The boss isn’t me — Mike Lally decided how supporting the people who supported his dealership was worth the investment

Mike Lally had some decisions to make that were being studied for nearly years.

His father, Thomas R. “Tim” Lally Jr., led Tim Lally Chevrolet to become the largest Chevrolet dealer in Cuyahoga County. How would Mike continue the legacy of the dealership that traces its lineage back to 1923?

Should the family-owned dealership leave its Bedford Auto Mile location where it opened in the 1950s?

And what about renovating that space vs. building a new $15 million site at perhaps a more highway-friendly location?

Mike was 29 when his father passed away suddenly, and while the plan had been for him to succeed his father in operating the dealership, it was still a shock to him, and it meant he would become the decision-maker.

“He had made sure that I went to Northwood University and majored in automotive marketing and dealership management,” Lally says.

Taking the wheel

“When I began at the store, my father allowed me to make my own decisions; some were good, some were mistakes, but it is almost like he knew something was ahead because we lost him at 59 years old. I then had a dealership to run with 100-plus employees when I was in my 20s,” Mike, who now serves as president, says.

While that baptism by fire might have intimidated the average young executive, Mike took charge and grew the dealership. It became — among other accomplishments — one of the biggest Corvette dealers in the Midwest.

But as the automotive industry went through its ups and downs, Mike gave thought to how the dealership could even better serve its customers — both current and future ones. Maybe, he thought, it was time for a new setting.

“We had the opportunity to just reimage and put some lipstick on the Bedford Auto Mile location,” he says. “But what we found was a much better opportunity for us to move to the convergence of three freeways, U.S. Route 422, Interstate 480 and Interstate 271. The accessibility took us to a whole new level.”

LallyDroneHe chose 24999 Miles Road, Warrensville Heights, and built a 75,000-square-foot building on a 13-acre lot.

“It really came down to how could we afford not to? Our customers deserved it. If we can provide the best service experience, the best sales experience, it really comes down to supporting the people in Cleveland who have supported us for 93 years,” Mike says.

“It seemed like a perfect time to put that kind of support into Northeast Ohio and build something that is truly special instead of taking the short route, the easy route and the less expensive route.”

From the ground up

Having a new site gave Mike the opportunity to install state-of-the-art diagnostic and technical equipment from the ground up.

“We’ve had some General Motors people visit and say it’s the most advanced dealership that they have seen, which is pretty high praise considering they travel dealership-to-dealership for a living,” he says.

The dealership offers all the comforts that were found at the old location, including a 12-seat movie theater, a children’s play area and a complimentary manicurist.

“We were able to do some things other dealers don’t do,” Mike says. “We’ve got a system that will scan every car that comes in and we check their alignment before they even get into the shop. We will know exactly who the customer is, and we will be able to pull up their history immediately. It will automatically find any type of factory adjustments or campaign work that we need to perform.”

There are 31 state-of-the-art lifts and even a device to pick up and install wheels on a vehicle. The technician doesn’t have to touch the tires.

“We’ve put an incredible amount of effort into things that make an employee’s job easier,” he says. “The showroom, service department and collision center are all air-conditioned — when it’s 100 degrees outside, our people are still at the top of their game.”

If employees are at peak performance, it’s easier to please, he says.

“We work incredibly hard to please the boss, and the boss isn’t me. The boss is the customer — the customer can hire and fire us every day. So every time we are in a situation where we decide that maybe we have to do something to go above and beyond for such a customer, it’s a very simple decision. Can we afford to not take care of that customer?”

How to reach: Tim Lally Chevrolet, (440) 232-2000 or www.lallychevy.com

To learn more about Tim Lally Chevrolet, like its Facebook page www.facebook.com/timlallychevrolet and follow on Twitter @TimLallyChevy.