Some things are just meant to be, especially when legacies become more than simple traditions and traditions become a life’s passion. Michael Joe Cannon is proof of that.
Cannon is an entrepreneur that grew up in Calhoun City. His mother worked in a local grocery store there and his father owned a used car lot. At the time, he had no idea how predestined that used car lot would be when it came to his own life.
“My dad’s car lot was a little one-man operation in Calhoun City,” Cannon said. “It was a simple, 12×12 building with usually about 10 cars out front. He worked hard at that lot until the day he died and I took over after that.”
Cannon graduated from Calhoun City High School and said he’d had a variety of jobs growing up, from selling peanuts on the sidewalks of Calhoun City when he was ten years old to running the local pool hall when he was around 14 or 15 and always helping out his dad at the car lot.
“But everybody has a dream and I was no different,” Cannon said. “Mine was to play professional football. After graduation, I went to Northwest Community College and played football for them. From there, I went to Memphis State, and when my football dream didn’t work out, I got into the second-best thing I could think of: coaching.”
Cannon graduated from Memphis State and went back to Northwest in Senatobia and coached at the school for a little over two years. While at Memphis State, he met his future-wife, Cheryl, who was a cheerleader. They married a few years after that and both worked at Northwest.
“We lived in the athletic dorm there at Northwest,” Cannon said. “Then I got the opportunity to go to Ole Miss as a graduate assistant. So in January 1986, I transferred to Ole Miss, but we continued to live in Senatobia. I just drove back and forth.”
In June of that same year, Cannon’s father passed away. He still owned and operated the car lot in Calhoun City at the time of his death. And Cannon was living his dream at that time; he was going into his first season as offensive line coach at Ole Miss, but he knew his mother was going to need help with his father’s affairs.
“My dad had been very successful with his lot and really hadn’t ever seen the need to grow the business any bigger than it was,” Cannon said. “And that was fine. After his death, I got out of the coaching business and went back to Calhoun City to help my mom. I have one older brother, but he wasn’t interested in the car business at all. I came home to tie up all the loose ends for my mother.”
Cannon said that before he knew it, a year had passed by and he’d collected all his dad’s accounts (his father did all his own financing).
“When I realized a whole year had gone by and not only had I collected all the money my dad had out there,” Cannon said, “I’d turned around and bought more cars. I had literally reinvested the money back into the car lot and was making more money.”
Cannon realized that the time had come for him to make a decision about his professional life.
“I knew I had to decide before I got in so deep that I couldn’t get out,” he said. “So I decided to leave coaching and stay in the car business. After all, it had been very good to my family over the years.”
Today, Cannon knows he made the right decision. He is very proud of his humble beginnings with his father and has never forgotten the things his dad taught him about honesty and treating the customer right and with respect. And if his present success is any indication, he listened. Cannon has turned a small, heirloom business into a state-wide operation that is growing every day.
“I started with my dad’s operation and then in 1989, we added a second used car location in Grenada,” he said. “At that time, my wife was working in Oxford, so we moved there. That’s when I started, not only retailing cars, but wholesaling as well. I would go to new car dealers and buy their trade-ins they didn’t want.”
In September 2001, Cannon signed a contract to buy his first new-car dealership, Delta Chevrolet in Greenwood.
“Delta Chevrolet was downtown Greenwood and it was a Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Cadillac and Nissan dealership,” he said. “I didn’t close on it then, I just signed the contract, but we were going to close on it that next week, but that next week was the 9/11 tragedy. So I didn’t officially take over until October of that same year.”
After Greenwood, Cannon bought the Ford-Lincoln dealership in Cleveland in 2005.
“I just felt like we needed to branch out and get another line going,” he said. “And I knew Cleveland was a great town and the proximity was good, not too far. Then in December 2007, we went to Oxford and bought Rebel Motors, which was a Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick and Cadillac dealership.”
In 2009, Cannon acquired the old Deuce McAllister Nissan Dealership in Jackson and then in November 2011, he opened up his third used car operation, also in Jackson.
“And in August 2013, we opened up Vicksburg Toyota,” Cannon said.
Looking at a professional career that started with one small, family-owned lot in Calhoun City, but today encompasses a total of eight operations state-wide, Cannon knows now that a deeper passion lay beneath football and that was one of entrepreneurship in the car business, a legacy that had been dormant for a while, but revealed itself during a time of need.
“I had some friends in coaching and I watched them move around tremendously,” Cannon said, “every year they were moving somewhere else. And I saw that what I was doing was a good thing, that while my businesses were located in different places, my home base was stable. And I figured out through all of this that I did enjoy the car business, very much. I love the interaction with people and the motivation of staff, which makes my job now similar to coaching. Encouraging employees to strive for more each day and to be the best that they can be at what they’re doing is so much like coaching, it’s amazing. They are my team now and they’re all great.”
Economically, Cannon said that the car business, prior to 2008, were some of the best years for him that he’d ever had.
“Today, we’re selling more cars because we have more locations,” he said, “but the economy is definitely coming back. We see lending sources widening their guidelines, which helps us to sell more cars. It’s not where it was, but it’s definitely coming back, basically because of our great employees and terrific customers.”
Cannon gives the entire credit for his success to his customers and his employees.
“I’ve said all along, all I have to offer the business is my name up there,” he said, “the success is all about the people who work there and our customers.”
A third generation of Cannon’s is getting in the car business, as Cannon’s son, Tyler, is managing the dealership in Cleveland.
“My wife and I have three children, and my oldest son, Tyler, is running the store in Cleveland,” he said. “So we have three generations of Cannon’s who have been in the business. But when Tyler got out of high school, we talked about him taking over the business some day and I told him that in order to be good at something, you have to love what you do. And he does.”
And soon Cannon will be opening his ninth dealership to add to his own growing legacy, another lot in Vicksburg.
“It was Excel Honda in Vicksburg,” Cannon said. “We’ve purchased some property there on Frontage Road where all the car dealerships are and our plan is to build two new stores and move both our Vicksburg dealerships out there beside each other. We will officially take over the Honda dealership on December 1st. I feel like with this purchase, we will have come full circle in the domestic and foreign franchises and will help us to better serve our customer base. This will be the one to round us out and make Cannon Motors of Mississippi complete.”
Angela Rogalski is a HottyToddy.com staff reporter and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story first appeared in the Delta Business Journal, a publication owned by Scott Coopwood, a HottyToddy.com contributor.