KIMBALL, Minn. (WCCO) – The pandemic has changed many of the ways we conduct business. The automotive industry is no different.
Supply chain issues have made new cars hard to find. But a small town dealership in central Minnesota has navigated the challenges en route to its best sales year ever.
Along Highway 55 in Kimball, the road to success is a generational journey. Ancestors pave the way, family maintain it, and loyal customers trust it.
“I have to be thankful to our local area for supporting us, because it can’t happen without that,” said Steven Maus. He’s one of three brothers who own AM Maus and Son, a new and used car dealership in town.
He and Ed run the sales arm of the business, while Cary manages the service center.
Outside of selling and fixing cars, the dealership features a general store and gas station, the latter of which connect to the humble beginnings their business.
It was started by their grandfather, Andrew Maus, in the late 1920s. By the 1950s, the family started selling cars and farm equipment. In the 1970s, their father, also named Andrew, transitioned their business into an automotive selling staple that is the foundation of the business today.
“There’s a story when I was a baby that they held up my hand and said ‘Yeah, his hand’s almost big enough to fit around the gas nozzle.’ So I could start pumping gas as early as possible,” Steven jokingly recalled.
That multi-faceted approach keeps the business humming, especially when problems like supply chain issues hamper their bread and butter. When WCCO visited the dealership, there were only five new cars on the property.
“We typically have 80,” Steven said.
Despite all the challenges presented during the pandemic, AM Maus and Son had its most successful year in its history in 2021. Steven said they sold 287 new vehicles last year, 895 total.
The town’s population is listed as 762 as you enter town. Much of that success is thanks to a sales method they’ve heavily leaned on.
“It’s solidly 80% of our sales right now are all sold order,” Steven said.
A “sold order” involves a customer buying a new car without seeing it in person. It means test driving an older model, looking at pictures online, and trusting the salesperson’s knowledge. A deposit is put down with the car not arriving for six to 10 weeks. It’s unconventional, but it’s working.
“Our customers have responded well to this,” Steven said.
That level of goodwill is earned through years of honest sales.
“I mean there’s 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 at Maus, the beginnings of a family tradition.
“We all get our cars from them. My grandparents bought five or six, my folks, six or seven or eight. My brother, Mike, he’s probably bought at least eight cars from them,” he said.
Despite living in St. Paul, the McLaughlins never think to visit a dealership in the Twin Cities when in search of a new car, nor when they need their vehicles serviced.
“On more than one occasion when our car has broken down in town, we give a call up and Cary sent a wrecker down to pick it up (in St. Paul). My mom said we’re the only family that drives 70 miles to get an oil change,” McLaughlin joked.
New customers do stroll into the dealership, but families like the McLaughlins who stay committed and refer others are crucial, especially when your business is in a small community.
“That is the essence of AM Maus and Son is our customer base and our loyal customer base,” Steve said.
Taking care of them means taking care of their community, since so many of those paying customers are their neighbors.
“It isn’t just where we do business, it’s our backyard,” said Barry Belknap. He’s the vice president at Harvest Bank in Kimball. The bank was the top donor for the project to build the town’s new library.
“The building that we had it housed in was deemed not suitable,” he said. AM Maus and Son, located across the street from the library, donated the second highest amount.
“When you have people, whether its business people or, people within the community who have civic commitment that have those sorts of traits, this is what you can make happen,” Belknap said while proudly standing in the library.
Whether its investing in their town, or back into their business, Steven said adapting to a changing world allows them to keep their values alive, while laying the groundwork for success down the road.
“Surviving past this generation, that is something that I think about a lot,” he said. “I hope we can do it. “