In the past 10 years, Brandon Steven has amassed a growing new car dealership business.
And the 41-year-old father of six said he’s not yet satisfied.
“I swear to you, I feel like I’m behind,” Steven said. “I feel like I just started. I’m never the one who looks to see where I’ve been. I’m looking at where I’m going.”
Exactly where Steven is going he won’t say. And he’s clearly not close to any finish line.
“I want more dealerships,” he said.
Steven’s dealerships are Ford of Augusta, Eddy’s Toyota and Scion, used car dealership Super Car Guys (formerly Brandon Steven Motors) and Eddy’s Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, which he acquired in March.
He’s also partners with Scott Pitman in Subaru of Wichita, the first new dealership that Steven acquired in 2004. He later brought in Pitman as partner in 2013.
“I love cars,” Steven said. “I’ve always loved cars. And I think I’m real good at reading people … I just kind of know where to take them.”
Brandon and his brother Rodney Steven II are 50-50 partners in each other’s businesses. “It’s very unique,” Rodney said. “I’m 50-50 in the car business and he’s 50-50 in the club business.”
And together with their youngest brother, Johnny Steven, they own three ECHL hockey teams, including the Wichita Thunder.
But Rodney Steven said he leaves the day-to-day operations and most of the management decisions on the car dealerships to Brandon, who is 1 1/2 years younger.
“He never got handed a new car dealership,” Rodney Steven said. “He came up in the business selling used cars. To be where he’s come in the last five to 10 years, it’s very remarkable.”
‘Bread and butter’
Brandon and Rodney’s dad, Rod Steven Sr., was an entrepreneur himself, having owned 15 Little Joe’s Car Wash locations, The Slope ski shop and Dock 44 discount store while they were growing up.
“To some extent we’re a product of our own environment,” Rodney Steven said.
In high school Brandon Steven had his first exposure to the car business working for the former Gorges Motor Co. on south Oliver.
He started there washing cars and by the time he was a senior in high school he was selling them. It was at Gorges where Steven first met Pitman, who Steven said was his boss.
“Brandon would have been successful with or without my tutelage,” Pitman said. “I knew that he was going to go on to great things. I’m not sure what I provided him, honestly.”
Steven said he didn’t want to go to college, especially after he started selling cars. When the subject came up with his parents, he showed them two uncashed checks he had earned selling cars.
“I remember Mom gave my dad a look,” Steven said. “And he said, ‘Brandon, you’re going to college.’”
Steven reluctantly enrolled at Southern Illinois University, where Rodney was attending on a tennis scholarship and where Steven pursued a degree in marketing.
“I kind of just followed him to SIU,” Steven said. “If you ask him, he’ll tell you I’ve been following him since.”
But Steven didn’t. When he returned to Wichita after graduating in 1995, he started a telephone-based automobile locating service for consumers by developing a database of area dealers’ inventory. The business failed, Steven said, and he started buying cars at auction and fixing them up to sell, one at a time.
In 1996 he acquired a former convenience store location on West Street that would eventually be the first location for Brandon Steven Motors. In the meantime, he was helping manage one of Rodney’s first two Genesis locations.
Later, he took a job as a buyer for a joint venture between Gorges and Thorn Americas, a former rent-to-buy home furnishings company based in Wichita, to pilot a used car concept in Wichita and Kansas City. That linked him up again with his former Gorges boss, Pitman. “I was traveling everywhere across the country (buying wholesale cars) for Thorn, and Scott was selling them,” Steven said.
Around 1998, Steven said he returned to focus full time on building his used car business.
“We went through a period of time where we were competitors, and would do anything possible to beat each other out of a car deal,” Pitman said.
“Every dollar that my company made I had to put right back in,” Steven said. “I had three lots and my brother had two health clubs. I was still living with my parents.”
“I wasn’t able to have vision back then,” he added. “It was survival.”
But by 2004, Steven had a little clearer vision and the means to buy his first dealership, Subaru, from his cousin Mike Steven.
Even though Steven has a stake in Rodney’s growing health club chain that now includes 15 locations in two states, Steven said his priority is the car business.
“This is the bread and butter,” he said. “Everything else will be ancillary to the car business. I know how to take care of customers.”
As for adding more new car dealerships, he won’t say when that would happen or what brands he’d like to add.
He wants to keep it local, though.
“My boundaries are the Wichita area,” he said. “I have Augusta but that’s about as far as I want to go.
“I have six kids and a wife I love going home to. If I had a dealership somewhere else, that would be difficult.”
Dealerships: Ford of Augusta, Eddy’s Toyota and Scion, Super Car Guys (formerly Brandon Steven Motors), Eddy’s Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, Subaru of Wichita.
Education: Marketing degree from Southern Illinois University, 1995
Family: Wife, Karen, six children ages 1 to 13