By Emily Wright September 21, 2014
Joe Laham isn’t your typical owner of an auto dealership.
His salespeople don’t work on commission. He doesn’t expect consumers to spend hours negotiating over a car on his lot. He took years off from running large dealerships to watch his five kids grow up. He spends hours at his properties on a daily basis to make sure things are running smoothly.
All of these qualities contribute to the success of Premier Auto Group, which encompasses seven dealerships, five on Cape Cod alone.
Laham, who resides in Sandwich, owns Audi Cape Cod, Premier Mazda, Premier Cape Cod (Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram), BMW of Cape Cod, Cape Cod Volvo, Premier Toyota and Scion of Newport (in Middletown, RI), and Premier Nissan of Newport.
Sitting behind a yet-to-be-used desk in a second-floor office at his brand new BMW dealership on Yarmouth Road in Hyannis, Laham reviewed the business journey that took him from his dad’s service station in Westwood in the 1970s to the Norwood Automile in the 1980s and 1990s and, finally, to Sandwich, Hyannis, Florida, and back.
“I would work at my father’s gas station all through high school,’’ Laham says. “One thing led to another, and I would start repairing mini bikes and motor scooters and motorcycles. Then I started to buy and sell them, and that led to buying and selling cars.’’
In 1979, a 21-year-old Laham, who sold his first car with his older brother when he was 12, opened a used car lot on the West Roxbury-Dedham line called Laham Motors. “While most kids were going to college, I was running a business,’’ Laham says.
From there, Laham’s business grew and landed him on the Automile on Route 1 where he converted a gas station into Auto West (West as in Westwood), before he took over the area Isuzu dealer in 1985, Dedham Nissan in 1986, and Cadillac of Norwood in 1991.
In 2000, after divesting his Nissan dealership and concentrating his time on General Motors brands, Laham decided to sell the remainder of his stores and relocate to the Cape.
It was in East Sandwich that same year that Laham purchased a small Jeep dealer on Route 6A called Sears Auto Sales. He turned it into Premier Jeep, which earned the title of No. 1 Jeep dealership in New England in 2004.
“Jeep was a great vehicle for Cape Cod. You can drive on the beach and four-wheel, and it worked,’’ Laham says. “So we really had a great time, we really enjoyed it. We won all kinds of awards from Jeep for not only our volume but also the customer satisfaction which we’re very proud of.’’
While taking a step back from running large-scale operations, Laham was afforded the opportunity to watch his five children grow up. “I have five children, three girls and two boys, and they all were very active,’’ Laham remembers. “I chased them around, going to their games, and living a great life for a lot of years.’’
As Laham’s children grew, so did his business, and each child was given the choice to join the family business. All five said yes. Laham’s second oldest, Jacqueline Laham, manages Toyota of Newport and has been approved by the manufacturer if she one day decides to open her own dealership.
“It’s been a wonderful experience for a father to introduce a daughter into the business; that normally doesn’t happen,’’ Laham says. “For me it’s been real exciting and I’m very proud of her. She’s got 60 staff there and she does a great job with them.’’
Laham purchased the Toyota dealership in 2010, two years after buying the former Miskinis Motors Hyundai dealership on Yarmouth Road, which he converted into Premier Cape Cod. Since then, Laham has bought and sold a Cadillac dealership in Florida, acquired his Audi, Mazda, and Volvo dealerships in Hyannis, bought his Nissan store in Rhode Island, and developed plans to open a Mazda store in Plymouth next year.
With a plethora of stores to maintain, one thing remains constant: a sales practice Laham refers to as “Pure Price.’’
“It’s a negotiation-free environment. It’s transparent, it’s non-confrontational, it’s seamless,’’ Laham says of his no-haggle process. “We provide you with the information necessary for you to make a good decision and then we hope you reward us with your business.’’
Laham developed the policy about 20 years ago after watching one of his salesmen mark up a car in an effort to make more commission during a sale. “I got so upset that I went and got these stickers—these things you hang in the window of the car—and I wrote right on them: market price, our price,’’ Laham says.
Another reason for practicing Pure Price is Laham’s dedication to his family.
“For my girls and my boys to come into this business, I have to look them in the eye and think about them and all the friends they grew up with,’’ Laham says. He wants his children to be proud of his business practices and understand that selling automobiles is a business that demands integrity.