by Blake Herzog
Scott Lehman is the fast-talking, funny pitchman of Premier Auto Center’s unforgettable radio and TV commercials. But that’s just the beginning
He’s also a Casa Grande native and son of local historian and retired fire chief and businessman Gene Lehman. He launched his own auto-selling empire here in 2007, growing into four more locations in Tucson, metro Phoenix and Texas.
Through these locations and a business solutions center in Casa Grande for other small-town car sellers, he employs 120 people with a mission to impact people lives in a positive way through providing affordable transportation solutions, while celebrating each other’s successes.
He has a long history of public service working for his dad as a firefighter, sitting on the Casa Grande Union High School board and serving for 12 years as a pro tem justice of the peace while also supporting nonprofit organizations.
He and his wife Jennifer have five children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild on the way. Scott is proud to run a family business: his sister Lissa is human resources manager for his dealerships, oldest daughter Echo manages his Casa Grande call center serving other auto dealers, oldest son Levi runs his Vapor Grande lounges in Casa Grande and Mesa and granddaughter Mattyson, who is expecting their first great-grandchild, works at the newest Premier Auto Center location in Gilbert.
Scott and Jennifer now live in Tucson, with a summer home in Pinetop they often fly to in Scott’s own jet.
Golden Corridor Living: Much has been written about your parents, Gene and your late mom Judy, and their contribution to Casa Grande. What do you remember about growing up in Casa Grande?
Scott Lehman: It was kind of like a Mayberry, when I was growing up. We went everywhere on our bikes. We grew up down on Kadota Avenue in a great little neighborhood, and we’d walk to La Grande pool; get on our bikes and ride all over this town to places that are now just completely built up. We got in a lot of mischief out there.
Golden Corridor Living: What schools did you go to?
Scott Lehman: Evergreen Elementary, Casa Grande Junior High. Then high school right here at the Union High School. I got married when I was a junior in high school and started having children. My oldest daughter who runs our call center, she’s now 40.
I graduated out of that school through night school. I think I was the first person to do that. I would work during the day and go to school, and then I immediately went into the service, into the Army in 1980. I came back in ’84 and went to work in my dad’s video business.
He had just started up Gene and Judy’s Video.
I got my love of marketing from the video business because it was so fun. I remember I had a little convertible and put on this Gumby suit that I’d gotten from the studio. I found out I could get costumes from there when we bought movies, and I said, “Well, let’s get some of that.”
I put on this suit and I’d drive around. I went to the school and waited for them to let out, and I had these flyers and I had a sign on the back, “Follow Me to Gene and Judy’s” and oh my gosh…
Golden Corridor Living: A natural-born salesman?
Scott Lehman: Yeah!
Golden Corridor Living: Are you involved in the Casa Grande Valley Historical Society, just like your family was?
Scott Lehman: I’m not personally involved in the historical society other than supporting them whenever they have their events and stuff like that. I’ve always supported them. Not like my dad, he’s really been involved with it, and I want to help. One of the things he wants to do is build a historical fire station at the historical society building where he can house the fire trucks and make it like the firehouse he remembered, because he was on the fire department for 50 years…
So we’re going to start pursuing that pretty soon. I really want to see that happen for him because the fire department was such a big part of his life. I was on the fire department here for a dozen years.
He had all his businesses while he was on the fire department; first he was a volunteer, then part-time, but he was very, very active in it and became kind of the chief of the part-time department and kept that running. There are so many great fire stories from back then.
Golden Corridor Living: What were all the businesses he had?
Scott Lehman: He started with the appliance business, and I remember he had a realty business. And then he got this crazy idea to move houses. He bought the hospital at Williams Air Force Base when it was for sale and he had no idea how to physically move a house, so he went into the house-moving business for a while. And then back to Lehman’s Appliance, he went into the video business, and I think they were in a gift business for a while, too. Just a serial entrepreneur.
Golden Corridor Living: What led you to the car business?
