Automotive News 40 Under 40

Mel Parekh

AGE: 37

POSITION: President and owner, Princeton Chevrolet, Lawrenceville, N.J.

Mel Parekh

Mel Parekh was 24 when he bought and turned around a struggling car dealership in Virginia. Now, at 37, he is trying to do the same in New Jersey -- with help from the top five managers at his Virginia store.

Princeton Chevrolet in Lawrenceville, N.J., turned a profit in November -- its second month under Parekh's ownership. In the first half of 2013, he says, new-vehicle sales rose 40 percent and used-vehicle sales soared 90 percent from the same period a year earlier.

Without his team, Parekh says he might not have bought the store from Motors Holding, General Motors' dealer financing arm, which also had financed and then repurchased his first store, Route 1 Buick-GMC in Woodbridge, Va.

"I didn't really want another fixer-upper and so I'm teetering when my managers approached me one by one and said, 'If you take it, we'll go with you,'" he says.

It was a big commitment for the managers, who are all married. Controller Sherri Smith moved to New Jersey with her three daughters and retired husband. Sales and Service Director Mark Sable, Sales Manager Tony Blazier, F&I Manager Brad Reynolds and Used Manager Mike Sable all work during the week in New Jersey and commute weekends to families in Virginia, 200 miles down Interstate 95.

Parekh spent months researching the dealership, including talks with the unionized service department, before buying.

"Now I'd count the union as a huge ally of mine," he says. "They help me recruit technicians."

Parekh got an early start in the car business. At age 10, he was washing cars when his India-born father, Prat Parekh, became a General Motors dealer in Detroit and later Chicago. By 16, Mel was wearing a suit to high school and selling cars after classes. By age 24, he had saved enough money from selling cars to make a down payment on the dealership. He credits his retired father for showing the importance of customer service and community involvement.

"But some of it was just being a young man in an old man's game, which helped me see how valuable the people are," he says. "If they're happy and well paid, they do so much better for the business."

-- Jesse Snyder