NORMAN — Big Red Sports and Imports, 418 N. Interstate Drive, will celebrate 40 years of business and the city of Norman is invited. On Friday, Ted’s Cafe Escondido will cater lunch for visitors to Big Red from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Abbey Road Catering will bring in food from 4 to 7 p.m. Live radio station remotes will be on site all day giving out free gifts.
The dealership was originally located on Lindsey Street. Shawn Keith started at Big Red in 1979 working as a detailer. Now he’s the buyer who searches coast to coast for the best used vehicles to put on the car lot.
Things have changed a lot over the years, Keith said.
“Back then we were very small,” Keith said. “It was a little dealership on Lindsey Street.”
It was also a used car dealership at that time. The first new cars Big Red sold were Ferraris. Next came Alfa Romeo, Isuzu, Saab, Kia, Suzuki and Subaru.
Today, Big Red sells an equal amount of new and used cars and is the No. 1 Kia dealer in the state and has held that honor for more than a year, according to General Manager Richard Howard.
Howard moved from another Norman dealership to Big Red about six years ago.
“When I first got here, we had about 86 employees,” he said.
Then the economy crashed, and the number of employees decreased to around 36.
“We learned how to be family,” Howard said.
He did a little of everything during the lean years, including janitorial duties, as the dealership, like thousands across the state, struggled to stay afloat.
Big Red survived and prospered.
“As the economy changed, we started changing,” Howard said. “We price things very aggressively.”
Howard said Keith looks for the best deals and those low prices are passed on to the customers. A lot of the dealership’s business is conducted online.
“I was actually on the Internet before there was a world wide web,” Keith said. “We knew this was the future.”
Howard said Keith is a long time member of the Big Red family who has proven his value to the company several times over.
“He’s worked in every position here,” Howard said.
The dealership draws people from across the state and beyond — the Internet takes the showroom to people across the U.S.
“We pull customers from everywhere,” Howard said. “We just sold a BMW to a man in California. He found us on the Internet and we’re shipping the car to him.”
Even with the cost of shipping, the car is a bargain compared to California prices.
“We compete against everybody,” Howard said.
“We try to find the nicest used cars for the money that we can,” Keith said.
Customer service is still No. 1, Howard said, and the 10-year warranty on the Kia, along with great gas mileage, is a major draw.
A decade or so ago, people traded in their cars every couple of years. That trend has changed, and the Kia’s long warranty and high crash rating for safety makes it a great buy, they said.
“Now we’re seeing people are keeping their cars and putting the miles on them,” Keith said.
Times have changed in 40 years, but what hasn’t changed is Big Red’s connection to the Norman community.
“It’s definitely a cornerstone of the town,” Howard said.