Dec. 22--NORTH EAST -- Andy Gabler wasn't even sure General Motors would allow Cramer Motors to be sold.
This, after all, was a car company that eliminated more than 1,100 dealerships -- many of them small mom-and-pop locations -- in 2009 and 2010.
But Gabler, a Harborcreek Township resident who opened his first Lakeside Auto used car dealership in 2000, knew he wanted to buy it.
"I loved the (car) business, I loved the challenge, and I love the people," said Gabler, who, along with minority owner Jason Higbee, closed earlier this month to purchase the former Cramer Motors in North East. The sale price was not disclosed.
But Gabler, who has renamed the dealership Lakeside Chevrolet Buick, said he wasn't sure it was going to happen.
"It was a 50-50 shot," he said. "It took so long I thought they (GM) were going to close it."
But a talk with a company official convinced him the company might be rethinking its less-is-better strategy of dealerships.
"They said they lost some business share because people liked having their dealer close instead of 20 or 30 miles away," Gabler said.
He and Higbee, who have worked together at Lakeside Auto locations on Buffalo Road in Harborcreek Township and on Main Street in Girard, say they hope to build on the good name established by Cramer Motors over the past 75 years.
"I couldn't find a better franchise to get than this one," said Gabler, who employs about 22 people at the dealership on West Main Road.
Higbee, who previously operated a Chevrolet dealership in Olean, N.Y., said he believes a small dealership can compete with a large one.
"We all pay the same," he said. "And when you sell one (car) you get one. So as our volume increases, so do the number of incoming cars."
Both Higbee and Gabler agree that what's made their used car dealerships successful will translate to a new car dealership.
"It's kiss-your-butt customer service," Gabler said. "The customer is No. 1. Without customers, I don't have a business. That is really what it boils down to. If people don't like you or believe in you, they aren't going to buy from you."
Higbee said he's looking forward to increasing sales at what he calls "a diamond in the rough."
Gabler plans to maintain his used car locations, but said owning a new car franchise has its advantages.
"There is a bit more credibility to it," he said. "It's the ability to get trades, better access to banking and the warranty work."
In short, he said, "It's probably one of the best opportunities I've had in my life."
JIM MARTIN can be reached at 870-1668 or by e-mail. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNmartin.