From a Bar Napkin to Classic Cars: The Story of Just Toys
Despite what people may think, bar napkins hold an important place in our society. Yes, they are often only used to wipe up a spilled drink or to sweep away leftover crumbs only to be thrown away and never used, or thought of, again.
They also sometimes play witness to the genesis of a new relationship, hold the secrets to a design for a new invention that may change the world or record notes from an impromptu meeting where strategy for a new business venture is discussed.
A bar napkin also plays an important role in how Just Toys came to be. In this case, the napkin wasn’t used to get a phone number or sketch out the schematics for a never-thought-of-before machine, but instead it was used to map out the plans for a new classic and specialty car dealership
“One Friday night, we’re trying to put all this together and we asked, ‘What do we call it?’” said J.R. Smith, co-owner of Just Toys with his dad, Mike. “There’s all kinds of ways we could go with this.
“We said, ‘Well, they’re just toys. We play with them, we get rid of them and then we get something else.’
“There was about a 10-second dramatic pause. We got a bar napkin and started writing down notes and ideas for a business. In the most humblest of ways that’s how it started.”
And with that Just Toys was born.
“I used to have the napkin for the longest time, but I think during a move it somehow got lost or shredded and somebody didn’t have the guts to tell me,” continued J.R., whose responsibilities include managing inventory, writing descriptions, photographing cars and planning special events and promotions, among other things.
Just Toys was founded in 2002, so you really can’t blame J.R. for keeping up with a bar napkin for 15 years. He started the company out of his apartment in Orlando. Although the address has changed several times in the past 15 years, they’re still located in Orlando.
“It was online only,” J.R. told My Classic Garage. “We didn’t want to dive in headfirst into heavy rent and brick and mortar and hope to God we could make it work. We traveled the state of Florida and the Southeast region, did some shows, loaded stuff up in either my truck or ’03 Mustang GT and talked to people.”
The desire to own a classic car dealership with his dad came naturally for J.R. Mike spent 20 years in the consumer and automotive side of the industry; therefore, J.R. was raised around cars. When J.R. finally came of age, he tried his hand at any position offered him from curb greeter to finance manager.
Like his father, J.R. developed a passion for classic and collector cars. It’s this shared passion that drove both father and son to go into business together.
“I’ve literally been around the classic car industry since I could reach the door handle,” stated the younger Smith. “My dad’s dad was 38 years with General Motors [in St. Louis]. He started on the Corvette line and finished up in the GM parts house. His mom was 47 years with Carter Carburetor. She was one of the last employees. She was literally one of the last people they kicked out of there before they shut the whole thing down. My mom’s dad owned Sunoco stations that turned into repair shop and to this day my Uncle owns a hot rod restoration shop in St. Louis.
“To say this stuff is in my blood is an understatement.”
J.R.’s passion for cars extends beyond just classic cars; he also enjoys racing them. In the past, he’s competed in drag racing and autocross events and still attends events. He’s the gearhead who’s trying to time the lights during an NHRA event with his feet while everyone is content to just sit there and watch.
It’s this kind of passion that fueled Just Toys to become a dream achieved.
Just Toys went through the ups and downs typical of most start-up companies’ first years in business; however, they survived and were making progress when the recession of 2008 sunk its talons into the country’s economy.
There was nothing Just Toys could do but ride out the wave of the recession.
“They weren’t stellar years for us, but the fact that all of our cars are consigned as long as the owners were willing to hang on to them and stick with us, we could come out on the other side of the wave a little better than others,” J.R. said.
In 2010–2011, J.R. and his Uncle in St. Louis were building a 1972 Chevrolet Corvette for a mutual client of theirs who had 250 cars and about 50 restored John Deere tractors on his property. The client was planning to take 14 cars to the 2011 Barrett-Jackson Auction in Las Vegas. So, J.R., his dad and his Uncle all flew out there where they repped the 14 cars.
The auction was a huge success for them and they started to see real numbers coming back. That was their first indication that they were going to survive the wave of the recession and make it to the other side.
On the trip, they also realized that it was about time to start looking for some property. However, it wouldn’t be until 2013 before they moved into a facility in an industrial area of Orlando.
“We weren’t main drag by any means. We were about a mile off of it. It’s funny, people from Sweden could find us, but people from across town said they never knew where we were,” J.R. quipped.
In 2016, J.R. and his dad uprooted the company and moved it into the building where they currently reside. In a previous life, the building had been home to a Hagerty furniture store.
“We came in, gutted the place as you could imagine from a furniture store and turned it into what you see on our website (www.justtoysclassiccars.com) today,” said J.R. “From a piece of road down the middle of it called ‘Memory Lane’ to now having our corporate and private special event center and photography area done. We just celebrated a year in the building this past Memorial Day weekend and 15 years in the business.”
If you’re looking to stop by their showroom, make sure it’s not Sunday. As J.R. puts it, “Sunday is for God, family and NASCAR, and not necessarily always in that order.”
What you will notice about their facility is that the windows are tinted for security purposes and you can’t see what’s inside. But the effect the showroom has on visitors is impressive.
For J.R., the experience is similar to opening up a jewelry box: “When you open up the hood of a car, the engine is the diamond in the jewelry box. It just pops. That’s what you want to see. When you walk into our showroom, you get the same effect because you’re outside in the Florida sun, you open up the doors and your eyes adjust and, pardon my bluntness, 9 times out of 10 you hear, ‘Holy $#!&.’
