AUGUSTA — While other businesses contracted just to stay afloat, Randy Hutchins was busy convincing General Motors Corp. to allow him to sell all of its brands under one roof and shelling out $3 million for a dealership to accommodate all those vehicles.
Hutchins was convinced the plan would strengthen his business. Six months after he and wife, Teresa Hutchins, cut the ribbon at O’Connor Auto Group’s new Riverside Drive lot, that conviction is being rewarded.
“I’m very pleased with the outcome and business we’re doing,” said Hutchins, who owns the dealership. “My whole purpose was to improve the customers’ experience. It has done that.”
O’Connor Auto Group is one of three businesses to receive a President’s Award this year from the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce. The chamber will honor all of this year’s recipients at a banquet scheduled for Jan. 25 at the Augusta Civic Center.
Chamber president and CEO Peter Thompson said the President’s Award recognizes a business that has made a significant contribution to the community, is noticeable for hard work and innovation and has a unique role in the community.
O’Connor and Hutchins fit the bill on all three fronts, Thompson said.
“It’s a business recognized for its transformation,” Thompson said. “He took some really high-risk moves in creating that new image on gateway in Augusta, acquiring the former Kirschner hot dog factory and doing a huge excavation. He convinced GMC to allow him to have four franchises in one building.”
The new dealership at 193 Riverside Drive opened in June with an inventory of about 700 Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles. O’Connor, where Teresa Hutchins is a manager, is the only New England dealership to sell all of GM’s products in one lot. Generally, GM wants each of its brands to have its own dedicated lot, but it made an exception for O’Connor.
That exception was based in part, O’Connor officials have said, on the company’s large sales volume.
“This was three years in the making,” Randy Hutchins said at the June grand opening. “It will be a totally new experience for our customers. It was time.”
Permit application documents filed with the city Planning Board indicate it was a $3 million project, including $2.1 million for the building and $700,000 for site construction and ledge removal.
O’Connor sells and services light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles plus buses at facilities in Augusta and Portland. The company employs about 250 people.
Randy Hutchins, 44, began with O’Connor in 1992, working his way up to general manager with a partial ownership. Hutchins bought the company outright from Richard and Charles O’Connor in 2004.
Hutchins said the dismal economy has placed businesses under added stress the past four years, but creating the new dealership was hardly a gamble.
“I don’t view it as high-risk proposition,” he said. “It was just a necessary part of what I needed to expand my company.”
Hutchins said he has belonged to the Chamber of Commerce for all the years he has owned the company and has attended numerous award banquets. This is the first time he will be more than a spectator.
“I was very surprised and honored,” Hutchins said.
Craig Crosby — 621-5642