left, and Don Sommer have supported many community
activities as they have expanded Sommer’s Automotive
Photo by Mark Justesen
MEQUON — Sommer’s Automotive Group was chosen as the
2018 mid-size business of the year by Ozaukee Economic
Development. Sommer’s is a family-owned business
operating in Mequon for over 60 years. The dealership
offers Buick, GMC and Subaru new and used car sales and
service. Brothers Wally and Don Sommer are company
owners. In the conference room down the hallway from
Wally Sommer’s office, framed photographs illustrate the
“We got our start as a garage opened by my Uncle John in
the 1940s,” said Wally Sommer. It was on the corner of
Green Bay and Mequon roads. The building is still there,
although the gas pumps are gone. And it’s an auto repair
business.” John’s brother, Wally Sr., came into the
business in the late 1940s. In the late 1950s, the
business moved into Thiensville, at the site now
occupied by Suburban Motors Harley-Davidson. “One of the
employees from that location still works for us,” said
Wally Sommer. “He has been here over 60 years.
Interestingly, his family came here from Mexico, and
three brothers went to work for Schmidt Ford and two
In 1978, the business moved back to Mequon Road, its
present location. The area was all farmland at that
time, with the exception of the Chevy dealer next to
them. Additional land was purchased, amounting to 15
acres today. A large portion is devoted to Subaru sales
and service. A car wash, detail center and storage
buildings have been added.
“This is about all the space we have,” said Wally Sommer.
“We will have to find creative ways to grow from now
Sommer’s now employs about 130 people, including the
third generation of the family.
“My son, Grant, is our marketing manager and internet
person,” said Wally Sommer. “He has been here 10 years
and seen the business really grow. There have been a lot
of new challenges and he enjoys it tremendously. Don’s
daughter, Elizabeth, is our human resources manager.
It’s a vital position now that we’re this big. We have a
great team that’s built by hiring the right people and
fostering the family feeling with them. We operate in a
way that builds trust and long-term commitment. We have
a number of third-generation customers. We have
customers returning from all over the state.”
The dealership started out with Buick and Pontiac
models, from the 1950s through the late 1990s, when
Subaru was added. Initially, about 200 or 300 of them
were sold a year. Now, Subaru accounts for roughly 2,000
sales a year.
“We needed to fill a gap,” said Wally Sommer. “Subaru is
regularly the best-rated auto in Consumer Reports.” He
added that consumers are savvy and selling cars is now a
very transparent business. “It’s a great time to be
buying a car,” he said.
When Wally Sommer graduated from college, he went to
work for Wally Sr. in the Thiensville store. His father
gave him a stack of accounts to call for collections. He
finished all but two in the time he had. When he asked
his father how the last calls had gone, he learned one
customer would not be paying his bill. Rather, Wally Sr.
sent a fuel tanker to the man’s home because he could
not afford to pay for fuel oil to heat the home.
“I have never lost that memory,” Wally Sommer said. “Don
and I always saw Dad supporting Rotary activities and
his church’s projects. Faith was a big part of who he
was. That philosophy is how we approach business.”
Sommer’s Automotive focuses its support mainly on
education, however, including schools in the
Mequon-Thiensville School District and private schools.
It was instrumental in the renovation of Homestead’s
“We believe this is necessary to help maintain the
quality of education,” Wally Sommer said.
They are also very proud of the Subaru Share the Love
program. Nationally, Subaru has given $118 million to
charities and nonprofits. For each vehicle purchased
between Nov. 15 and Jan. 31, 2019, Subaru donates $250
to the purchaser’s choice of charity. If that charity is
local, Sommer’s matches it.
“We make people aware that we support Portal Industries
and Ozaukee Family Services,” said Sommer. “In 2018, we
have given over $30,000 to Portal inc. and over $40,000
to Ozaukee Family Services. This is a unique program in
the car business. To us it says that Subaru is involved
in the communities they do business with and they care
about making a difference in those communities.”
Sommer’s Automotive Group
W. Mequon Road Mequon
Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 8
a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Sunday
Businesses of the Year
Ozaukee Economic Development recognizes three businesses
every year as its Businesses of the Year. Over three
weeks, the News Graphic is profiling all three. They
■ Small business: Cedarburg Overhead Door
■ Mid-size business: Sommer’s Automotive Group
■ Large business: First Bank Financial Centre