Friday, February 14, 2020

Sebago Lake Automotive: Celebrating 100 years of life in vehicle sales and service

Brad, Herbert (holding a picture of his father Victor) and
Mitch Woodbrey
By Lorraine Glowczak

Herbert, Brad and Mitch Woodbrey took a moment to share their memories about the life and times of Sebago Lake Automotive. Their beautiful and poignant tales portray a business involving a lot of hard work, extreme dedication, significant family and friends support and happy customers. It is these qualities that contribute to their century long success.

It all began with World War I behind them and the modern auto industry beginning its boom. The time seemed ripe for Victor Woodbrey and his brother Amos to purchase an auto sales and service business on November 30, 1920.

Woodbrey Brothers was the name of the shop and it was located in Sebago Lake Village in Standish. The brothers remained in business together until Victor purchased his brother’s share of the company a couple of years later, changing the name to Sebago Lake Garage and eventually becoming a Chevrolet dealership in 1928.

Victor had buses he ran for the town of Standish and during World War II he used them to run Sebago Lake Defense Lines that transported workers from Fryeburg to White Rock to the Liberty Shipyard in South Portland.
After Victor’s death in 1949, his son Herbert took over the business in 1950 and owned it until he retired in 1996. Now known as Sebago Lake Automotive, located at 847 Roosevelt Trail in Windham, third generation brothers, Brad and Mitch are the current owners.

Herbert not only worked hard at both the sales and service part of the business but continued with using the buses, contracting with MSAD6 school district. He eventually had a full fleet of 18 buses.
Not only did Herbert work hard at the garage, but he worked hard for the community - giving back as much as he could. He was actively involved as a member of the MSAD6 school board, the Kiwanis Club, the Maine Auto Dealers Association, of which he was once a President… and much more. “I was involved in everything - except for the Standish Board of Selectmen – I didn’t do that,” Herbert laughed.

But perhaps one of his noblest highlights of Herbert’s life is when he was honored with the Time Magazine Quality Dealer of the Year Award.

As with all of life, the business had its up moments, too. Herbert’s professional smarts, hard work and good economical years paid off and allowed Herbert to support three brothers and two sisters as well as his two daughters and two sons through college. “It was probably one of my greatest accomplishments,” he choked back tears.
Herbert then stated that owning his business was another achievement he is proud of. “We made it through it all and somehow succeeded, despite the many challenges,” Herbert said thoughtfully, then adding, “I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful wife who was my greatest partner. I couldn’t have done it without her.”

Herbert met his wife, Audrey, at a dance in North Windham in 1949 and they married the following year on April 2, 1950. She passed away in 2017.

Herbert officially retired from the business in 1996, stepping back to let his sons, Brad and Mitch continue the Sebago Lake Automotive success. “I now consider myself a member of the Board of Directors,” he smiled.

Brad and Mitch are now the sole owners who were born into the industry. “If you talk to people in car sales, almost everyone will tell you that they grew up in the business,” stated Brad, who heads the sales department. “But we really DID ‘grow up in the business’”.

From the moment the younger Woodbrey Brothers (along with their two sisters) were born, the original location with its garage and car sales lot was just steps outside their home.
They both shared stories of working alongside their dad to help keep the shop organized and cleaned. Whether it was painting the buildings, sweeping the floors or counting the inventory – they began working at a young age.
But that didn’t mean the brothers did not have fun while growing up. “Sometimes we would play on the creepers and have oil gun fights,” Brad shared one of their many childhood shenanigans
After going to college, they returned to help their dad. Brad received his degree in Business Administration from the University of Maine at Orono (UMO). He also attended a six-week course in automotive management at Northwood Institute as well as the Chevrolet School of Merchandising and Management.

Mitch, a graduate of UMO with a degree in Agriculture Mechanization (with a second degree in Business), also attended the Chevrolet School of Merchandising and Management now heads the service department.

He admitted his dream was to become a farmer. “When dad asked me to work at the family business, I hadn’t ‘found’ my farm yet, so – I said, ‘Okay, I’ll try it.’ My mother’s brother, Uncle Allen “Ace” Kimball, was an auto guru and service manager at that time. He taught me everything I know today.”
Much like their father and grandfather before them, Brad and Mitch have seen their own ups and downs as owners of Sebago Lake Automotive. The greatest hardship occurred when General Motors went bankrupt during the recession that began in 2008. It was at this point GM eliminated the contract for franchise sales at many dealerships, including Sebago Lakes Automotive, leaving a huge hole in their income base.

“That time was by far the most stressful experience we both had,” Mitch admitted. “Not only did we experience a great financial loss, but it affected our work family, too and that only added to our worries.”

Much as dedication and hard work are a part of the Woodbrey family genetics, giving up when times are tough is not. They, along with their loyal and dedicated employees, customers and friends – Sebago Lake Automotive pulled through and is busy as ever today, continuing trusted auto sales and repair service they have been known for this past century., in addition to Brad and Mitch – you will always be greeted by their friendly work staff. And, Herbert, too. Herbert is there at least three days a week to spend time with his adult sons and the rest of the Sebago Lake Automotive family.

When asked what advice Herbert offers his sons or others who might be considering opening their own business, he replied, “I try to never give too much advice. Sometimes the best experience is making your own mistakes. Believe me, I have made way too many of my own – and I definitely learned a lot from them.”

Congratulations to Sebago Lake Automotive for serving the community’s automotive needs so well. Happy 100th!

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