King of the road

For 50 years Melway has helped Melburnians travel around our great city, Jesse Wray-McCann reports

When Melbourne's street directory Melway started out on its journey 50 years ago, it was almost thrown off course even before making it into drivers' hands.

Merv Godfrey and Iven Mackay had spent five years creating the first edition - in a Mt Waverley shed - and in 1966 were ready to spruik Melbourne's first ever multicoloured street directory to shop owners.

Mr Godfrey's wife Barbara, who had no experience in sales, was given the daunting task of convincing businesses that customers would be prepared to pay $3 - double the price of other directories - for a premium product.

Mrs Godfrey set out from the family home in Mt Waverley and made the Huntingdale newsagency one of her first targets.

But she was so wracked with nervousness the shop owner suggested she settle her nerves and try again.

The tactic worked and the newsagency became the first ever account for Melway.

The Godfrey's son, Murray - who is now co-director with his brothers David and Dean - said that encounter was pivotal.

"The way the shop owner handled the situation must have really helped give Mum the confidence she needed to do the job," Mr Godfrey said.

Mr Godfrey said the family business had seen massive change over its 50 years.

It began with Merv drawing the maps by hand with pen and ink in a shed in his backyard, then shifted on to computers in the 1990s and 2000s, before battling with Google and other technology giants for a share in the navigation market.

But one thing has prevailed through the decades: Merv's tireless work ethic and dedication to quality.

Although his father died three years ago, Mr Godfrey said Merv's legacy lives on.

"We've always had an attitude of knuckling down and getting the work done," Mr Godfrey said.

"That comes from Dad, because he was always working hard in the back shed."

With the global financial crisis in 2008 and the rise of navigation devices and apps, Melways has seen its sales drop off significantly in the past eight years, but Mr Godfrey said the business was still going strong and steady.

"It's much tougher these days, but our big advantage is that we're up to date, we're at least two years ahead of anybody else," he said.

"Every year there are between 800-1500 new streets for us to add."

Mr Godfrey said Melway would be around for many years to come and keep it's place in hundreds of thousands of vehicles.