KIMBALL, Minn. (WCCO) – The pandemic has changed many ways of doing business. The automotive industry is no different.
Supply chain issues have made new cars hard to come by. But a small-town dealership in central Minnesota rose to the challenges en route to its best-selling year ever.
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Along Highway 55 in Kimball, the road to success is a generational journey. The ancestors lead the way, the family maintains it and loyal customers trust it.
“I have to be grateful to our region for supporting us, because it can’t happen without it,” said Steven Maus. He is one of three brothers who own AM Maus and Son, a new and used car dealership in town.
He and Ed run the business arm of the company, while Cary runs the service center.
Apart from selling and repairing cars, the dealership has a general store and a gas station, the latter of which is tied to the humble beginnings of their business.
It was started by their grandfather, Andrew Maus, in the late 1920s. In the 1950s the family began selling cars and farm equipment. In the 1970s, their father, also named Andrew, transformed their business into the automotive sales staple that is the foundation of the business today.
“There’s a story when I was a baby that they put my hand up and said, ‘Yeah, his hand’s almost big enough to fit around the gas nozzle.’ That way I could start pumping gas as soon as possible,” Steven recalls jokingly.
This multi-faceted approach keeps the business running, especially when issues like supply chain issues get in the way of its daily bread. When WCCO visited the dealership, there were only five new cars on the property.
“We usually have 80,” Steven said.
Despite all the challenges presented during the pandemic, AM Maus and Son had its most successful year ever in 2021. Steven said he sold 287 new vehicles last year, 895 in total.
The population of the town is listed as 762 when you enter the town. Much of this success is due to a sales method they relied heavily on.
“It’s a solid 80% of our sales right now are all made to order,” Steven said.
A “sold order” involves a customer buying a new car without seeing it in person. That means trying to drive an older model, looking at photos online, and trusting the knowledge of the seller. A deposit is left with the car which does not arrive for six to 10 weeks. It’s unconventional, but it works.
“Our customers have responded well to this,” Steven said.
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This level of goodwill is earned through years of honest sales.
“I mean there’s a real quality of work and service there,” said David McLaughlin of St. Paul.
His grandparents bought a cabin in Kimball in the 1980s. They then bought several cars from Maus, the beginnings of a family tradition.
“We all get our cars from them. My grandparents bought five or six, my parents six or seven or eight. My brother, Mike, he probably bought at least eight cars from them,” he said.
Although they live in St. Paul, the McLaughlins never think of visiting a dealership in the Twin Cities when looking for a new car, or when they need their vehicles serviced.
“On more than one occasion when our car broke down in town, we called and Cary sent a tow truck to pick it up (in St. Paul). My mom said we were the only family to drive 70 miles to get an oil change,” McLaughlin joked.
New customers walk through the dealership, but families like the McLaughlins who stay engaged and refer others are crucial, especially when your business is in a small community.
“That’s the essence of AM Maus and Son, that’s our clientele and our loyal clientele,” Steve said.
Taking care of them means taking care of their community, because many of these paying customers are their neighbors.
“It’s not just where we do business, it’s our backyard,” Barry Belknap said. He is Vice President of Harvest Bank in Kimball. The bank was the first donor in the project to build the new city library.
“The building we had him in was deemed inappropriate,” he said. AM Maus and Son, located across the street from the library, donated the second highest amount.
“When you have people, whether they’re business people or people in the community who have civic engagement who have those kinds of traits, that’s what you can make happen” , Belknap said as he stood proudly in the library.
Whether it’s investing in their city or getting back into their business, Steven said adapting to a changing world allows them to keep their values alive, while laying the foundation for success down the road.
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“Surviving beyond this generation is something I think about a lot,” he said. “Hopefully we can do that.”