Melvin Cooper, 38
Dealer operator, Watsonville Auto Group
Melvin Cooper was born into the automotive industry, the son of a Cadillac dealer in Elko, Nev. He just wasn't sure if he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps.
But Cooper showed a strong entrepreneurial spirit from a young age — he and his brother made money selling candy, snow cones and vegetables. The summer after Cooper completed high school, his father brought home a car for the brothers to sell.
Cooper wanted to attend the University of Arizona but saw his application denied 12 times. On his last attempt, he visited the admissions counselor, who decided to take a chance on him, Cooper said. He graduated with a double major in business management and entrepreneurship.
Cooper first worked as a car salesman the summer after his freshman year of college.
After a week in which he arrived early to Wondries Toyota, near Los Angeles, was the last to leave and completed his first sales, Cooper decided to make a career of automotive retail.
"I thought back and reflected on everything I wanted to be in life, what I wanted for my life and realized what the commonalities were," Cooper said. "I knew I could get that through the car business."
In 2008, a year after his college graduation, Cooper's father got a call about a Chevrolet dealership in receivership in Watsonville, Calif., an agricultural community north of Monterey.
The pair bought the store; Cooper had become a dealer at 26.
During their first year of ownership, in the depths of the Great Recession, the dealership sold a monthly average of nine vehicles, new and used. The next year, that figure rose to 13. The store reached 30 vehicle sales a month the year after that.
By 2019, the store's sales pace had risen to 85 vehicles per month.
Last year, Cooper and his family expanded in Watsonville by acquiring Ford and Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram dealerships nearby.
Through May of this year, the Chevy dealership averaged 92 new and used vehicles sales a month and set a record in March with sales of 128 vehicles.
"We've seen a tremendous amount of repeat and referral business come in," Cooper said. "That's really added to our growth."
— Jack Walsworth