Ohio's Germain Motor acquires Michigan's Howard Cooper
DETROIT -- Dealership group Germain Motor Co., has acquired Howard Cooper Import Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Howard Cooper, head of Howard Cooper Import Center, said today that Steve Germain, owner of Germain Motor Co., still needs to get approval from the manufacturers of the four brands that Howard Cooper Imports sells before the deal can be finalized.
Howard Cooper Imports was founded in 1965 with a Volkswagen franchise and now sells Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi and Honda vehicles. The group sold about 1,600 new and used vehicles combined with revenue of $48 million in 2011, Cooper said.
"We'll continue business as usual with the same great people. Just the name and the ownership are the only things that will be different," Cooper told Crain's Detroit Business, an affiliate of Automotive News.
The Howard Cooper Imports name will stay on the business for another six months or so, Cooper told Crain's.
"It's a great opportunity for me and our family to expand our business into a good market in a dealership with an outstanding reputation," Germain said in a statement. "All four brands have a bright future."
Germain Motor, of Columbus, Ohio, has five brands and seven dealerships in Ohio and Florida. It ranks No. 95 on the Automotive News list of the top 125 dealership groups with sales of 7,078 new vehicles. Germain said the company posted revenue of $465 million in 2011.
PRESS RELEASE: An Historic Transition
After a 47-Year Reign as One of the Region's Top VW-Honda-Audi-Porsche Auto Dealers, Howard Cooper Hands Over the Wheel to Long-Time Auto Dealer Stephen Germain
In 1914, when World War I had hardly begun, Cooper's father, one of the nation's original Dodge dealers, sold Dodge # 206 to a customer in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for $685. After Cooper grew to adulthood, and earned a business degree from the University of Michigan in 1950, he returned to Kalamazoo and worked for his father's company for 15 years. In 1965, Cooper started his own business in Ann Arbor.
Meanwhile, in 1947, at the end of World War II, Warren Germain, the grandfather of auto dealer Steve Germain, was asked by the great auto manufacturing pioneer Henry Ford, who wanted to expand Ford sales beyond the state of Michigan, to open a Mercury dealership in Columbus, Ohio. When Steve Germain grew up, like Howard Cooper, he embraced with enthusiasm the business of selling cars -- first the family business and then his own -- and has never looked back.
Now the two families, with three generations of Midwestern and Florida auto dealership ownership between them, will intertwine, when Germain takes over Ann Arbor's popular Howard Cooper dealership on South State Street.
It was there that Cooper bought farmland and built the original VW dealership. “I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when VW offered me the Ann Arbor market,” Cooper recalls. “After the building went up, the VW distributor thought I had overbuilt. But within six years we had doubled our service capacity.” In 1972 the dealership expanded with the addition of the Porsche and Audi franchises and in 1979, Honda. “I remember when some Grateful Dead followers (Deadheads) came by to have their VWs worked on," he laughs. “Long hair, flowers painted on the cars.....they loved their VWs.”
Service has been the backbone of Cooper's business for many years; there are 90 employees serving a loyal clientele, and the dealership consistently comes out near the top in service volume for Honda and VW vehicles. About 1,600 new and used cars are purchased at Howard Cooper every year. “Ann Arbor is a stable market because of the University,” Cooper notes. “We don't suffer the ups and downs of the greater Detroit area.”
Many of the employees at Howard Cooper have been there for decades. The comptroller, Sandy Reagan, has been with the company for 46 years and many others have had tenures of 20, 30 and even 40 years. “At 10 years you're just kind of getting started here,” Cooper says. “My employees are the secret of our success. You can't do it without a lot of great people. They are the ones who've made the business successful.”
A year ago Germain, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, and Naples, Florida, was jogging by the Howard Cooper 12-acre dealership on South State on his way from his hotel to the annual Griese-Hutchinson-Woodson golf tournament at the U-M Golf Course, a benefit for C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. “I saw the sign and I wondered if there really was a Howard Cooper,” he recalls. “I thought of going in but didn't think he'd be there at three o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. (He was.) And then I was introduced to him after the tournament a few hours later.”
“There is a Howard Cooper?” I asked. "He's in this room?”
"I was starstruck."
Cooper and Germain's extraordinarily similar family and business histories gave them a lot to talk about. “Quickly, we had a lot in common,” Germain recalls. Before long, the idea of the Germain family becoming part of the Ann Arbor business community and taking over the Howard Cooper dealership came up, and soon blossomed into figures and timelines. Germain is quick to point out that his daughter, Jessica, who will help run the company, holds an English degree from Michigan and that his father and mother both attended the University of Michigan.
Germain has assured Cooper that the employees will continue to be happy and well cared for under the new management. “It's a great opportunity for me and our family to expand our business into a good market in a dealership with an outstanding reputation,” says Germain, who has run Honda dealerships in Columbus and in Naples for many years. “All four brands have a bright future.” His customers in Columbus may find the new Ann Arbor connection “a bit puzzling” for a while, Germain says, but he thinks everyone will get used to the idea. He's incredibly impressed with Cooper's energy and enthusiasm and success into his 80s. “He's a good model,” he says.
Cooper is pleased that it will take some time to get everything lined up for the transition. Those 61 years of happiness selling and servicing cars will offer an invaluable resource from his desk on South State Street.
You can reach Ellen Mitchell at email@example.com.