‘Melton Motors Celebrates 75 Years In The World Of Chevrolet’
By Fred Arnold Telescope Publisher
Read online at www.thebellevilletelescope.com
Growing up in the Melton household in the 1950s and 60s, there was only one word and one vehicle……Chevy. Fast forward three-quarters of a century and it’s still that way.
“In our house, it was either Chevy or Oldsmobile…nothing else,” Jim Melton said. And while Olds is a long-gone brand Melton said for four generations, past, present and future it’s still “all about the Chevy bow tie.”
Melton Motors in Belleville, Kansas celebrated a milestone anniversary this week having been in business for 75 years.
The company was founded in 1944 by Melton’s father H.T. Melton. The business expanded from its original location in downtown Belleville to a larger facility on Highway 81. In addition to cars and light trucks, Melton Motor Co., made a name for itself as one of the Midwest’s largest dealers of Freightliner trucks. According to records from Belleville Telescope archives, Melton’s has sold vehicles to the Port of Durbin on the southern tip of South Africa. Other sales have been made to faraway places including Tel Aviv Israel and Hawaii.
The elder Melton passed the torch for his love of the business on to his sons Jim, Jerry, and John. Jim and Jerry began working for the company in 1970 and John in 1974. Jim and Jerry still work for the company in sales and parts respectively.
The next generation of Meltons has also gotten active within the family business as Jim’s son Jimmy works in sales while his other son Josh is the service manager. Melton said a fourth generation is starting to get his feet wet in the business as grandson Trey works parttime.
When reflecting back on 75 years in Belleville Melton said a lot has changed and continues to change.
“The biggest thing is we used to sell mainly passenger cars,” he said. “Hardly anyone buys a car anymore, everything has gone to SUV’s, cross-over vehicles and pickups,” he said. “It used to be a pickup was for work on the farm but now trucks are made where they are more luxurious than just about anything else on the road.”
Melton said service is also a big part of what the company does.
“We have to,” he said. “Most of our income used to be on the sales side but now it takes both sales and service to make it.”
One of the more unique aspects of the business at Melton Motors is they are a dealer for Chevy Corvettes. Melton said there aren’t that many Corvette dealers in the Midwest and very few, if any, in communities the size of Belleville.
“I guess I have always had a soft spot for Vettes,” he said. “For us, they go out of the showroom just as fast as we get them in and in a lot of cases our inventory is already sold before we even get it.”
Melton said he and his family had to get creative to keep Chevrolet in Belleville. He noted that several years ago during “the Chevy purge” in which many communities lost their GM dealers, it took a lot of effort and work to keep the Belleville operation going.
“GM expects their dealers to meet certain criteria with training, service, sales quotas and operating capital, we were able to make it work,” he added.
During the company’s 75 years Melton said one story stands out in his mind and revolves around the shutting down of the Oldsmobile line.
“We were getting honored as being a 50-year dealership for Oldsmobile and on the very day company reps were in town to give us a plaque, the company announced it was shutting down the line. The company reps didn’t even know about it, it was really awkward,” Melton said.
Melton added that as the company moves forward it is important to keep “family” involved. “Being honored for 75 years isn’t all that unusual,” he said. “There are dealerships who have been honored for 80, 90 and even 100 years, but they all are mostly family businesses and that’s what we are.”
Melton said that while a lot has changed in 75 years, he is certain more change is ahead. He said self-driving and electric cars are going to be a big thing. Though he says GM really doesn’t have it figured out yet for rural America where the nearest charging port might be 200 miles away.
As for what the future will bring for Melton Motors he said the company will do what it has always done: “Keep on keeping on.”