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Billy Canales built Rio Motor Company “From The Bottom Up”

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It is a Chevrolet GMC dealership that now has a brand-new multimillion-dollar building.

Billy Canales built Rio Motor Company  “From The Bottom Up”

Texas Border Business – 

By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

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His idea from the beginning was to succeed in life and make it “All the Way to the Top,” Obidio (Billy) C. Canales a Veteran of the Cold War told Texas Border Business. After graduating and earning his diploma from La Feria High School, he enlisted. Billy did not have a university education so when his tour of duty was finished he enrolled in a business trade school in Harlingen, Texas.

“I went to that school under the GI Bill; I had served for four years and had been an aircraft mechanic in the United States Air Force. As soon as I got out of the Air Force I started school and then I went to work at Welch Chevrolet dealership in San Benito Texas, this was in July 1962.” Billy started in the parts department.

He has been working in Chevrolet dealership businesses for 51 years. He said, “I’ve been an owner dealer for 20 years.” And like he says, he started “From the Bottom Up.”

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Billy was born to Jose L. Canales and Estela Cabrera Canales, who were migrant farm workers. He grew up in La Feria, Texas where his family worked in the packing sheds and then traveled north to work in the cotton fields and cherry farms to name just a few. “We did a lot of that, my parents and my younger brother Antonio, who was ten years younger than I.”

He remembers that his parents instilled in him the value of being a hard worker and doing everything to get an education. “I remember when I first started school at six years of age; we were working in Michigan in the beet fields. My mother and I left and took the train from Michigan all the way back to Harlingen. She wanted me to start school on time while my father stayed behind working the fields.”

Billy is now the owner and operator of Rio Motor Company in Rio Grande City. It is a Chevrolet GMC dealership that now has a brand new multimillion-dollar building.

But this didn’t come easy; he said that he was faced with real challenges having to do with the effects of the U.S. economy. He said, “The biggest challenge that we had was at the beginning in October of 2008 when General Motors filed for bankruptcy, and then so did Dodge and Chrysler.” He continued, “The banks shut us down, and that went on through 2009.”

Billy says that it was in the beginning of 2010 during the first quarter when things started turning around. But during the previous year and a half, car dealerships had no banks to do their financing for cars. He said, “We had to continue to pay the interest on what we call our floor plan. A lot of us just didn’t know if we were going to get through this; we kept saying next month and next month. Many of us used our savings that we had and any cash that we had built up.”

Most of the operators of auto dealerships lost all their savings in order to keep their businesses afloat. He said, “The other problem that we had was the general public’s perception that the government bailed out General Motors and that we also received part of the financial assistance.” He said, “I would hear them talking in the back in restaurants, but the truth is we didn’t get any of that money. We had to make it on our own; each one of us stands on their own.”

Billy has always been mechanically inclined. The fact he started in the parts department, gave him a great ability to move up through all the departments.

Once he got into this business he was invited to move to Houston to run a large parts department but he declined. He worked at Tipotex Chevrolet in Brownsville as a bookkeeper, but after two years he realized that was not what he wanted to do, so he went back to parts and service.

Billy had the opportunity to work with technology that by today’s standards is totally obsolete. They would control all orders for the parts department by phone and would direct them to Houston. Later came the Teletype that had a little ribbon that would cut binary holes in it. He said, “I would punch in the automotive part numbers, and later came the computers.”

After working 14 years with Tipotex Chevrolet he moved to Clark Chevrolet and worked there for 13 years. “In 1994, the dealership in Rio Grande City became available and that’s when I made the move.” He continued, “By then I had been a member of the National Parts Council for GM and was the only person south of Houston that had been elected to those positions. These memberships at the national level gave me the opportunity to get to know a lot of people, so I decided to make my move into the dealership in 1994.”

How did Clark feel about you leaving his company to start out on your own? “They helped me.” He said, “Mr. Kirk Clark was very happy and instrumental in helping me to make the transition.”

During that time, Billy lived in Harlingen, and his wife Dolores (Castillo) Canales worked at Valley Baptist Hospital in the accounting department; she did it for 27 years. So by taking the opportunity of a dealership in Rio Grande City he had to drive for a long time to attend his business. He said, “My kid, my last-born was just graduating from high school, so she just stayed in Harlingen until she finished.”

Billy said he met his wife, Dolores, during a wedding reception at the Mercedes Civic Center, and from there the rest is history.

They have three beautiful daughters, Lisa Canales, the oldest is the General Manager and Vice President of the dealership; Laura Canales Bontempo who lives in San Antonio, and Linda Canales White who lives in Kauai, Hawaii.

Billy has had an interesting life, when he was with the Air Force as a mechanic he worked with the B52 bombers. “I was in Roswell, New Mexico during the time of the Cold War with Russia.” He said, “We had a B52 plane in the air 24/7. It took off from Roswell going over Canada through Goose Bay Air Base, in Labrador and it went over Alaska by Russia, came back around and it refueled in flight.

Billy explained that the missiles from Russia were pointed at us, and our missiles were pointed at Russia. He said, “If for some reason, that bomber had to come down or it had mechanical problems, a second B-52 was ready to take off before the first one landed.

When the Cold War ended, Billy was sent back to work with U2 spy planes; these were ultra-high altitude reconnaissance aircraft operated by the Air Force.

Today, even with the heavy load of running a dealership, he finds the time to give back to his community by participating with non-profit organizations that bring help or progress to the community.

He is a Rotarian and has been secretary for nine consecutive years. He was president of the Star County Fair as well as Starr County Industrial Foundation of which he is currently a board member. He is involved in many activities, except politics.

One thing he remembers is that when he worked for somebody else he was able to play golf often, today that is not the case.

One of his accomplishments this year is a new Rio Motor Company building from which he operates. Billy bought 8.3 acres located where the Fort Ringgold Hotel used to be, and built his new and updated to state-of-the-art dealership. Rio Motor Co. pulls about 20 percent in sales from customers living in the upper Valley and even from Zapata and Laredo as well.

Congratulations to Billy Canales and his family on the new building for Rio Motor Company in Rio Grande City, Texas.

Billy Canales was selected to be the feature Exclusive story for the month of November 2014 for his passion and tenacity in going all the way to the top in his business and for his commitment to the communities where he operates.

For more information, check out their advertisement on the back page of this issue.

Written by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez, the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year Award Winner and the 2009 and 2012 Rotary Paul Harris Award recipient. TBB

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