Steinbach's Mazda dealership has a new owner, a new name and will soon have a new look.
At the beginning of January, Don Neufeld sold his Auto City Mazda store to Ron Loeppky, president of Fairway Ford Sales in Steinbach.
"We had been chatting with Don about acquiring his store for a while," Loeppky said.
"He was ready to make a change and we were ready to move on the deal. We bought the property, buildings and equipment."
Neufeld founded Auto City Mazda in 1989 and rebuilt the store about 10 years ago. A past-president of the Manitoba Motor Dealers Association, Neufeld said he didn't really want to leave the auto industry, but he ran into some health issues and "it was just becoming too difficult for a small business to continue to operate independently in the auto industry."
"The technology and the tools have become ever more costly, and the requirements for a small dealership are the same as for a larger dealership. That means that our costs per customer are greater than that of a larger dealership," he said.
The final straw, Neufeld said, was Mazda Canada's insistence he invest several hundred thousand dollars rebuilding his store again, both inside and out.
"I had intended to leave the business to my children -- my son-in-law was working with me -- but I couldn't justify putting that much more money into a new building."
Family was one reason behind Loeppky's decision to buy the renamed Highway Mazda store.
"My son, Nathan, has been working with me for 14 years," he said. "He's the new general sales manager at our new store."
Loeppky said he's brought veteran sales rep Darrell Nordstrom on board to mentor his son and help run the Mazda store. Nordstrom has been a GM sales rep for about 30 years, working in Steinbach for most of his career, but he'd been selling for a GM dealer in Winnipeg for the past few years.
Loeppky said Highway Mazda will carry from 30 to 50 new models and the same number of used inventory.
"We feel that our two dealerships compliment each other," he said.
"At out Ford store, we sell a lot of trucks. Mazda doesn't sell trucks, but Mazda makes great cars, and we are now able to offer our customers a larger selection of models and styles between our two franchises."
As for the required building upgrade, Loeppky said the new Mazda Image look will be completed in a few weeks.
Five Manitobans among top Ford sales reps
Five Manitoba Ford sales rep and a commercial fleet manager joined about 100 colleagues from Northwestern Ontario and the Prairie provinces at the Hyatt Downtown in Calgary earlier this month to receive Ford of Canada Summit Awards in recognition of their outstanding sales achievements last year.
They award recipients are Shawn Henke and Don Thomas from Parkside Ford in Winnipeg; T.J. Grant and Anthony Smith from Steeltown Ford in Selkirk; Al Twerdochlib from Kelleher Ford in Brandon; and, in the commercial fleet category, Brian Penner from Birchwood Keystone Ford in Winnipeg. All ranked in the top 25 per cent in sales for Ford reps in this region.
Penner, whose 26 years in the industry makes him the longest-serving member of the group, has won the Summit Award 20 times.
"You work hard, keep your nose to the grindstone and do what it takes to make the sales," he said.
Twerdochlib has also received the coveted award 20 times. The long-time Kelleher Ford rep said he averages sales of about 200 new and used models every year, and "almost all of my sales are to repeat customers."
Parkside Ford's Henke also attributes much of his winning record to repeat and referral customers. He said he sold just under 200 new and used models last year and has won the Summit Award eight times in his nearly 10-year career in auto sales.
"The better you treat customers, the more likely they are to come back," he said.
Steeltown Ford's Grant has won the award for the last five years in a row.
"Ford's outstanding lineup of new models over the past three or four years has made our work as sales reps much easier," noted Grant, who also sold about 200 new and used units last year.
Grant's fellow Steeltown Ford sales rep, Anthony Smith, was at the podium in Calgary for the first time in his three-year career in the industry. He sold between 210 and 220 new and used models last year.
"It was great to receive the award," he says. "That's something you work toward."
Grant added that the awards evening was "top-notch". "We got the full red-carpet treatment. It was an excellent meal and a good show."