Back in the car business

For the first time in more than a decade, there will a used car business in Ivanhoe.

Pat’s Auto recently opened its doors in the community and so far, owners said, business has been good.

“I’m really surprised by the amount of traffic coming in,” manager Al Lustfield said. “We’ve gotten a good response from the community, with lots of people stopping in and checking out what we’re about.”

Pat’s Auto is located along Minnesota Highway 19, in the former Ivanhoe Implement building on the west end of town. About six years ago, Pat Sterzinger, a silent partner in the new business, purchased the building, which has actually been in his family for 65 years.

“In 1948, my dad built that building,” Sterzinger said. “Then my uncle (Bob Mack, Jr.) took it over in 1952.”

Sterzinger said his dad ended up purchasing a building in Canby and eventually built a new building in 1975, while his uncle owned and operated the business in Ivanhoe until approximately six years ago.

“Bob was in the business till six years ago, but it wasn’t a John Deere dealership anymore at the time,” Sterzinger said. “They sold used tractors and used equipment. I bought the building at my uncle’s auction, so it’s staying in the family.”

Lustfield has been like a friend of the family for a long time, Sterzinger said, so when Lustfield decided to get out of the towing business, the duo started looking at options to begin a car dealership.

“I wanted to help get him started,” Sterzinger said. “I’ll be the fellow that sits off on the sidelines. Al’s young, so he doesn’t have much buying power. But he’s sold a lot of cars, about 100 already, so he’s doing good.”

Lustfield said several different properties, including some in Marshall, were considered before deciding on the Ivanhoe location.

“In Marshall, there’s more competition, and it’s more expensive,” Lustfield said. “Pat already had the property in Ivanhoe and there was little expense for remodeling.

“There hasn’t been a car lot in Ivanhoe for a decade or a decade and a half, so even though it’s a smaller community, we thought we’d give it a shot. So far, it’s passed my expectations.”

Sterzinger pointed out that the new business is set up with two buildings, which includes a shop and a show room.

“The front building is the one we completely rebuilt,” he said. “I re-tinned both buildings and put in new heat and new insulation. It never had a bathroom before either. We took care of that problem, so we do now.”

Before going into the towing business, Lustfield owned a car dealership in Marshall. After a series of unfortunate car accidents, Lustfield said he left dealing with some medical issues.

“I had a run of bad luck, and I’m just now getting better,” he said. “The doctors told me that if I would’ve stayed in towing, my recovery would be much slower. I used to have a car lot years back, so I know enough about it, I guess.”

The best part, Lustfield said, is helping people find what vehicle they want.

“You end up, over time, developing a lot of different relationships with your customers,” Lustfield said. “I was out of the car business for quite a while, but people would still call me and ask if I knew where to find something, so it’s been an easy transition.”

Sterzinger also believes that managing a car dealership is about selling relationships more than anything.

“I’ve always said ‘don’t burn any bridges, treat people good and if there’s a problem, then you fix it,'” Sterzinger said. “But Al’s going to be alright.”

Lustfield said he plans to sell a variety of used vehicles, including oddball stuff that he comes across.

“When I see something odd, I try to pick it up and resell it,” he said. “A lot of times, people will call me, and I’ll go find what they’re looking for. So I’ll sell a little bit of everything.”

Right now, a Mini Cooper is sitting on the lot, Lustfield said. He’s also sold BMWs, Mercedes and Land Rovers in the past. Most likely, Pat’s Auto will also sell pickups, motorcycles, semis, trailers, trucks and other equipment.

“There’s a few car dealers we get inventory from and I’ll also get cars at dealer auctions and online,” Lustfield said. “I can buy a car from all 50 states if need be. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

Since the new business is small, the overhead is very minimal, Lustfield said. The result is that customers will potentially save more money.

“There isn’t a huge markup because the business has 20-30 employees and huge buildings,” he said. “We’re small, so we can try to give the best price available. We have very little markup, so people can buy a vehicle at a good price.”