- Lee Auto, with 20 Maine dealerships, has taken a leadership role in recruiting volunteer firefighters for towns and cities around the state.
- Lee Auto also runs a promotion that gives full-time firefighters $1,000 off the price of a new car.
- Lee Auto's community focus includes a series of "Lee is for ME" commercials featuring satisfied customers talking about the cars they bought.
AUBURN, Maine — Down East, Lee Auto is the go-to dealer, with 20 locations all over the state of Maine. Currently it's leading a publicity campaign to get more people to become volunteer firefighters in towns and cities around Maine.
The multi-brand dealer has been around since 1936, when it was the state's leading DeSoto/Plymouth dealership. Lee Auto Malls in Auburn, the flagship location, sells Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge, Honda, Nissan, and GMC products and also has its own credit and collision centers on site.
Today, under its third generation of Lee family leadership, Lee Auto Malls remains laser-focused on the pride of the people of this small state with its "Lee is for ME" campaign. The dealership has previously sponsored the efforts of an Olympic hopeful snowboarder, Alex Tuttle, through the Level Field Fund. It's a natural extension to take a leadership role in recruiting firefighters.
The dealership chain started with a promotion.
"We distributed 30 coupons worth $1,000 each to our dealers," Adam Lee, company chairman, told Edmunds. "Then we did a direct-mail campaign to every firehouse and fire chief in Maine and told them to send their people in to us, have them get the best deal they can, and then tell the salesperson they're a full-time firefighter and we'll knock $1,000 off the price."
Lee told Edmunds that he was inspired by conversations with firefighters to publicize the need for volunteers.
"Maine has an aging population and young people in many cases are not sticking around," he said.
The current number of volunteer firefighters in Maine, while at 6,000, is still dramatically lower than needed in this state with its many hard-to-reach rural areas.
"I went to our NBC affiliate and told them I'd like to do a series of PSAs to let the public know there's a shortage" of volunteer firefighters, he said. "The affiliate jumped right on board," agreeing to match the dealership's ad spending with PSA time.
The campaign just started this past month, Lee said, and will continue in rotation for the next several months. It is also on the Lee Auto YouTube channel, and the commercials are getting noticed: a Lee Auto video featuring a pair of firefighters who bought a new truck made the front page of the Bethel Citizen newspaper.
At the very moment when Lee was talking with Edmunds, the publicity was already paying off.
Full-time firefighter Shaun Riley came in to shop at the dealership with his son, Logan, a 15-year-old volunteer with the Woolwich fire station. Riley, who works for the Bath station, told Edmunds he hopes the campaign succeeds in getting more people to volunteer.
"It's kind of hard in this day and age, when everyone has to work to pay bills. Daytime is the hardest time for people to show up for emergency calls," he said. Expressing pride in his son's volunteering, Riley said, "We need as many people as we can. Volunteer firefighters are huge in Maine."
Lee admitted that there's no quick fix for the state's firefighter problem but added, "It's going to take ten years to get caught back up on how many volunteers they need, but this is how you start. These are my customers. They are the reason I can have a thriving business, because these people come in."
Edmunds says: Marketing can be good to watch while also doing good, as Lee Auto has demonstrated.