Chase and Ashley Barton ’09 are the proud new co-owners of Stephens Mitsubishi in Princeton, West Virginia. In 2020, the couple invested in Stephens Auto Center with Richard Stephens, a brand that began in Boone County, WV in 1978.
“They have a sterling reputation, and we’ve decided that as we grow, Richard is still our business partner. That name already has a lot of brand recognition in the community and in southern West Virginia…if it’s Beckley at the pre-owned store, here in Princeton or Danville, people can still loosely tie that together,”Chase Barton
Even before graduating from Concord University in 2009 with a business degree in accounting, Chase worked in the auto industry. He began working with his father at a dealership in Beckley doing finance. In 2012, the owners took over the Chevrolet dealership in Beckley and Chase went there to be the sales manager. Working long hours at this dealership with his father, the two came to a life-altering conclusion: “We decided that If we were going to work that hard and for that many hours, we were going to work for ourselves.”
In January of 2013, they opened their own used car dealership and ran the business together until his father’s passing in October of 2015. Chase and his father both sold cars, but the financing, paperwork, and administrative responsibilities fell to Chase. In his father’s absence, Ashley stepped in to take over behind-the-scenes work.
“I had worked in a bank for several years until the point of time that we decided to merge ourselves with this business that he had already built,” said Ashley, who also graduated from Concord University in 2009 with a business degree in management. “So I started helping him with the day-to-day operations at the dealership…helping him with the administrative and accounting side with my background.”
In 2016, the couple had an opportunity to buy into King Cole Chevrolet in Oak Hill. They were part of that store until 2020 when they sold stock back to the other shareholders to invest in Stephens Auto.
Chase and Ashley both graduated from Concord University in 2009, but neither of them took a class on the Athens campus. Chase was from the Beckley area and Ashley was from Bolt, both working full time and taking evening classes at various locations in the region. The couple got married midway through their college career, and because of the Erma Byrd Center, were able to finish their degrees.
“Things were still really new at the Erma Byrd Center. All of that took place while we were still students. It was a great turn of events for us because it helped us get our degree on track and still maintain our day jobs and continue with normal life,”Ashley Barton
While their college experience wasn’t traditional, Chase and Ashley are both grateful for the foundation that Concord provided and the flexibility the Beckley campus offered.
“I think Concord had a very good foundation for our business program and the professors that we had had a real job as well. They weren’t just teachers and they had owned their own businesses in some sense or had a partnership in a business…I think that really brought real world scenarios to the classroom.”Ashley Barton
Chase added, “It’s different when somebody’s been there, played whatever game you’re going over. I think it resonates more.”
Not only did their own relationship emerge from their courses in Beckley, the couple has also maintained relationships with some of their professors.
“We had a lot of good professors…Carl Bowen—he’s Chief Operating Officer for Pioneer Community Bank now—he’s a good friend and customer, so we got together at Concord and maintained our relationship since then,” said Chase.
“I think we were just really fortunate to have a really good staff that was leading us through our education…We have a lot of good relationships that came out of our time at Concord that still continue today,” said Ashley.
Looking towards the future, Chase says they’re always looking at any good opportunity that makes sense in the area, but ultimately, “people are the key.”
“We have a lot of good staff, and I think we’re in a position to where, if we were able to grow and acquire another business, we have some staff that we could put in that business to get it running the way we like it fairly quickly,”Chase Barton
Chase and Ashley, together with their business partner, have a clear vision and are grateful to have a team in place that shares that goal.
“It’s really all about the people. We’ve been really fortunate and blessed to have great employees and to have a really hard-working team that listens and understands the vision that Chase and Richard have put in place. And everybody helps get to that end goal…It all really comes together when it takes everybody across the board to know what that vision is and to play it through.”Ashley Barton