Steve "Hoaty" Houghton, general manager of longtime family-owned Starkey Ford in York, is pictured in front of the car dealership. Houghton and the dealership's entire staff will be retained by new owner, Key Auto Group, he said. Credit: Ioanna Raptis | Seacoast Online

YORK, Maine — Steve “Hoaty” Houghton, longtime general manager at Starkey Ford, is clearly excited about what the future has in store, now that New Hampshire-based Key Auto Group has purchased the Route 1 business and property.

He said he sees it as the best of two worlds: the staff is staying put — important because he said they made Starkey among the top 10 Ford dealerships in New England for customer satisfaction — and the service and inventory is going to expand significantly in the months to come.

“It was important to me that everyone stayed,” he said. “I have the track record and strength of a phenomenal team behind me. That is the strong base to build from. We need to keep the team intact. The new ownership will allow us to be one of the most competitive Ford dealers in New England.”

Houghton, who said he was speaking on behalf of both now-retired Dave Starkey and Anthony DiLorenzo of Key Auto Group, said it is unusual for a dealership to become available as most pass down from one generation to the next. Dave Starkey took over from his father Gerald, for instance, in a dealership that had been in the family for 63 years.

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He said Starkey’s children were not interested in the business, so a dealership broker was brought in to sell what was a “very desirable dealership and location” based on past performance. Key Auto Group, based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, has dealerships across the Granite State in Portsmouth, Somersworth, Newington, Salem, Manchester and Nashua, as well as pre-owned dealerships and collision centers around New England.

This is the company’s first property in Maine, and that’s quite purposeful, said Houghton: “We’re on a mission to expand the auto group in New England, and this purchase is part of an expansion plan to grow in northern New England. In Maine, we as a group intend to expand north.”

Changes will be in store for Key Auto of York, which sits on four acres with room for expansion. Already, he said, lifts are being installed in bays that did not have them, and he has hired four more technicians for the service department. The sales force is also expected to increase by several people.

The building, he said, is “grandfathered the way it is. We are going to enhance and expand to the best of our ability, including facility upgrades. As we grow the business in the current location, we’re excited about the prospect of expansion of the building and lot in the future.”

For example, he said, “we’re going to have an inventory level this town has never seen before. We’re going to have triple the inventory we had before. We might even require offsite storage for additional inventory. Our intent is to make a big splash when it comes to fiercely competitive pricing.”

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He said if there has been one area where Starkey Ford suffered as a smaller, standalone dealership, it was in its ability to stock vehicles and offer competitive pricing. Because Key Auto of York has the collective power of an auto group behind it, he said, it will be a game changer.

“It’s such a huge departure from where we’ve been,” he said.

He said he knows the new ownership will be an adjustment for some, particularly older customers who are used to Starkey Ford. That is why keeping familiar faces is crucial, he said. And millennials have seen the dealership as old-fashioned. He believes the changes that are coming will draw them in as well.

“I’m truly enthused and excited to provide an increased level of service at a competitive price,” he said. “I think we’re going to give the other Ford dealerships in this area a bit of a run for their money.”

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