BETHANY, Mo.—Looking back on six decades of serving U-Haul, customers might be compared to gazing down and around from the summit of Mount Everest: You marvel at how far you’ve come on a long and often arduous journey, while basking in the pride of having achieved the success that’s made your business a community and U-Haul Company landmark.
Jerry VanMeter reflects on 60 years of his family dealership serving the self-moving public in and around Bethany, Mo.. He is justifiably proud of the challenges he, his dad, Carl, and his grandfather, Dale, overcame to achieve this highly respected benchmark for Hillcrest Service Station and U-Haul Dealership.
The down-the-generations operation came alive in 1953, when Dale and Carl bought Hillcrest Service Station, a combination gas/service station and farm-supply store. The previous owners decided to retire, so Carl took on the duties and chores of the service station while Dale ran the farm-supply side of the business. A few years later, when the U-Haul Dealership across the street from Hillcrest closed its doors, the VanMeters agreed to handle the U-Haul Dealership temporarily until another area dealer could be found.
“But the U-Haul business went so well that we signed up for good,” Carl VanMeter told U-Haul News in 2001.
Years passed. The gasoline pumps disappeared and the farm-supply business closed down after Dale passed away, but the U-Haul business soldiered on. After Carl passed away in 2011, Jerry ran this business with his wife, Donna.
Challenges and triumphs
Jerry VanMeter recalls the challenges and triumphs of running a U-Haul Dealership, but notes two critical situations that went far beyond the hard work of manhandling and attaching heavy multiclamp bumper hitches, and safety-pinning light hookups.
VanMeter’s life-altering experience burst upon him in the form of a 2013 go-kart crash that nearly cost him his life. It happened on a practice go-kart track in Jerry’s back yard that was built by his son Jeremy and some other friends.
“Up until the night of the crash, eighth-mile straight-track racing had always been a major part of my life,” he reminisced, “but that accident ‘put paid’ to my racing career. After the tumbling stopped and my son Jeremy pulled me from the go-kart’s mangled frame, I wound up with a broken palate and some other fractured bones, contusions and bruises.”
A month later, he suffered a stroke, but none of that dampened this U-Haul Dealer’s indomitable spirit. With the help of his family, VanMeter marched down the long road to recovery while keeping his service station business and U-Haul Dealership alive and thriving.
Getting out there and serving customers
For VanMeter, the most important aspect of building and maintaining a successful U-Haul Dealership is staying in the public eye so that people know who you are … and are made aware of the services you provide to the community.
“Everyone in Bethany knows who I am,” VanMeter affirmed. “The dealership has been here for 60 years, so folks know where to come to fulfill their household moving needs.”
Donna VanMeter stressed that running a U-Haul Dealership takes time and nearly infinite patience.
“You have to make sure that all of your customers are satisfied,” she noted, “because you get all kinds of people coming in to rent U-Haul equipment, and each one’s needs are different. We’re here for our customers whenever they need us. After hours, customers call us at home … and we always come down to the station to help them out. That’s simply the way we do business.”
High marks from MCP and AFM
“It has been a pleasure working with the VanMeter family over the years,” praised Gary Wittkopp, marketing company president, UHC of Northern Kansas. “They are definitely the U-Haul family of Bethany.
“Over the years,” Wittkopp continued, “many of their family members have helped with the U-Haul side, and they all are willing to do whatever it takes to help our customers. I have had the pleasure of going back 40 years with them, and always enjoyed seeing the pride they took in being a partner with U-Haul.”
“When it comes to representing our brand, no one does it better than Jerry and his team in Bethany,” noted Area Field Manager Andrew Montanino, UHC of Northern Kansas. “In a small town, it seems that everyone knows everyone, and EVERYBODY knows that whether they are moving or just need to haul a lawn mower to a repair shop, to stop by Hillcrest Service.”
What businesses have been a part of your community for six decades or more? Tell us about it in the comments!