(T-G Photo by David Melson) [Order this photo]
Fellow employees at Pirtle & Howerton Automotive brought out a cake and balloons over the lunch hour Friday to honor probably the most experienced colleague they'll ever have.
So how did he make it to 90?
"Try to eat right and keep myself busy," Payne said. "I'd go crazy if I sat down."
Payne has been selling vehicles in Shelbyville for 71 years and has advice for anyone who hopes to emulate his success.
"You have to make them love you," Payne said. "If you don't sell yourself -- and your business -- you don't sell anything."
And there's another important factor, Payne says: "Get to know the product."
Payne still remembers his first customer.
"My first sale was a green 1939 Studebaker Champion 4-door to Bob Prince," Payne said. "I started selling at Dixie Motors in 1939 when it was behind Hotel Dixie (on North Main Street)."
The job was about more than sales in 1939, Payne said.
"They were all employees, not just salesmen. We had to do everything."
And he had a little help from family in the early years: "My dad, Charlie Payne, would send us customers from U.S. Rubber Co."
A 1959 photo hangs on Payne's office wall showing him and several others from Dixie Motors with a Studebaker pickup truck promoting the new Lark, one of the nation's first successful smaller cars in the early 1960s.
Other Shelbyville dealers for which Payne says he's worked include the old Stewart-Potts Ford, the old Cannon Chevrolet for 20 years, the former Earl Cullum Buick-Pontiac-GMC, and Celebration Nissan (the successor to Dixie Motors) before accepting his current position at the invitation of Mark Pirtle. Pirtle & Howerton gradually absorbed the successors of all those earlier dealerships, including the since-sold Nissan franchise at one point.
Payne credits his family for much of his success.
"I've had two wonderful Evelyns and still have one of them," Payne said. "In 1950 I met Evelyn Leverette and we got married and had a son, Trenver Grant Payne Jr. She died in 2003 of Alzheimer's. Then I met another Evelyn, Evelyn Barrett, and we got married in 2004."
Age has slowed Payne somewhat and affected his eyesight, but one thing's for sure: The master salesman isn't ready to retire. As his co-workers brought out his birthday cake, the celebration was delayed a few moments. Payne was on the phone with a prospective customer.