The dealership’s resurrection and grand opening Thursday evening of its new showrooms and service center represents the continuing story of American and community spirit, entrepreneurship, family business and faith.
Many of the same friends and customers who lobbied General Motors in 2009 to keep the Buick, Cadillac and GMC franchises in Cleveland helped the Don Ledford family celebrate its story, history and new beginning.
Thursday was the conclusion of a chapter in the story that began publicly unfolding in November 2009 when Debbie Ledford Melton, accompanied by her father Don Ledford, appealed to the Cleveland City Council for support in their struggle to retain the franchises of three GM nameplates. The appeal to the Council came a week after a similar appearance in front of the Bradley County Commission.
Since that low point, the Don Ledford Automotive Center has undergone a transformation that is now complete, but the story is not. Not only did the dealership keep its three brands, but added Chevrolet in the process.
“Welcome to our new beginning here at Don Ledford Automotive Center. We are here tonight to celebrate a victory that would not have been possible had it not been for this community,” Debbie Melton remarked before cutting a big, red ribbon. “In 2009, when 2,400 dealers across the country lost their franchise, our family business was one of them.”
Don Ledford Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac‘s story began 33 years ago in an open, empty field on North Lee Highway featuring Pontiac and Buick. At the time, no one knew what was in store for this area, but Ledford had a vision and today it has come full circle.
“He had a vision of what this area would one day become and Dad, you were right on target,” she said. “Today, the corner on North Lee Highway is the center of a business district with a shopping mall, restaurants and a lot of future development on the drawing board.”
Melton now leads the dealership and she willingly accepted the challenge to keep the family business thriving and to bring it into the 21st century with a modern facility far above industry standards.
In 2009, when General Motors dealerships across the nation were being closed, she began to rally the community to save her family’s business and carry on the tradition her father had established.
“When I saw what my Dad had developed being threatened by closure, I knew we could not let this happen and many of you here today were among the thousands who showed up for our support rally. You signed petitions, made YouTube videos, emailed and made personal phone calls to General Motors — and they listened.
“After more than a two-year battle, we not only got our three brands back, but we were able to return Chevrolet to the Cleveland market,” she said. “It is with a grateful and humble heart that I stand before you, truly amazed at the support we received from so many people and humbled by the grace of God that gave us strength each day to pursue our dream.”
She said the employees who stayed the course and believed in her were the unsung heroes in the story.
While Melton credited everyone else for the family’s success, the regional director of Buick-GMC, Brad Flaaen, said Melton swayed his decision after about 30 seconds into her presentation. He recalled going home two years ago after hearing Melton make her pitch and telling his wife “of the impressive woman who gave her presentation to be our dealer. Her enthusiasm and the marketing plan she laid out was clearly head and shoulders above everybody else.”
Chevrolet Zone Manager Kent Borough said perseverance and tenacity came to his mind when he thought of Melton.
“She persevered through this and I think she developed a wonderful place for her customers to get the best experience in Cleveland to buy a new car,” he said. “She puts a lot of emotion into what she is doing. She’s dedicated and committed. Those are contagious attributes when you work with someone like that — and she puts the customer in front of everything she does.”