Perhaps one of the biggest issues facing Rick and Mary Ballentine when they opened up their car dealership on Central NE was what to call it.
A son-in-law recommended “Red Hot Chile Peppers Car Lot,” “but that was too long to say,” Rick Ballentine recalled.
A couple of other contenders were also deemed to be too wordy.
Then a friend suggested “Red Hot Car Lot,” and it got nods of approval all around.
“We liked it,” Ballentine said. “It was short and it rhymed. We’ve been that ever since.”
The Ballentines are a husband-wife team that jointly run the business.
“She does most of the buying and I do most of the selling,” Rick Ballentine said.
They first opened up the dealership in 1992, but he’s been in the business for about 37 years.
“I needed a job and I knew somebody at the old Country Dodge dealership,” Rick Ballentine said. He turned to cars after trying his hand at selling real estate, but it fulfilled something of an old dream.
“I remember growing up, the girl down the street from me, her dad owned a Ford dealership,” he said. “So when people asked me what I wanted to do when I grow up, I said I wanted to be a Ford dealer because you got to drive a different car home every night. At that young age, I thought that was the coolest thing in the world.”
Keeping going in the business has been a challenge through the recession and the “Cash for Clunkers” buy-back program that stripped the marketplace of many used cars.
“When we first opened, we would have 20 or more people a day come through here,” Mary Ballentine said.
Traffic is significantly reduced now, but the couple has kept up by adjusting to the market. Red Hot Car Lot specializes in cars under $6,000, generally in the age range of 1999 to 2005, he said.
“Tax season is our busy season now,” Rick Ballentine said. “We’re really busy February and March. April 15 is when I head out on vacation.”