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H. Barry Smith Co. changes ownership

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Always part of the team, the Willard family takes the helm

By Scotty McDaniel

Business has changed in the decades since Barry Smith started his real estate and auctioneering company in 1974. One thing that never changed was that Smith was at the helm. Until now.

At the start of the year, H. Barry Smith Realtors and Auctioneers got new owners, as longtime associate Jimmy Willard and his nephew, Shawn Willard,  assumed ownership from Barry Smith.

It was an easy decision for Smith, 66, because as his business developed, the working hand of a Willard was always a constant.

"The Willards have been very influential in the company through the years," said Smith, who grew up on a farm just north of Simpsonville and got his start in the realty business in 1966 with the Frazier McMullen Company in Simpsonville.

While there he worked with another Simpsonvillian named Bill Willard.

In 1974, Smith opened H.B. Smith Company, which he changed to H. Barry Smith Company in 1978, and Bill Willard came above, eventually assuming partial ownership.

In the years that followed, Bill Willard's sons Jimmy and Paul worked with the company, helping to develop the firm's niche in auctioneering.

"Now it has all changed," Smith said. "It's more farm machinery, houses, and land.

"We used to sell more dairy cattle than anything, and those boys helped with the cows."

Jimmy Willard, 52, says he remembers helping pack furniture and doing odd work as a teenager and doing other odd jobs.

One of the earliest memories that he and Smith share is when, as a teenager Jimmy was given the duty of sitting in the back of a pickup truck and looking over a load of furniture being hauled from Frankfort to Shelbyville.

Smith said he remembers looking back and seeing splinters in the road. He asked what happened, and Jimmy told him a grandfather clock had fallen out of the vehicle.

Now it's a merely a funny story to tell, because it didn't stop Jimmy Willard from developing a career.

He began working full time for Smith in 1984, and in 1991 he was passed partial ownership of the company from his father, who passed away.

Shawn, son of the late Paul Willard, who died in 2007, joined the family affair in 2001, coming on board as a third generation realtor and auctioneer.

"They've really helped me build this business," Smith said of the Willard family. "So I wouldn't imagine anybody else taking it over but them."

Over the next five years, Jimmy and Shawn will buy the remainder of the company from Smith, who says he will stick around to work as normal.

The company will stay the same in name, services and clients, Shawn Willard said.

"Barry is someone you dream of working with and learning from," he said. "I look forward to keeping the business the same as he kept it."

The existing formula has worked for years. H. Barry Smith's employees have received numerous awards and honors over the years, but he says a simple gesture of thanks means as much as any plaque could to Smith.

"The thing that means the most for me is when you get a letter from someone you had a sale for thanking you for doing it and letting us know they were pleased," he said. "Letters from satisfied customers mean more than awards."

Smith says he doesn't know what he'll be doing five years from now, but he's confident the business he started more than 30 years ago will be in good hands.

"I think Shawn and Jimmy will do an excellent job running company," he said. "If I want to go to Florida for a couple weeks, I know it's taken care of."

It's an opportunity the Willards say they are excited to accept.

"It's something I've worked for since I started," Shawn Willard said. "It's something I dreamt of even through high school and college days. It's something I wanted to achieve as a goal."