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Love of cars turns into profit and scholarships for Sierra College

By: Judy Wilson Special to The Placer Herald
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Since he was a boy, Steve Metzgar, Jr. has had a love affair with cars and business. When other kids were reading comic books, he admits he was reading Car & Driver. So it's no surprise that the Metzger, a Rocklin resident, would channel that love into a business as rewarding personally as it is for the community: the Sierra Auto Fair. Started by Metzger in 1997 at Sierra College, the auto fair is a place where local residents can sell their used cars, trucks, boats, RVs and other vehicles for a nominal fee. A large percentage of the fees are donated to the Sierra College Foundation's Scholarship Fund, providing much-needed tuition money for local students. Ever the entrepreneur, Metzger's business attempts go back to his roots in Meadow Vista and Colfax High School. In his teen years he sold reflective address signs to homes in his town and opened a distribution business that provided women's earrings on revolvign racks to hair salons and fashion stores. His idea for the auto fair came later, when he was a student at Sierra College. As a marketing student, Metzgar was chosen to be in a General Motors Marketing Internship Class. While taking the class, he also took a job working as a car salesman at a local dealership. The first month he worked over 60 hours each week and won the ?salesman of the month' honors. "I tried to be kind to people and to give them an excellent deal," says Metzgar. "But, I often found it frustrating and quickly tired of the long hours. I also noticed there was a void for people trying to sell their cars. I got to thinking what would people want if they I could give them what they needed to be able to sell their own cars and the idea for the Sierra Auto Fair came to me." In 1997, he approached Sierra College with his idea. "The college was immediately excited about the idea and the fact that they would participate in the revenue from every vehicle displayed," explained Metzgar. The first week saw about 20 cars on display. He put out the signs, registered the customers, showed the cars, cleaned up and carried away all his equipment himself in a trailer he pulled onto the parking lot in front of the football field every week. With an advertising blitz in local papers paid for by his first revenues and on local cable channels, word began to spread about the new venue. More and more people began to participate. "The momentum built as more vehicles began to use the service," says Metzgar. "Three years in, we began to see a light at the end of the tunnel." Today, the business, which operates from 4 p.m. on Fridays until 5 p.m. on Sundays every weekend of the year, rain or shine, in front of the Sierra College football field has over 350 vehicles a weekend show up to display for sale. All the vehicles, cars, motorcycles, boats, trucks and recreation vehicles, are owned by private parties and pay a fee to display their vehicle that range from $25 to $40 a weekend and there are no consignment fees or commissions when the vehicle sells. If the vehicle doesn't sell in three weekends, the customer gets three additional weekends to display free. No dealers are allowed and to date the college has received hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Foundation Scholarship Fund. The business has also provided many jobs for local college and high school students over the past 8 years. "This is an excellent partnership for Sierra College," says Sonbol Aliabadi, Executive Director of Sierra College Foundation Council. "This is a unique, one of a kind partnership and as an alumni of Sierra College, Steve has been extremely generous with his donation. This year will be a record high and will bring in over $70,000 to the general fund that will be used to benefit the students and programs." Over the past nearly 8 years, the Sierra Auto Fair has moved into the second highest donor spot for the school. Metzgar says he now has 12 employees who provide service and security but he still remembers well those cold, rainy nights when he sat out in his trailer protecting the cars that had come to be displayed in his new venture. "The irony is that people perceive that is has to be fair weather to sell their cars," commented Metzgar. "The reality is that we have buyers on rainy weekends showing up saying, "Where's the beef." They never understand that we still get the serious minded folks who are buyers. We have had our highest sales ratios on rainy weekends," he stated. For additional details about the Sierra Auto Fair, call 626-3366.