In 1948, Albany saw the showroom doors of Albany Ford, Lincoln, Mercury open for the first time. Two of the community’s big names in business; Haley and Pritchett, were behind the post-World War II venture, and the new dealership was a sign of good days ahead. In 1951, Pritchett bought out and took over the Ford line, leaving the Haley family with Lincoln and Mercury.
Today, Albany Lincoln Mercury on Broad Avenue, is still owned by the Haley family, and is one of the oldest dealerships in the nation with the same, original owner. The business employs 25 people, covers almost three acres, and is doing well, according to General Manager Bill Chaffin.
Not that the current economic crisis has not had its effect on business. It has. Chaffin says that last year was very difficult, with sales dropping in line with the downturn, but things are beginning to climb back up. “We’re still soft, it could be better, but things are moving in the right direction,” said Chaffin.
Ford and Lincoln Mercury did not participate in the federal bailout like GM and Chrysler, and Chaffin is certain that helped their business, saying, “We had people coming in who had never owned our makes before, deciding to buy from us simply because we took no government money to stay in business.”
One factor in the solid bottom line of Albany Lincoln Mercury is the ownership. The Haley business model is actually very simple. If they do not have the money to buy something, they don’t. The dealership has no debt load to carry, making day-to-day operations much more manageable and profitable. The success of the Haley corporation throughout southwest Georgia gives it the capital to make that possible.
Chaffin is from Columbus, arriving in Albany just after the 1994 flood. He recalled some very sage advice that Joel Haley gave him at the time. “Mr. Haley looked at me and said, ‘Bill, I am going to give you just one thing, and it’s up to you what you do with it; an opportunity.’” In just a few years, Chaffin had moved into a management position with the dealership, and in 2001 was named general manager, taking Haley’s words to heart. Last year, even with the drop in business that everyone was going through, the dealership did $14 million in sales, Chaffin said.
But nothing stays constant in business. With the passing of Joel Haley a few years ago, the financial officers in charge of the estate began crunching the numbers and planning the future. Chaffin says the first priority is a decision on the location. Currently at 632 W. Broad Ave., a lot that has served them well over the years, there is a serious concern that changes around it are having a direct impact on business. “A lot of our customers are older people,” said Chaffin, “and frankly, many of them are not coming in like they use to.” Exactly when, and where to go, are decisions that are a ways off yet, but he says at some point a move will happen. There is no shortage of location options. The Haley estate is a significant property holder in Albany and surrounding communities.
Like so many other family-owned, long-standing businesses here, Albany Lincoln Mercury has always seen itself as community minded, taking into account what was best for the city, as well as the business. “Ten years ago, that would have been a factor,” said Chaffin, “but today, with the way Albany is being operated, that loyalty is just not there as much. Our decisions going forward will be primarily about what is best for the dealership.” Chaffin said that the commitment to the people of the area, and in particular their customers, is solid, and he expects Albany Lincoln Mercury to hold on to what it has built and grow. It just may be growing on a new parcel.
Written by Lon McNeil.