By Rod Lee
A discussion of the multimillion-dollar renovation of Herb Chambers Toyota/Scion on Washington St. in Auburn had hardly begun when Jeffrey Krasner, the dealership’s service director, turned his thoughts away from the ongoing work to “the man” himself.
“I have been with him on and off for thirty years,” Mr. Krasner said of Mr. Chambers. “He’s the same guy.”
A stack of framed pictures lay on a cabinet to the right of Mr. Krasner’s desk, waiting to be hung; evidence that the project, a months-long building-wide overhaul, “a complete remodel,” is not yet done.
Chuckling as he spoke of the waiting area through which a visitor had passed to get to him, Mr. Krasner said, “we call it Beirut, the Gaza Strip—next door.”
The service department itself, however, is looking sharp with an additional “nine bays to give us a total of twenty-six, three runways instead of two, speed doors and all-new service offices so we now have five and a rental office. The old store was antiquated, people were out in the elements, noise and heat. This is a much better work environment,” Mr. Krasner said.
Mr. Chambers, who in 2015, at the age of seventy-four, was named one of the four hundred richest Americans by Forbes magazine with an estimated net worth of $1.7 billion, “spares no expense” in providing his employees—including the ninety-seven persons who work at Herb Chambers Toyota/Scion in Auburn—with a comfortable environment, Mr. Krasner said.
“He’s passionate. Clearly, he doesn’t have to be doing this. He started a copier business out of the trunk of his car. A-Copy (America). That company was bought out by Alco (Standard) when he was in his mid-forties. He has changed the entire automotive business. He has raised it to another level,” Mr. Krasner said, of Mr. Chambers’ fifty-five dealerships.
Mr. Chambers’ story is well-known to Mr. Krasner and others. Born in Dorchester, he was asked by his mother at the age of thirteen to pay fifteen dollars a week rent. He started working at the neighborhood Stop & Shop to meet that obligation. A high-school dropout, he joined the Navy and after that went to work for his mother at a South End bar she owned. He was fired from that job due to a scheduling mix-up. By the age of twenty-two he had started his copier-distribution business in Hartford, with money ($5000, Mr. Krasner said) borrowed from his parents. He bought his first automotive dealership, a Cadillac franchise in New London, Connecticut, in 1985 (based on a poor buying experience there).
The improvements at Herb Chambers Toyota/Scion in Auburn are not limited to upgrading a facility that is about twenty years old, Mr. Krasner said. “Did you notice the storage lot next door?” he asked. “Herb bought that, cut down all the trees, there must be four hundred cars on that lot (which sits on a hill abutting the dealership). He’s not afraid to spend money. He puts it back into his business.”
Renovations at the dealership began last October and are estimated to be done in July. With both the service and sales departments (the latter powered by interest in the Toyota Camry, the Corolla, the C-HR, the RAV4 and the Tundra and the leadership of Dan Bortolussi who is the business’s general manager) are coming off a strong year, “all this construction is a tribute to the good work being done by the people who work here,” Mr. Krasner said.
The company website notes that that the Auburn Chamber of Commerce recently selected Herb Chambers Toyota/Scion of Auburn as its automotive Dealer of the Year.
Mr. Krasner said Mr. Chambers’ thousands of workers spread across the greater Boston metro region “drink the juice” in emulating the example the company’s founder sets.
They are the people behind the infectiously jubilant voice that is heard by telephoning 508-832-8000, “Hi, this is Herb Chambers and welcome to Herb Chambers Toyota/Scion of Auburn.”
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.