For eight years, Mike Sparks had a solid career at Nissan North America, the kind that, for many people, represents the American Dream.
But Sparks had another version of the American Dream in mind.
“He had a good job at Nissan but it didn’t seem to quench his thirst,” says Bob Spivey, Smyrna mayor and a Sparks mentor. “He’s an entrepreneur, willing to try everything. He’s determined to be successful.”
That’s a good appraisal, says Sparks, who opened MidTNAutos.com Inc. in 2001.
“As a kid, I knew I wanted my own business,” he says. “I thought about a motorcycle shop; I played with Matchbox cars all the time.”
Sparks has managed to unite his passion for autos – the Smyrna native sold his first car at 16 – with his entrepreneurial drive.
MidTNAutos.com is no garden-variety used-car business. Customers can purchase from Sparks’ modest lot in Smyrna but about 60 percent buy via Internet orders.
In 2004, MidTNAutos.com grossed around $800,000, selling 150 cars to buyers in North America, Europe, Asia, and Central and South America.
Sparks is grateful for Nissan’s role in his personal development: The company provided tuition reimbursement for his business administration studies at Middle Tennessee State University.
Still, he says, “I just knew I had to leave or I’d be stuck doing something I didn’t enjoy every day.”
In 1998, Sparks bought a red Jaguar convertible, restored it, sold it online, and made more money from the car’s sale than a month’s regular salary.
“That clued me in that I was on to something,” he says.
Sparks sought advice from Dan Miller, personal-coach author of “48 Days to the Work You Love,” whom he met through acquaintances at church.
Miller was impressed with Sparks’ drive. “He had such a clear plan and it’s been born out by his success,” says Miller. “I sit back and watch in awe of what he’s doing.”
When Sparks registered the domain name MidTNAutos.com, he initially faced resistance from the Tennessee Department of Motor Vehicles.
“They said, ‘You can’t do this because it’s never been done,'” he says, with a touch of disbelief even four years later. “It was common sense that the Internet was going to blossom – I don’t look at us as super cutting-edge.”
In addition to his own Web site, Sparks advertises by piggybacking on other sites such as TruckTrader.com and Ebay.com. It’s one of the methods enabling him to pass thousands of dollars of savings per car on to his buyers, many of whom are also paying hefty shipping charges.
Originally Published on: Bizjournals.com