Allen E. Samuels, the car dealer and entrepreneur best known as Your Friend in the Car Business, passed away from pancreatic cancer on April 24, 2020 in Fort Worth. During his career, he owned and operated 21 dealerships, with 17 of those in Texas. At one time, his dealerships formed one of the largest privately-owned auto groups in the United States.
The original dealerships were in Waco, North Richland Hills, Tyler, Ennis, Corpus Christi, Houston (2), Clear Lake, Port Arthur, Katy, Austin and Alliance. In recent years, he acquired additional Texas dealerships in Waco, Aransas Pass, Hearne, Fort Worth and Euless, plus locations in Oklahoma, Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Ever the entrepreneur, Allen also owned Allen Samuels House of Travel, Allen Samuels Realty and Waco Regional Tennis & Fitness Center which is managed by Allen Samuels Sports.
He first entered the car business in 1963 and worked his way up from rookie salesman to general sales manager at Bill McKay Chevrolet in Fort Worth.
After nine years, Allen left the operation and spent the next three years consulting new car dealerships across the United States. He developed a unique ability to turn around struggling operations and restore them to profitability.
In 1982, a consulting project turned into a year-long position as general sales manager of Steakley Chevrolet in Waco, which developed a special place in his heart for the community as a place to live and to conduct business.
Late in 1983, a friend introduced Allen to Chrysler Corporation, which led him to buy North Loop Dodge in North Richland Hills, a dealership that had never made a single month’s profit for over 20 years. After losing a small amount the first month, Allen turned North Loop Dodge into one of the most profitable Dodge dealerships in North Texas within a year.
Allen offered a simple mantra that led to his success: “There’s no lying, cheating or stealing. If I ever catch you doing any of these, you are gone immediately, with no exceptions!”
Building upon his success with North Loop Dodge, Allen acquired new car dealerships in Tyler and Ennis.
In August 1990, he received a call from Bobby Steakley, owner of the Waco Chevrolet dealership, who sold Allen what would become Allen Samuels Chevrolet/Geo/Mercedes-Benz.
From the start, Allen was dedicated to the communities that his car dealerships served, often promoting local civic activities as much or more than his own business. He was widely sought-after by local communities because of his model of community support and philanthropy.
In many of the communities, he became recognized for producing commercials that featured him walking in front of local points of pride, accompanied by a compelling and energetic music track. He ended each commercial with, “Waco has a lot to offer, and so do we at Allen Samuels. Come by; let’s be friends!”
Allen was an energetic supporter of youth activities that ranged from soccer, basketball, baseball and softball to scouting and Adopt-A-School programs. He was the only Chevrolet dealer in Central Texas to participate in a program that rewarded schools for test drives, which resulted in donating over $28,000 in computers and televisions to local schools.
“I wanted to help the community as many ways as I could, which is why I concentrated on children, the Waco Chamber of Commerce, the arts and our local hospitals.” And one of his greatest loves: Fishing. He sponsored his own fishing team that included high-profile fishermen in the Central Texas area, such as Alton Jones and the late Charlie Pack.
He was revered in the rural communities for his relentless support of the local junior livestock shows, investing heavily in paying far beyond H-E-B Grocery’s market price for steers, hogs, lambs, goats, chickens, turkeys and rabbits.
Allen’s presence has been felt most deeply at the McLennan County Junior Livestock Show, where he and his wife Donna, both personally and partnering with his dealerships, were consistently the largest buyer of animals raised by area 4-H and FFA school students from throughout McLennan County.
“It was my honor to pay special tribute to my friends, Allen and Donna Samuels, at this year’s McLennan County Junior Livestock Show auction,” says Clayton Hall, who has played a leadership role in the auction. “Allen Samuels has inspired other businesses to participate and he has also helped existing participants raise the level of money they pay for these animals. He will be missed, but his legacy will continue.”
When asked about the reason behind his community involvement and philanthropy, Allen said, “I made it clear from the very start that I was giving the money unconditionally, and not in response to people buying cars from me. I learned many years ago the value of doing the right thing for the right reasons, because that’s when the right results tend to follow.
Allen was honored by an impressive number of organizations:
McLennan County 4-H: Meritorious Service Award and Friend of 4-H
Waco Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year
Texas Family Business of the Year by the Institute for Family Business at Baylor University
Celebrity Chairperson for the MDA “Jerry’s Kids Labor Day Telethon”
Better Business Bureau Torch Award (local) – and the first new car dealer ever to be named a national finalist
TIME Magazine Quality Dealer Award – National finalist out of 20,000 dealers)
Philanthropist of the Year
Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Southwest Region
Member of Business of the Year by chambers of commerce in six different communities where he has had dealerships
Golden Apple Award from Waco ISD for Partners in Education
The Northwest Waco Rotary Club roasted Allen with their annual celebrity roast in 2000, and the City of Waco proclaimed “Allen & Donna Samuels Day” in 2002.
In an ironic twist of fate, Allen Samuels’ latest acquisition was a new site for his corporate headquarters. Before he had been made aware of his cancer diagnosis, he bought the office building of the American Cancer Society at 1700 Lake Success and the structure is currently being renovated.
Having been a supporter of the organization for 30 years – often as sponsor of the annual Cattle Baron’s Ball, Allen realized the purchase would help the organization secure funds that would help them relocate to another site more suitable for them.
Allen grew up in Fort Worth and attended Central High School (which became Paschal High School), leaving after his sophomore year to enter the workforce. He served his country as a member of the United States Merchant Marine.
He is survived by his loving wife, Donna, 9 children, 22 grandchildren and 19 Great Grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a son, Bruce Samuels and a grandson, Austin Little.
Allen was a 33rd degree Mason and was a member of Waco Masonic Lodge Number 92. He actively supported the philanthropic efforts of Masonry.
Funeral services are pending.
The family requests that people wishing to make memorials contribute to the Shriners Hospitals for Children or the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.