Frank Belk is the patriarch of a legendary Oxford automobile family.
Frank’s grandfather started out as a farmer and part-time blacksmith raising cotton in Taylor and Burgess, Miss. “When the boll weevil destroyed the crop around 1919, Frank says his grandfather moved the family to Oxford and they’ve been here ever since.
With his blacksmith background, Frank Belk Senior started a garage working on the machine version of horse-powered carriages, the Model T. At the dawn of the depression, the Belks bought property where the current Locals restaurant is located on the Oxford Square. A prosperous machine shop and garage grew up on one of the most traveled spots in Oxford.
Answering his country’s call, Frank Jr., the current Frank Belk’s dad, shipped out for Europe. But even in the midst of the furious fighting, Frank Jr. wrote his father about his desire to return home safely to Oxford and finalize a business partnership with Frank Sr.
The young GI’s return and the explosion of the American car business coincided perfectly and the Belk family was soon selling every Chrysler and Dodge they could get their hands on. “There was real demand,” explained Frank III, “because the car companies has stopped making vehicles during the war.”
Frank’s grandfather died in 1954 and his dad switched from Dodge Chrysler to Ford in 1961. By 1974, young Frank Belk III was working part-time at his father’s dealership on the Square. “Granddad died in in 1954,” Frank said. “Dad let Chrysler go in 1961, and took on Ford.”
Frank went to work for his Dad in 1974.
“When I wasn’t playing ball I worked in the shop and we had a great crew that included David Levy who worked for the Belk family as service manager for 56 years,” Frank recalled.
“I just liked being around cars,” he added. “In those years, you not only sold cars, you did a little bit of everything including working on them and washing them, when necessary.”
After graduating from Ole Miss in 1982, brother Richard came to work at Belk, making the operation even more family-oriented. But the biggest move was yet to come.
“In December, 1985 we moved out here (Highway 6),” Frank said, “and soon after added our Toyota dealership, which has been very successful. As the town of Oxford grew, our business grew and the location out here suited our needs perfectly. There’s been ups and downs — but many more ups.”
Belk Fold and Toyota employs 46 people, including 10 car salesman, three managers and five clerical people. The dealership operates sales, parts, rental, service and leasing components.
As dealer, principal and president, Frank was hopeful of brining the next generation of Belks into the family business after his father and mentor Frank Jr. passed away in 1997.
That’s exactly what happened and Frank couldn’t be happier when sons Will and John Michael joined the business. Will is the used car manager and John Michael is the company’s finance manager.
“Having my boys here is a dream come true,” Frank said. “It’s great. I couldn’t ask for any more.”
The Belks like to do things as a family. Going to Ole Miss is no different. Frank Jr., Frank III, RIchard and Frank’s boys are all Rebels.
Will Belk took that Rebel streak and went to Colorado for a while, following his passion for playing rugby. The call of family and the car business carried the adventurer home after five years and now Will Belk believes he has found his place in life.
“I love taking care of customers and treating them in such a way that they come back as repeat customers,” he said. “That’s the entire key to success in the car business. We enjoy being such an important part of the community and giving back to the home we love and people who are less fortunate. That’s why we sponsor many causes. Right now we’re very involved in Special Olympics.”
John Michael owned his own Cajun Crawfish distribution company and sold the successful business.
“When dad asked if I’d like to join him, I was here the next morning,” he said. “I like the car business because I’m not at a desk all day. I’m a type-A personality and I like meeting and dealing with different kids of people.”
Frank Belk says the car industry in Oxford remains strong despite the economic downturn. “It did affect our real estate business and we’ve gotten out of real estate for the most part, although we still own the old property where Locals is now. There’s other dealerships out here now, and even though it’s a competitive environment, we’re friendly with one another.”
Frank adds that because Belk owns its its property the dealership is able to pass savings along to the customer.
“We can save people money because we own our building and our real estate cost are low,” Frank said.
Frank says his family’s entire philosophy is summed up in six simple words always in play at Belk Ford and Toyota: “We take care of our customers.”
Andy Knef is editor of HottyToddy.com.