Scott Lehman: I got recruited in 1994 by a friend of mine who worked for Cropper Chevrolet and was a customer at the appliance store. He saw me in a restaurant and he came to me and said, “Your name came up in a meeting. We think you’d be really good at this.” I went out and interviewed and they hired me right away. And I said, “Well, how does this work?” And they gave me a little bit of background, and then I just went out and started.
I went back and forth between Cropper and Glenn Jones Ford a few times, learning more aspects of the car business, and used the marketing skills that I learned from my dad and just marketed myself. And next thing you know, I just kind of had a business within a business and kept growing until we had an opportunity to open our own center.
Golden Corridor Living: Premier Auto Center, on Pinal Avenue here in Casa Grande, was the first one you opened in 2007?
Scott Lehman: Yes, the timing was terrible. We had a great year and then the world came to an end. It was 2008 and ‘09 and we kind of hung on by our fingernails and weren’t quite sure what to do. But I knew I needed to get to a place where I had mass media to create the character I am today. I couldn’t afford Phoenix, so I started looking in Tucson. One of my bank reps came in and I told him and he says, “Let me show you something.” We were on Google Maps.
I called the owner and he had no business renting to me, we had no money. This was 2011. I told him what I was going to do in advertising it. He said, “That’s not going to work.” I said, “It’s going to work,” and so he rented it to me and it just went gangbusters as soon as I got on the radio and started blasting away.
Golden Corridor Living: And do you still have just one location in Tucson?
Scott Lehman: Yes. We’ve tried a few different spots and discovered we can pretty much do what we need to do down there with just one location and keep it simple.
Golden Corridor Living: And when did you expand to Phoenix?
Scott Lehman: In 2019 I started looking up there, drove by a rented lot on Bell Road and I said, “This is the kind of lot we need.” A year later I got an email that the land might be for sale on Bell Road. It’s the perfect spot, between Interstate 17, Route 51 and the Loop 101.
And we were able to make a deal on that at the end of 2020, opened in 2021. That did really well, and we started looking again right away and found our most recent store in Chandler, on Arizona Avenue and Guadalupe, we opened in March of this year.
Right before the pandemic we got the Mitsubishi franchise for Casa Grande and then everything got put on hold, but we’re now back in the swing of remodeling that store, getting it to look good.
We have Premier Mitsubishi as part of our store in Casa Grande. I’m really proud of the Mitsubishi store, we have the highest customer satisfaction in our region, I think now for six quarters in a row. That team does just an amazing job at taking care of customers.
We’re in the middle of remodeling the Casa Grande store. It will still be one store, it’ll just be much nicer. So we’re going to get that branding on its way. And then we have one in El Paso, Texas, an independent Premier Auto Center.
I consult with other car dealers, and a little over a year ago we started this call center, Aspire Solutions, and that is managing leads for other dealers across the country that are like us, but don’t really know how to manage the leads. We’re really good at it.
The whole idea is it helps us not only impact other dealers because they’re now able to help other people, but it really expands our ability to help solve problems for more people across the country. It’s really cool.
Golden Corridor Living: How do you come up with some of your iconic advertising campaigns? What do most people associate you with?
Scott Lehman: I write many of the commercials myself and I always try to come up with something I hope will make some people laugh out loud. I try not to take myself too seriously and think the car buying process should be fun. I get many ideas from the issues people are talking about, like gas prices etc. Other campaigns are inspired by friends in the car industry. I always try to tweak them and make them my own.
I am probably best known for my Nickel Pickle commercial. This was inspired by a friend of mine in Pennsylvania. With his permission I “borrowed” and made it special. I have added things like auto tuned versions and other variations. It has taken on a life of its own to the point now I love putting on the pickle suit and reading stories about pickles at elementary schools. The kids love it and I have fun with it.
And then some of the stuff we come up with. We just made this commercial this morning we came up with called Gas Stinks, because gas prices are so high, we’re going to have a take on high gas prices.
Whatever the current conversation is, we try to find a way to create something involving that.
