ENCINITAS — A lot has changed since Herman Cook Volkswagen opened in 1967.
With the exception of two other car dealers in the area, the landscape surrounding the Volkswagen dealership was barren as far as the eye could see. Encinitas Boulevard was only two lanes. Traffic was rare on the newly completed Interstate 5 freeway.
But in Dennis Cook’s view, much remains the same. As before, German engineering and Volkswagens are all the rage. And the Encinitas Volkswagen dealership, celebrating its 45th anniversary, is still family-owned and operated.
“I’ve been very fortunate my dad chose to open in Encinitas,” said Dennis, owner of Herman Cook Volkswagen. “We’ve enjoyed growing with the community all these years.”
In the mid-1950s, Herman Cook began working as a salesperson at a Volkswagen dealership. He climbed the ranks, eventually overseeing operations at two dealerships in Imperial Valley and Los Angeles County. He was then awarded the chance to open a new franchise dealership, with several options of where it could be built. After much research, Herman decided Encinitas would be the best spot.
“My dad knew Encinitas would thrive,” Dennis said. “Everyone who visited Encinitas couldn’t help but fall in love with it.”
Even though his formal education ended after fourth grade, Herman was “very smart” and “had the ability to outwork anyone,” said Dennis, who attributes his work ethic to his father’s lessons.
“I grew up in the business,” Dennis said. “My dad’s deal was, you’re going to start at the very bottom. You’re going to mop the floors of the shop. So I did.”
Like his dad before him, Dennis made his way up the ladder. He purchased the dealership in 1980. With all his experience, Dennis has seen Volkswagen’s popularity wax and wane, a few times over.
“Similar to other retailers with a global presence, we benefit or are the victim of national trends,” he said. “Though our peaks and valleys haven’t been as extreme as other VW dealerships.”
Currently, Herman Cook Volkswagen’s market share is double the average Volkswagen retailer. Dennis offered a few reasons as to why Volkswagens have sold especially well recently and historically in North County. Perhaps it’s because the Volkswagen van has traditionally been popular with surfers. And in the last few years, Volkswagen has put an emphasis on environmentally friendly cars, which a “green” area like Encinitas has been receptive to, Dennis said.
Global trends are a factor in the local dealership’s recent success, too. Volkswagen posted record profits earlier this year, partly thanks to a new line of cars that have been popular in North America.
“We’ve managed to sidestep the recession,” he said.
While there are some external forces that explain Volkswagen’s strong sales in Encinitas, Dennis certainly deserves some credit. Herman Cook Volkswagen received a dealership of the year award from the American International Automobile Dealer Association for business savvy. The dealership was also named the business of the year in 2003 from the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m proud we’ve been so tight-knit,” Dennis said. “We’ll try and stay that way.”
It’s a sentiment that Dennis’ son shares. Connor Cook, the dealership’s finance director, said he hopes to take over his family’s business one day.
“I want to carry on my grandfather’s tradition,” he said.