroes.com, which highlights the philanthropic contributions and achievements of TIME Dealer of the Year nominees.
“At TIME, we are proud to uphold the decades-long tradition of honoring automotive dealers who make a positive impact and show dedication to their communities through our TIME Dealer of the Year award,” said TIME CEO Jessica Sibley. “We are excited to keep this tradition of applauding these community contributions together with our partners at Ally.”
Doug Timmerman, president of dealer financial services, Ally, said, “Auto dealers nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to not only the industry but to their respective communities through volunteerism, sponsorships, and supporting charitable causes, no matter the market climate. Whether their clients are purchasing a first car or upgrading for a growing family, these selected dealers have successfully extended their relationships beyond the showroom and have been steadfast in driving their communities forward.”
Benton was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Thomas R. Dart, president of the Automobile Dealers Association of Alabama. He and his wife, Victoria, have one son.