Golden Corridor Living: Explain what “The Dealer for the People” means.
Scott Lehman: Dealer for the people means we put the customer first before everything else. We believe everyone deserves to drive a nicer newer car. We are on a mission to change the car business and focus on the impact a car makes on someone’s life.
But I say it’s more than just a slogan. What it means is we put our customers first before everything. And it’s just looking at the car business not as selling cars but providing the solutions to the everyday problems that keep people stuck in a car they hate.
I was just in here talking to my people. I got a whole new class of people that are going through to help us out in our Aspire call center and explained to them that really what we do is we change people’s lives. We do it through cars, but our purpose is to impact their lives because what we’ve found is a nice, newer, reliable car can change someone’s life like you have no idea.
Sometimes we take it for granted, but there are people who really are impacted by it just because we worked harder, found a way to get them a nicer, newer car than anyone had done before. And that’s what we get really proud of is when we are able to help somebody that someone else couldn’t help.
I call them For the People stories. And we have found so many stories where maybe somebody was able to go to have visitation with his kid that he couldn’t do before. I had a guy just cry because he said, “I can go get my daughter.”
Golden Corridor Living: And right now, many people are priced out of cars. There isn’t that much inventory, there’s not much to choose from. And they feel like they’re in a pickle?
Scott Lehman: It’s harder now, but we’re still finding a way to help people. But it is more difficult. But this’ll change; come the other way and the market will right itself when the supply chain stuff gets back to the level.
Golden Corridor Living: Do you gather the For the People stories and put them on a website?
Scott Lehman: We don’t really, because there are a lot of stories that people don’t want shared publicly, that they share with us and we do share them internally. We have a meeting every month. We have to do it now mostly by Zoom. And now that we’ve grown, it just makes more sense. Part of that meeting is to share these For the People stories and tell us how we changed somebody’s life this month, because that’s what I want to focus on.
I want our people to go home feeling like they accomplished something, feeling like they did something valuable rather than just sell a car. If you can go home and tell your significant other that, “Man, you’re not going to believe what we did today for somebody,” so maybe it’s somebody’s first car, we’ve had people that couldn’t put their whole family in a car and we were able to get them into something the whole family could be in and go on vacation together. A lot of stuff that we take for granted, people struggle with and when we can fix that, that’s what’s fun.
We create solutions for our people, too. We have so many people’s lives we’ve changed after they come to work for us, they are now homeowners. They can do things they couldn’t do before; their kids have their own bedrooms they didn’t have before. And to me, that’s what really begins to drive me. By continuing to build an organization built on a solid foundation we’re able to provide opportunities for people inside and outside the company.
So anytime we hear there’s an employee that became a new homeowner or was able to get a car for themselves that they didn’t think was in their future, we really celebrate that. We celebrate when their family grows. We do everything we can to continue to be successful and continue to grow and continue to really give people chances to be something that they maybe didn’t see. It’s great.
Golden Corridor Living: Excellent. So where did you get your interest in flying?
Scott Lehman: My dad flew years ago, he never flew when I was a kid, but he used to have the great stories of flying this old Aeronca Chief plane around, landing on canal banks and doing appliance repairs back in the ‘50s. Then my uncle came to town, and my uncle was a pilot in the Vietnam War and he was very impactful to me because he was like a war hero. And he opened a flight school and I flew a little bit with him.
I’d been around aviation a little bit, but it was not a hobby or a thing that I could pursue. It wasn’t until I had a friend of mine who got his license, and I wanted to take my twin girls somewhere on their birthday, so he flew us to Sedona. And we had a dinner up there and flew home and I said, “This is kind of fun.”
Then he flew me somewhere else and after two or three flights I decided to get my own license. I went and signed up and started getting my license and found I really liked it.
The next year I got my instrument rating because I wanted to be able to go to California and really needed it to get there. And then the next year we had opened our store and I wanted something that I could use in the business and be able to go to different auctions and expand my ability to go to auctions and buy cars. I bought my own airplane in 2008. A little single-engine Cirrus airplane. It was just wonderful.
