Chet’s marks 50 years as Honda dealer
With a farming operation to run and a large, active family, Keith Child was one of Chet Sole’s earliest customers back in the mid-1960s.
“There were a lot of (motor) bikes around here, and they all came from Chet,” said Child, referring to Chet’s Honda and its late owner and founder Chet Sole.
Child was a loyal customer, buying not only motorbikes and four-wheelers but also lawn and gardening equipment, pumps and other farm equipment. He kept going back over the years, he said, because of the personal service that Chet and his son, Rob Sole, showed not only him but also his children.
“He makes everyone feel like they are a special customer,” Child said. “Both Rob and Chet were like that.”
In business since 1965, Chet’s Honda, 17 H St. S.W., recently was recognized for being a Honda Powersports Dealer for the last five decades.
Established originally as Chet’s Small Engine Repair, Rob Sole has grown the second-generation family business into the most successful Honda dealership in the state. It is among the top 100 across the nation.
Rob expects to begin an expansion of the 51-year-old business in the coming months.
He plans to demolish an old house to the north of Chet’s Honda on property he owns to make way for a new 2,000-square-foot service department. Then, when it is finished, the current building, including the parts area, will be remodeled into one large showroom.
“We’re just trying to do a better job of merchandising,” Rob said recently. “We have so much product in stock, we can’t display it.”
Chet’s Honda was started in a service bay at a gas station that once sat where the parking lot for Akins Harvest Foods is today. The business primarily repaired engines for the wheel lines used on the farms in the area.
Five decades later, the ag community still is the business’ primary customer.
“The farmers are our lifeblood,” Rob said. “If we had to rely on the recreational guys, we would never have made it.”
Rob was only 8 years old when his father opened for business. He remembers those early days as being lean ones. The family relied on his mother’s nursing salary, Rob said. He recalled that in 1966 his father sold 12 motorcycles.
“That’s a good day today,” Rob said.
In 1966, the business was moved to its present location. With the move, Chet became a Honda motorcycle franchise. The business since that time has added onto the building several times.
As for Rob, he joined his father in 1977 after graduating from college. He headed off to college with dreams that did not include his hometown.
“When I left Quincy, I was never coming back,” Rob laughed.
Rob worked for his father for five years and then bought him out, keeping the Chet’s Honda name. But that’s about all that stayed the same; business changed immediately under Rob’s direction, he said. Rob described himself as more of a “promoter” than his father, a gifted mechanic.
The success of the business in the last three decades has resulted from some of his decisions as well as the luck of the economy and developments in both agriculture and his franchise, Rob said.
Rob took over the business at a time when Honda was releasing its new ATV three-wheelers. The business later added the Polaris snowmobile franchise in 1987. Polaris ATVs followed in 1992, as well as a host of other utility vehicles from both Polaris and Honda.
On top of all the industry changes, in the last 15 years, there’s been an “explosion of orchards” in Grant County that’s greatly impacted Chet’s Honda, Rob said. Orchardists have come to rely on the four-wheelers as essential tools in their operations, he said.
“I just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” he said.
As for Child, who is retired from farming today, he still enjoys stopping in at Chet’s Honda with his sons.
“If any of the boys come home, they say, ‘Let’s go to Chet’s,'” Child said. “A lot of times it’s just to see Rob as much as the bikes.”
— By Jill FitzSimmons, email@example.com