ST. GEORGE — Those who drive west along Hilton Drive may get the sense that Stephen Wade, owner Stephen Wade Auto Group, is the Monopoly player par excellence. He owns nearly every dealership along that strip but for one: Ken Garff’s Ford dealership.
With the acquisition of 12 acres of land, including the land that Painter’s Mitsubishi and Camping World are on, as well as the land where the former Legacy Dealership once operated, Wade fulfilled a long-time goal.
“I’ve had my eye on those properties for 15 years, maybe more,” Wade told St. George News. “There’s so much potential. I’ve been chipping away at it, buying a piece of land here, a piece of land there.”
Wade will use the former Legacy dealership for parts and storage, as well as a call center. The building that used to house Painter’s Mitsubishi is being remodeled and transformed into a truck center.
“I’ve been waiting on the opportunity to open a truck center,” Wade said. “There’s so much opportunity to buy and sell trucks right now. We didn’t have the room before, but we do now.”
Even as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the auto industry especially hard, Wade said he wasn’t discouraged – he was emboldened.
“Of course, you’ve got to be careful with COVID-19,” he said. “But I’m anticipating an increase in sales. People have been cooped up at home, now they want to get out. They don’t want mass transportation; they want to drive something unique.”
As long as the U.S. can avoid sinking its own economy, Wade said that life will eventually open up again.
“We’re selling 1,200, 1,300 units a month,” he said. “We’re fortunate to be doing this well. For a while there, in March and April, we were a little concerned. We participated in a federal loan program to help sales-people make ends meet. But we bounced back.”
Wade said that people never really stopped buying vehicles. Instead, business closures and delays have been an ongoing challenge.
“The supply line has been slowed down by this whole thing,” he said. “I’ve had to cannibalize some of my new vehicles. If someone buys a Jeep, for instance, and a part stops working, I can’t get it from my normal supply people. Instead, I may have to take it off of another new car on the lot.”
For all that, Wade said he sees himself as an optimist. He thinks the world of the U.S., as well as St. George.
“I’m bullish about St. George,” Wade said. “St. George is the place to bet on. We’ve got so much going for us. It’s no wonder so many people are moving here.”
With the acquisition, Wade also becomes Camping World’s landlord. He doesn’t own any part of the company, but Wade said he intends to honor Camping World’s current lease.
Commercial real estate brokers Doug and Troy Scheel, a father and son duo at Mountain West Commercial Real Estate, helped broker the deal, which had its challenges.
“The buyer and seller haven’t always seen eye to eye,” Doug Scheel told St. George News. “I had to do some work to get them to mellow before we could strike a deal. That’s why it can sometimes be a good thing to have the same realtor represent both parties.”
Scheel said that that kind of thing is fairly common, so when the Painters’ property came available, it made sense to take it to Wade.
“He owns nearly everything there on Hilton Drive,” Scheel said. “It was a no-brainer that Wade would be the best buyer. It would allow him to expand his business.”
Both parties agreed that the purchase price would remain confidential. Regarding his future plans, Wade said that when you buy a piece of property, it doesn’t stop there.
“You always want the piece of land next to yours,” he said. “I’m taking the long view. I don’t expect to see the return on most of the investments I’m making now. It’ll be for my kids and my grandkids.”
When asked if he’d like to buy Garff’s dealership, Wade laughed.
“I’ve tried time and again,” he said. “They’re a good group, and they’re happy where they are. Not much I can do about that.”
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