In August 1926, Cleveland Burton opened Burton Auto Supply at the corner of Highway 83 and Kansas Avenue. After only three years of business, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. Burton Auto persevered and survived, thanks in part to the Ford Model-T. Fifteen million of these cars were sold between 1908 and 1927. Known as the working-man’s car, it was popular in the Rio Grande Valley during the Depression. Rather than buy new cars, Valley consumers were repairing their old cars during this time. The Model-T became known as the company’s mascot, and to this day, an actual 1926 Model-T is used by Burton Auto for publicity purposes.
By 1952, Burton Auto had outgrown its original location in Weslaco and moved to its present location at 525 East Highway 83. With the agricultural and industrial markets continuing to grow in the Valley, a Bearing and Industrial division was started to service these growing markets. Automotive machine shops were opened during this decade, and qualified mechanics were hired to perform precision machine work as well as work on parts and engines for automobiles, trucks, farm equipment, shrimp boats, draglines and even airplanes.
During the 1960s and ’70s, Burton Auto undertook the task of modernizing its facilities and opened Service Parts Warehouse, a central distribution facility that allowed Burton Auto to supply all of its stores from one location.
Diversifying Burton Companies
The 1980s presented new challenges. The devaluation of the Mexican peso and several hard freezes crippled the Rio Grande Valley economy. Big national chains, like AutoZone and Pep Boys, entered the Valley market and began competing for business. Many longtime Valley businesses were forced to close.
The Burton Companies responded to these challenges in several ways. The company looked for new business avenues and entered the heavy duty truck parts and hydraulics business as a result. Burton Auto became a member of Federated Auto Parts and Truck Pride Heavy Duty program distribution groups and IDC Cooperative. This association of independent distributors from around the country afforded Burton Companies the ability to be competitive with the big national auto parts stores. The company also maintained its commitment to having the most knowledgeable sales staff by making all types of training available to its employees.
The 1990s brought more changes. The Burton Companies became a distributor for Quincy air compressors and put together a factory-trained staff of salesmen and technicians to sell and service air systems in both the U.S. and Mexico. Burton’s hydraulics business was greatly expanded by becoming certified as a Premier Distributor for Aeroquip hose and fittings. This allowed the company to provide its customers with the best prices on Aeroquip products and provide them with top-notch technical assistance.