On October 1, 1987, Scott Hayse and Butch Burson started a business doing van conversions, a
highly sought-after service at the time, particularly for folks who wanted shag carpeting beneath
their cushy captain’s chairs and a small, boxy television mounted to the side. Scott, unlike Butch,
knew this was a trend that would eventually pass and wanted to get into installing bedliners and
doing other types of truck conversions. The two parted ways professionally, so in 1988, Scott
calls his best friend, George Vaughan, to see if he wanted to join him in the truck conversion
“We’d worked together up to 1986, but he went on to be a stockbroker in New York City and
hated it. That only lasted about seven or eight months. He was an accountant by nature, so I said
come down here and help me,” says Scott. “He said, ‘I can’t right now. I’m listening to Guns N’
Roses, but when the song’s over, I’ll come.’ He showed up eight hours later.”
In an alternate universe, their success comes easy and at no personal cost, but the realities of this
world would put them on a different path.
The original Phoenix Conversions was located off North Central, a bare-bones operation with
card tables, folding chairs, and a leaky roof. But the work was good, and George’s accounting
expertise helped point the business in the right financial direction. By the mid-90s, they realized
relocating to West Knoxville might put them in an even better position long-term, so the
company moved to Trucker’s Lane, now Parkside Drive, just as construction was underway to
extend Pellissippi Parkway to Alcoa and the boom of Turkey Creek was yet to come. With room
to grow, Scott and George saw a bright future for their venture.
What came next would prove their instincts correct. Within five years, four different business
owners approached them about buyouts – an accessory distribution company in Sevierville, a
bedliner company in Nashville, then came inquiries from Memphis, then Kingsport. Scott spent
much of 2001 on what felt like a driving tour of Tennessee, bouncing from city to city, shop to
shop, while George kept things afloat back home in Knoxville. Despite their quick success,
Phoenix Conversions was growing at an exhaustive pace, one that couldn’t be endured
It wasn’t long before the dam broke. George couldn’t manage the pressure and by the spring of
2002, Scott was on his own.
Time to Pivot
Scott knew he needed to downsize as soon as possible. He hired a new accountant, and over the
next few years, closed the statewide locations, all to keep the banks at bay. The company was in
debt, and 2008 brought another financial whammy – the Great Recession – which resulted in a
40 percent drop in business.
That’s why, when a customer named Ed came around needing a handful of van conversions
completed, Scott was eager to take the business. Ed was reliable and seemed to be flush with
cash, so much that he was happy to loan Scott $100,000 to help keep Phoenix Conversions
Then, Ed disappeared.
“I was building vans for this guy, but no one could find him. The bank is still calling, and all this
equipment was supposed to be paid for by Ed,” says Scott, “but it was a scam, and Ed was in jail,
and now I was the guy to help uncover the mess. We lost a couple hundred thousand dollars from
By December 2008, the outlook was bleak in a new and troublesome way. All of Scott’s efforts
seemed to be failing, and this led to intrusive, unimaginable thoughts about how to get off the
hamster wheel. What can only be explained as divine intervention led to Scott changing direction
“I had to make a decision I didn’t want to make. I called the bank, my landlord, and all the
vendors to say back off. I was going to lay off 14 people, keep seven, and they’ll have to take a
pay cut, and I’ll take nothing. This was two days before Christmas. Everyone took the deal. We
were like family, and I hated to do it,” says Scott. “There were a lot of tears and hugs.”
A New Life
In 2011, the landlord let Scott know they’d be selling the property to a hotel company but that it
would be a slow process, at least a year. It was a heads-up to start looking for a new location for
Phoenix Conversions. Then, he came back in January 2012 to say they’d break ground that
March but not to worry. Due to the landlord’s windfall, he would forgive Scott’s outstanding
debt and part ways amicably. Not only had the business bounced back from the recession, but
now there was debt forgiveness, a literal answer to prayer.
Scott knew he wanted to stay in West Knoxville, so when their current location near
the intersection of Weisgarber Road and Middlebrook Pike came available, it seemed like a no-
“We struck a deal to have the west end of this building, but the fire marshal came in and said we
needed to build a wall. That was a Friday night in the first week of February. We needed to be
moved out and opened in a new location by March 1,” says Scott. “When I want to pray and talk
to God, I lean against a tree. It has a bigger reach than I do. So, I laid against the tree at the front
of the property and prayed to God that he needed to do something. The next day, the landlord
said I could take the whole building, and we didn’t have to pay rent for the first three months.
We moved everything from Parkside Drive and remodeled the showroom and had it up and
going March 1. We never missed a day of work.”
This is something that happened time and again throughout Scott’s decades-long career as a
business owner, which he acknowledges is not his own doing.
“There are times when God is in your life, when God’s hand is in the whole process,” says Scott.
“This is all God’s hand. Our business took off. By 2014, we were debt free.”
Phoenix Conversions employs 28 people with good pay and benefits, some of whom have been
with the company since its inception. Its reputation continues to be the go-to place for vehicle
conversions of many kinds, both commercial and personal. And while Scott is starting to slow
down, he’s not quite ready to leave the office.
“I was supposed to retire last October. The business turned 35 and I turned 70, but my wife
accepted that I won’t retire if we could travel and I don’t work 100 hours a week,” he says. “A
group of employees, including my sons, will buy the business from me when it’s time to be done.
Those people have been with me from the beginning, through thick and thin.”
As the company name suggests, Phoenix Conversions has been reborn a number of times.
Despite Scott’s hard work and resilience, he doesn’t take the credit.
“I look at this all as a blessing from God,” he says. “I tried to end it, but He had a better idea.”
Learn more about the company at PhoenixConversions.com.