It takes a solid foundation of quality product and excellent customer service to maintain and even increase growth in the face of the current recessionary economy, but that’s what Lee Auto Malls is achieving.
John Isaacson, CEO of The Lee Auto Malls, said, “We are successful because we have built a diverse line of franchises. The list of autos sold by Lee now includes Dodge, Chrysler, Cadillac, Jeep, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Scion, and GMC trucks.”
In the face of recession, the past year has seen the addition of 70 new employees statewide and eight additional locations. “We have a lot of long-term employees who work hard to take care of our customers,” Isaacson continued. He noted that Lee Auto Malls is often making sales to fourth generation customers.
Shopping for a new or used car at Lee Auto Malls is easy and pleasant. The huge lots are filled with selections and there are multiple bright and shiny showrooms. Repair service is quick and easy, with a comfortable new lounge area with snacks and high-definition TV available in Auburn.
Isaacson outlined the company history that goes back to a 1936 DeSoto-Plymouth dealership named Advance Auto Sales on Franklin Street in Auburn. Neither the original building nor the street are now in existence. In 1969 Shep Lee, son of the founder, moved the business to what was then a two-lane outer Center Street.
“It was a huge risk,” Isaacson said. “It was like the edge of the earth. The Auburn Mall did not exist, the Veteran’s Bridge was not yet built and there were no other car dealers in the area, just farms. Today, every new car sold in this county is sold on outer Center Street.”
Nevertheless, the company grew steadily. Shep Lee was the first in Maine to own more than one auto dealership. Lee Auto Malls now comprises six auto dealerships in Lewiston-Auburn and 20 across Maine – Presque Isle to Saco and Topsham to Norway – making it the largest auto sales organization in the state.
Bill Menke, Lee Auto Malls general manager, said people are keeping their cars longer and they are paying attention to proper maintenance. When they shop for a new car, they are focusing on gas mileage and safety. In addition to Hybrid vehicles, he said there will be a lot of progress in the near future in clean-running diesel vehicles and full-size, fully electric cars.
Energy efficiency in the cars they sell is also reflected in the company’s attention to good energy practices in their buildings. New lot lighting that uses less electricity and causes less upward light loss was installed at the Center Street location recently. More efficient lighting and other “green” measures have been taken inside the buildings. Menke also explained that Lee Auto Malls has become the first local business to utilize Zero-Sort for 100 percent waste paper recycling.
Support for many community organizations and events has always been an important part of the Lee business philosophy. Isaacson said, “We take very seriously the obligation to give back to our communities.” More than 1,000 requests for donations are received by the company every year. Isaacson said funds are given to as many as possible, and every request, whether funded or not, receives a written response.
With its 75th anniversary celebration coming up in 2011, Isaacson sees emphasis on continued growth for the locally-owned and managed firm. The Web site at www.leeautomall.com offers a wealth of up-to-date information about the availability and price of hundreds of vehicles, and the inventory can be searched by new, used, year, make, style and price criteria. There’s also plenty of information about financing.