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New owner takes reins at Auburn Honda

By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn Honda is now part of Victory Automotive Group, a Canton, Mich.-based company that owns 19 new car dealerships and eight used car lots. Owner Jeffrey Cappo completed the purchase from Jay Cooper on Aug. 7. “I’m a small-town dealer,” he said Monday. “… The average town we do business in is about 25,000 people. Auburn is our business model. It is your small business community with a loyal customer base. We look at dealerships that have been owned by the same company for a long time and have a good reputation.” Cappo plans to spend about six months in Auburn. “That’s normally what my tour is — making sure everyone understands how I want to do business,” he said. The transition won’t include a grand opening for a while. “I don’t tell people what I’m going to do. I show them. I’ve been doing this for so long,” he said. “It’s best to wait 90 days until you get things in order.” His hands-on leadership approach was evident Monday as he personally worked with a customer on the purchase of a new vehicle. “I started with myself and two suitcases 15 years ago,” he said. “As of this morning, I had 1,200 employees in 26 locations. So if you don’t take care of your customers, it is very difficult to grow as fast as I have over the years. In order to get nine Honda stores, you have to be a very good dealer. There’s only one other in the whole country who has more Honda stores than I do. He has 13. His name is Rick Hendrick of the Hendrick automotive racing team.” Cappo had been a car salesman for 16 years when he bought his first franchise in 1997 — a Nissan store in Morristown, Tenn. Now he also owns stores in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida, plus the Auburn and Santa Cruz dealerships in California. For Auburn he wants to add more inventory — new and used cars — and will likely add rather than cut jobs, he said. “All the same people still work here,” he added. “Only three people left and they retired.” One of his first priorities is increasing the sales staff. “We have 11 sales people and we need 16 or 17,” he said. Cappo has brought in a new general manager, Michigan native Jason Olesnavage. But other members of the management team will remain in place, he said. Olesnavage’s impression of Auburn is “awesome.” “The dealership has been here for a long time and has been good to the community and the community has been good to the dealership,” he said. He has bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in sports management and started working for Cappo right out of college. “He has trained me in a lot of areas of the car business and is making Auburn home for me,” Olesnavage said. He shares Cappo’s leadership style. “We try to talk to everyone and deal with the customers as much as possible to be transparent and earn their trust because we are treating them right,” he said. Marvin Cooper and his son, Jay, established Auburn Honda in 1979. They started with 12 employees at 2730 Grass Valley Highway. Jay Cooper took over the dealership in 1996 when his father retired. In 2004, he moved to a new bigger building nearby at 1801 Grass Valley Highway. A notice of the sale of the dealership by the Jay and Sonya Cooper family trust to Cappo Management XII, Inc. appeared in the Journal on July 20. Cappo declined to reveal the purchase price, but said it gave Cooper a very comfortable retirement. Steve Snyder, owner of Gold Rush Chevrolet/Subaru and president of the Auburn Motor Car Dealers Association, has seen a lot of changes in the business locally during the past few years. “We had eight new car dealerships before the recession hit and we are down to four,” he said. “(In addition to Honda) we’re down to one owner who owns Toyota and Chrysler stores and I own Chevrolet and Subaru and another owner owns Ford.” Snyder is looking forward to meeting Cappo. “I hope he has the same attitude of treating customers like a family-owned business,” he said. “I’m sure he would because he wouldn’t have all these dealerships without the same customer satisfaction.” Reach Gloria Young at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com.