In 1982, Willis J. Johnson founded Copart in California with only one salvage yard. After going public in 1994 (CPRT), Copart has transformed itself into a worldwide salvage auto auction company through means of technological expansion. Members sign onto their online accounts to search for a vehicle and bid in live internet auctions. In addition to their role as an auto auction company, Copart is also considered a real estate company as they own 95% of all their locations. General Manager Mike Zengel lauded founder Willis Johnson, stating: “Willis has very conservative, Christian principles. When he started a new location, he and his wife would pray on every corner of the building that he was making the right choices and doing the right thing, taking care of employees and customers the right way. I think that those strong fundamentals of how he built this company are why we have continued to grow as such a stable company.”
Copart has locations in New Orleans and Shreveport, but another location needed to be strategically placed in south Louisiana, especially during hurricane season to alleviate pressure in New Orleans. Mike Zengel is the General Manager of the Copart location in Central on Greenwell Springs Road, which includes 140 acres of land, some of which is in reserve for potential expansion to hold 7000 more vehicles. “We need a lot of land to be able to run this kind of business. As the company expands, it’s hard to find the real estate and the zoning to have this type of business. So, you have to look outside of city limits in a lot of cases,” Zengel said, “There are people all over the world buying cars right here out of Central.”
Twenty people work at the Copart in Central, all of whom live in the Central and Greenwell Springs area. To protect the company from excessive liability, the drivers at Copart are independent contractors.
About three years ago, Zengel transferred to the City of Central from Florida. “I moved from an area voted ‘prettiest beach in the United States’ to Greenwell Springs, so it was an adjustment, but there’s nice people here.” Zengel noted the different personalities and customer interactions in each Copart location and expressed he found those in Central to be especially trustworthy.
The majority of Copart’s business is insurance companies. Zengel explained the cyclical process that they follow after accidents. Insurance companies use a point system to determine if the car goes to the shop or to Copart. From there, the insurance company has the owner send the title of the vehicle to Copart. Copart then processes the title back to the insurance company’s name through the state of Louisiana.
Members can come onto site to look at the cars to turn them on and inspect the vehicle prior to purchase. Despite the opportunity, 98% of Copart buyers never set foot onto the property to see their purchased vehicle. “We try to describe it as best we can,” Zengel said, though he noted some confusion for customers who don’t understand the extent of what “front end damage” can mean. However, the biggest Copart buyers are parts companies, not individuals.
As he stressed the importance of high customer service, Zengel also emphasized the importance of employees enjoying their workplace. “A lot of opportunity is here if you were to start with a company like Copart,” Zengel said, “As we continue to expand, they need experienced people all over the company.” The company provides a Leadership Development Program (LDP) for recent college graduates. Zengel praised the program, “You are taught every bit of this business from top to bottom.”
Zengel attributes the growth of the company to the expansion allowed through the internet. “As long as people keep driving cars and wrecking cars, we’re going to have business,” he said. Recent expansions into Brazil, China and India suggest promising prospects for the company as a whole. “The company is going to continue to grow,” he finished, “We can’t build our locations fast enough.”