It’s been more than 80 years since family patriarch, Edward Napleton, ventured into the automobile industry. And today, that first store on the south side of Chicago has bloomed into more than 60 Napleton franchises across four states.
It all started when a young Edward, a mechanic by trade, opened the first Napleton business on Oct. 24, 1931. It was a Buick service station at 119th and Vincennes in Blue Island, Illinois, and was made possible with a $700 loan.
A letter was sent out to potential customers, which family members said was written by Edward’s wife, Cordula. It announced the business’ grand opening, while promising quality and service, and appealing for loyalty as the new business launched.
“Your influence and name as one of my regular customers, can be of inestimable value to me at this very moment. I must have a live connection with my customers, and I feel sure that if I can establish such a hold, the quality of my ‘SUPER SERVICE’, and my facilities for delivery, will clinch my opportunity,” the letter read.
The Legacy Begins
Edward’s son, Francis, mirrored his father in business even as a school-boy, according to Edward’s great-granddaughter, Bridget Napleton, who works for the business today.
“My grandpa would head there after school, on weekends and during the summers to work with, and learn, from his father, my great-grandfather,” Bridget said.
According to Bridget, Edward always had a dream of turning the business into a big dealership with his son as a partner, and the chance came in the late 1940’s when he opened a Buick franchised DeSoto dealership.
In 1953, Francis joined his father Edward as partner in the business and Napleton began to grow.
Francis started a family, and had eight children in total, six boys and two girls. Five of the boys ultimately joined the family business and continue to work for Napleton today.
Paul, Jerry, Ed and Steve Napleton all are involved in numerous dealerships under the Napleton name in Illinois, Florida, Missouri and Indiana. Some they own together, others they own on their own. But the family name, and legacy, remains.
The youngest son, Bill Napleton, owns Napleton Ford Libertyville and Park Ridge Lincoln, in addition to having interests in dealerships in Glenview, Blue Island, Rockford, Loves Park, Bourbonnais, Calumet City, and Hammond and Shererville, Indiana.
When asked about carrying on his father, and grandfather's legacy for future generations, Bill said ensuring the business thrives is always at the forefront.
"There is a sense of purpose and a mission…that this is not a short term proposition, and we are looking toward the future with a thoughtful mindset," he said.
Bill’s daughter Bridget marks the fourth generation of Napletons at the helm of the business.
"Having my daughter around is very special to me, there is a level of trust and understanding and investment on her part because this is her family business," Bill said.
After graduating from college, Bridget ventured out on her own and worked in advertising, but says she was drawn back by something very strong.
“It’s something that is in your blood, and you can’t run away from it,” Bridget said.
The oldest of five girls, Bridget has worked for the last two years to help bring the business into the 21st century. She's been able to take her experiences in advertising and use them to help fortify the business from a technological standpoint.
“I took on all the websites, social media and tried to freshen up and modernize. My dad needed someone he could trust,” Bridget said.
Though the business climate has changed dramatically over Napleton’s 80-plus year tenure, the way the business is run remains the same.
"Since the beginning, we've always had a real passion for providing the highest quality service for folks, we enjoy the interactions not only with our customers, but our employees as well," said Bill.
“There are ways that we still run the dealerships very old-school. My dad personally goes to every dealership and talks with his employees. That’s something that is hard to find anymore,” Bridget said.
And many employees, including Napleton Ford Libertyville General Manager Kevin Gordon, have stayed with the business for years. Gordon began working at Napleton in 1992.
“Bill has been such a mentor to me, he encouraged me to become a student of this business. I’ve learned so much from him, it’s been a professional and personal growth for me,” Kevin said.
Another of Edward’s great-grandchildren, Conor Scanlon, works in sales for the business at the Park Ridge Lincoln dealership. Conor is Bill's nephew and Bridget first cousin.
“It wasn’t my original plan to work for the family business, but after graduating from college, and when my grandfather [Fran] passed away, I realized what a great business this has been for our family and all of the hard work that built it. This 80-year history is something I have a lot pride of in,” Conor said.
In addition to Bridget and Conor, Ed Napleton's two sons run dealerships in the south suburbs and his daughter runs the Napleton national fleet company. Both of Steve Napleton's sons run Napleton dealerships.
"Many of them didn’t have intentions to go into the [family] business," Bill said, "but they saw the same thing we saw - that there is a tremendous opportunity if you are willing to put in the work."
Editor’s Note: A Driving Legacy is a series showcasing family-owned automotive dealerships with deep roots in their communities. It is part of the Patch mission to celebrate the people, businesses and traditions that are the foundation of our lives. If you would like to be included in this series, please contact Senior Regional Editor Tara Tesimu at firstname.lastname@example.org.