And I flew that for about five years and then by then, we had our store in Tucson and now I needed something I could get around a little better because I had ideas for expanding. And so I upgraded that one, and then last November I was blessed with the opportunity to move into the jet world.
This Vision Jet, it makes the getting around so much easier, but the reason I wanted to go this route is because I started a consulting company. I consult with other car dealers who are either in the media world or the marketing side of things, plus we have the call center now, too.
Golden Corridor Living: What do you think of the Lucid Air? You just took delivery of your vehicle?
Scott Lehman: I just got it about a month ago. They came and delivered it to my house, and I can tell you it’s just an absolute dream to drive. It is fast, it’s big, it’s comfortable, it’s quiet; it drives and rides great.
I had a Tesla for about a week and I gave it back just because it was just too small on the inside. Tesla makes a great car, but it’s just a car and I had driven bigger sporty cars and I wanted something more like that. The nice thing about this car, this performance model of the Dream Edition gets almost 500 miles to the charge. For this trip, I had to go clear on the other side of Tucson, shoot a commercial, come to Casa Grande and then tomorrow I’m going up to visit our Gilbert store and our North Phoenix store.
I can do that whole trip without a charge, and I’ll get home and I’ll still have probably 100 miles to go. You couldn’t do that in a Tesla. They just don’t have that much range. I’ve used one of the Lucid charging stations and the Electrify America station. It puts in 20 minutes, you get 250 miles in the car, and it’s all included. It didn’t cost me anything. You plug it in; it knows it’s you. I don’t know how.
They have built it, just an amazing car. My car is off being sold so this will be my daily driver.
Golden Corridor Living: Where do you see your future from here?
Scott Lehman: I’m really focused on continuing to build Aspire Solutions. I’m looking at ways to scale that to help more dealerships across the country, at the same time, continuing to grow our impact in the car business in Arizona, looking at perhaps a third store in Phoenix. I just really see us becoming, no pun intended, the premiere used-car dealership in the state and covering the whole state.
And we’re kind of on that path now and it comes down to just like everything else, it comes down to people. So as long as I can recruit and find good people who can grow the business with me, we’ll continue to grow. And the right kind of motivation behind it is really what’s important to me, and since I can’t be everywhere at once, I have to have people there who feel the same way I do and really care the way that I do.
I am actively creating my own insurance agency to help our people with their insurance. We’re helping them arrange their insurance now and it just makes sense for us to do that on our own. And we are also in the process of creating our own finance company, because especially what has happened with the car business in the last two years, I think it’s going to be really important that we have a way to help people with their financing as well.
There are a lot of small car dealerships across the country that need help in putting deals together for their customers, getting financing for their customers, even managing their staff. I have this idea of creating this whole dealer services thing where we can assist other dealerships in small towns across the country remotely.
Golden Corridor Living: Do you have any personal aspirations you’d like to accomplish?
Scott Lehman: My wife Jennifer and I have five kids. We have eight grandkids, and I’m about to be a great-grandpa. That’s exciting. We’re on track with the family tree branches.
I’m loving what I’m doing, and I enjoy creating something that provides opportunity for folks, not just customers but employees.
It really comes down to those people directly talking to the customer, we call them solution advisors, that are interested in their story. We talk all the time about how your story matters and we want to know what your story is, and what we can do to be helpful. And it’s really getting that ingrained in someone in the car business, which is not typical, and that’s what we have to do to continue to grow and continue to pursue. So as long as I can do that, I will continue to grow, but I’m nowhere ready to quit for sure.
The other thing we believe in, we give back a lot to the communities that we work in. And a lot of that came from growing up and watching my dad always give back. Whether it was with a fire department or the 4th of July picnics or the, gosh you name it, if he was ever asked to do something, his answer was always yes.
That’s really where the spirit of giving back to the community — and not just having a business in the town but actually being part of the town — came from.