The vacant space adjacent to the new Petro Canada gas station just outside the Town of Stettler boundaries beckoned Mike Kuefler. With few options for used vehicles in town, the space was just demanding to be filled with a new business.
On Thursday, Oct. 20, the business Kuefler built along with partner Darren Sutton – Highway 12 Sales – won the Stettler Business and Citizenship gala’s award for new business of the year.
In fact, business has been so good, that a third partner, Jason Hegberg, has joined the team.
The used vehicle dealership opened its doors in February of this year, and since the open sign lit up in the window, Kuefler and Sutton have found themselves run ragged with business.
Kuefler came to Stettler in the mid-1980s for work, leaving behind his home of Killam.
Starting out in the auto glass industry before ending up at Stettler GM, Kuefler worked for 16 years before parting ways with the dealership. Two years later, with the economy slowing down and people looking for quality second-hand vehicles, Kuefler said he saw an opportunity.
“People thought I must be mad, opening a business with the economy as it is,” he said. “But I saw an opportunity.”
In the 30-odd years that Kuefler has lived in Stettler, used car dealerships have come and gone. While he said he could not speculate as to why they didn’t succeed, he said he wanted to buck that trend with Highway 12 Sales.
While much of the focus is on quality used vehicles starting at around $10,000, Kuefler and Sutton branched out from used cars and trucks to ensure they offer one-stop shopping for vehicle buyers of all stripes. Offering motorcycles, dirt bikes, snowmobiles, ATVs and trailers, the dealership has even sold a few boats and vacation trailers. And for those avid golfers needing new carts – Highway 12 Sales also has those.
“We’re very diversified,” Kuefler said. “If you want it, we can find it. Higher-end, lower-end.”
Being tapped for the award, which means someone in the community nominated the business, is an honour for both Kuefler and Sutton.
They place the credit for their win squarely on their customers, with whom they have striven to build a positive relationship.
“The community has been so supportive,” Kuefler said. “I believe if you deal with honesty and integrity, and treat people right, you’ll succeed no matter what the product.”
With Hegberg on board recently, both Kuefler and Sutton are confident they can take the business to greater heights.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Hegberg said. “It’s something new and something needed.”
Kuefler said he could not be happier to have Hegberg join them.
“Jason’s a local kid,” Kuefler said. “He’s very well respected, very involved. Both Sutton and he are Stettler kids.”
The diversification does not end there, though, because Highway 12 Sales is also a skate sharpening venue.
Kuefler admitted that skate sharpening does not quite fit the business model he dreamed up a year ago when preparing to launch his business. Like many opportunities, it just fell into his lap.
“We’re lucky to have Herb Gramlich,” he said of his skate sharpener. “He’s been skate sharpening for 13 years, at Source for Sports. He was out of work, and it was the perfect opportunity to bring him here.”
Kuefler said that before the Petro Canada station and Highway 12 Sales opened, there was very little to draw people to the east border of town. Unless they have business out of town, at the Auction Mart, or in the industrial park, there is very little to bring prospective customers his way.
Skate sharpening was one of the ways he wanted to attract people to head east, and it has worked.
“We have people coming here who normally wouldn’t come to this end of town,” he said.
Offering the services the trio do at Highway 12 Sales is important to the community, Kuefler noted, but he quickly pointed out “community” doesn’t just refer to Stettler alone.
With sparse opportunities between the Saskatchewan border and Red Deer – major centres are limited to Lloydminster and Wainwright – many of the small communities east of town find themselves heading west to Stettler.
Those towns, villages and hamlets are part of Kuefler’s community, he said.
“Castor, Coronation, Consort, Oyen,” he said. “All these people come here to shop, and we want to make sure they can do it all here.”
Giving back to those communities – Stettler proper and all the surrounding areas – is important to the three business partners, though Kuefler said he did not expect to be able to give back so soon.
“It’s not about making money,” he said, though he admitted that he likes having a pay cheque. “It’s about giving back to the community that supports you. We’re hoping we can do that for a long time.”
The business has already sponsored various minor sports teams in the first nine months it has been in business, and Kuefler said they are looking forward to doing so, hopefully, for many years.