“They cannot believe what they’re seeing and that’s what we wanted.”
The cars are parked along the showroom’s Memory Lane with the headlights all facing the front of the road similar to how cars used to be parked in car lots lining Main Streets across America. Beyond the front rows are more rows of cars and cars placed in all kinds of random positions necessitated by the fact that they have to get creative to fit close to 200 vehicles in the showroom. However, it looks more like a museum than a dealership.
On the walls surrounding the impressive showroom, Just Toys partnered with a local guy who sells antiques and memorabilia. The collection includes everything from a $2 rose holder from the 1940s to a working 1933 refrigerated concession stand from the Fox Theater in Atlanta.
Just Toys’ showroom also has murals on display that take visitors back to a time when cars were at the height of their popularity, from kids working on their hot rod in the driveway to a family arriving at the beach in their Woody straddled down with surfboards to a drive-in movie theater.
All that stuff sounds great and it is great, but the real jewels of the showroom are the cars. Their inventory includes cars you had growing up, cars you wish you had, cars that got away and everything in between.
They have something for everybody. If you’re looking for a Volkwagen Beetle for $12,000 or a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am for $140,000, Just Toys has a car on everyone’s wish list.
“It doesn’t matter whether I have a ’31 Pontiac here, a ’29 Model A or a ’67 Coronet 440 that’s got a killer 528-Hemi under the hood or a 2000 Corvette that’s got a 427 Lingenfelter, there’s always something for everybody within reason,” said J.R., who has personally owned 10 to 12 different Mustangs since he was able to drive.
“We do some modern muscle, like a 2012 Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca with 6,000 original miles on it, which is supposed to be here soon.”
The inventory at Just Toys isn’t the only thing that attracts car buyers to their showroom. Their prices are just as attractive.
“There truly is a butt for every seat and we try to keep that in an affordable price range for what quality the car is,” said J.R., who is one of six people working at Just Toys in addition to his dad, a managing partner, a mechanic, a detail guy and a sales manager.
“I could get a bunch of project cars in here and have a bunch of $4,000 cars that I’m trying to sell for 12 grand or we could have good quality. One hundred times a week, we hear people go ‘Wow, I can’t believe your prices are unbelievable.’”
Just Toys isn’t just sales. They have a service department and they assist all their customers in finding the perfect insurance and financing.
“We do a ton of our stuff here with Woodside, where it’s 10% down, 96 months and generally no pre-payment penalties after 24 months and you get the car of your dreams,” said J.R.
Although Just Toys has come a long way over the past 15 years, they’re not resting on their laurels. Instead they have grand plans for the future. Plans that will make them even more competitive and able to serve their customers as thoroughly as they already do.
The first thing they see doing in the near future is expanding their business to other locations. But one thing J.R. and his dad are insistent on are that all the locations, no matter where they are, look the same.
“We don’t want to necessarily say ‘franchise,’ but we’re going to open multiple locations,” J.R. told My Classic Garage. “You walk into a Cracker Barrel, it’s the same food, same place, same country store. It’s familiar every time you walk in. It kinda feels like home.
“That’s how we’re going to do this here. The way you see our showroom here is the way the showroom is going to be in St. Louis or Phoenix or Charlotte or wherever we decide to put them so that when you walk into the corporate office here in Florida, you might say, ‘Wow, it does look just like the one in Columbia, South Carolina. They weren’t kidding.’ That’s what we’re going for.”
When they talk about offering the full experience, they truly mean it and they’re upping their game in this area. One such example is their drive-in movie nights. In the near future, they plan to install a drop-down screen that will lower in front of the drive-in theater in the showroom. Twenty dollars will cover all your food and drinks.
“It’s going to be drive-in food: burgers, hot dogs, popcorn and sodas,” J.R. described with excitement. “It’s going to be good ol’ fashioned family-friendly entertainment, which as we all know, is so far gone and removed from anything in society nowadays it’s ridiculous.”
Although J.R. didn’t see himself co-owning a successful classic car dealership with his father when he graduated high school, they’ve both come a long way.
“It’s interesting that God takes you in funny directions sometimes,” stated J.R. “You, pardon the pun, get steered where he wants to take you and where you should go instead of where you think you’re going. We’re just trying to keep growing and expanding this thing as long as there are thirsty people these cars are going to survive.”
J.R. and his dad, as well as everybody else at Just Toys, truly believe they are the premier classic car consignment shop in the world because they put that kind of pride and effort into everything they do every single day. They rep the cars in the best way they can per what the owner tells them or what they find out.
“If a car has boogers, bumps and blemishes, we show the boogers, bumps and blemishes,” said J.R. “We don’t hide and not take trunk shots because the trunk looks like Swiss cheese. We rep them for what they are based on it’s good price value.”
That’s why they’ve been in business for 15 years, even through hard economic times, and will continue to survive and thrive no matter what’s thrown their way.
“From a bar-napkin idea to 40,000-square-feet, close to 100 cars and selling them all the world inside of 15 years, we’re just beyond blessed,” said the younger Smith. “It’s so awesome to see where we’re going next. We’re always looking to do more.”
Who knows? The next big thing for Just Toys may be only a bar napkin away.
For more information about Just Toys or to see their inventory, please check out their website at justtoysclassiccars.com.