A family tradition
Sommer’s always has put community first

By Sheryl Popp - Special to the News Graphic

Dec. 4, 2018

 Wally, left, and Don Sommer have supported many community activities as they have expanded Sommer’s Automotive Group.
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 company’s history.

“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 came here.”

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 on.”

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.


Setting examples

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 football fields.

“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.”
 

Contact

Sommer’s Automotive Group

7211 W. Mequon Road Mequon
Sales: 833-285-4810
Service: 833-387-4230
Parts: 833-496-1265
www.sommerscars.com

Hours: 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 are:

■ Small business: Cedarburg Overhead Door

■ Mid-size business: Sommer’s Automotive Group

■ Large business: First Bank Financial Centre