Tornado Destruction Allows for Expansion
Location’s Sales Doubled After Rebuild
March 28, 2020, was a Saturday and the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic was still fresh. The crew at the Gateway Tire & Service Center in Jonesboro, Ark., had worked their typical morning shift. And at noon employees locked the door and went home for the weekend.
Five hours later, an EF-3 tornado leveled the 15-bay store and warehouse. The National Weather Service measured wind speeds of 140 mph. The path of destruction was five miles long.
Danny Cook, the store’s manager, had celebrated a pair of family birthdays that afternoon. By the time he and his wife got home, storms were popping up. He tuned into a local television station’s weather coverage. One of the station’s cameras provided a perfect view of the massive, charcoal-colored cloud approaching town and the twister that dropped from it. Quickly, there were large chunks of debris swirling in the air and electrical flashes.
In an instant, Cook says he knew the store had been hit. “It just went ‘poof.’”
Later that day, someone sent him a photo to confirm his hunch. It was a disaster.
Law enforcement was on the scene. There was no power. He and his boss decided it was best to meet at the store in the morning.
Cook had worked at the location for 33 years. He missed the turn into the parking lot that morning. It was unrecognizable.
Not a single piece of shop equipment could be salvaged. Customers’ cars that had been left in the lot were destroyed. Employees eventually gathered to dig tires out of the wreckage.
Cook says there was never a question of whether they would rebuild. He met with Dunlap & Kyle Co. Inc. owner Bob Dunlap shortly after the storm.
“Mr. Dunlap said, ‘You’ve been there a long time and you know what you need. If someone says no, you tell them I’m writing the check and I’ll take care of it.’”
The company has a preferred construction company it works with to build many of its new warehouses and stores. But Cook had a few people in mind who could cover some of the work.
“I said I’d really like to use people that are our customers — the roofing companies, the plumbers, the electricians,” he says. “It was our chance to give back to them for stuff they had bought from us for years.”
Dunlap was receptive to that idea, so he used as many local contractors as possible.
One of the store’s customers came forward offering the use of a building he had available. It was much smaller than what the Gateway team was used to — six service bays compared to the original 15 — and there wasn’t a single piece of equipment inside of it, but it was something. Cook went to work ordering equipment.
One month later, Gateway Tire reopened in Jonesboro.
The Gateway Tire team made that smaller location work for the next year. It meant repairs on commercial tires were done outside, no matter if it was raining or snowing. “We’re a little different than other tire stores,” says Cook. “We do anything from a wheelbarrow tire to a log skidder tire — not just passenger and light truck.”
As the team made do in that smaller space, the original location on Caraway Road was cleared for new construction. And with a chance to start from scratch, the company optimized every square inch for the retail operation. The wholesale warehouse moved 15 miles away to Trumann, Ark.
The new retail store has 29 service bays, including two on the end that are big enough to accommodate 18-wheelers, backhoes and other large equipment. There are dedicated alignment bays and three oil change stations. Another drive-through bay houses Hunter Engineering Co.’s Quick Check inspection lane.
The whole service area is heated for the winter. Giant ceiling fans keep the air moving in the summer.
There’s a conveyor belt to load tires into the two-story storage room that houses 1,500 units. Containers behind the building are used to store truck tires.
A large lobby has multiple seating areas, customer workstations and televisions. Five people staff the front sales counter, plus there’s another desk for an employee who handles all of the store’s parts billing. There’s a separate, enclosed kids’ lounge, with toys and a television that broadcasts the Disney Channel.
There’s a conference room for staff meetings and training sessions and the kitchen area doubles as a tornado safe room. It’s large enough to fit both staff and customers.
“We requested that,” Cook says. “You never know.”
The building was insured for $4 million. Cook says its final construction price totaled around $5 million. The new space opened to customers in July 2021, 15 months after the tornado roared through town.
The expansion is already paying dividends. In the first six months of 2022, Dunlap & Kyle President Dennis King says the store recorded $2.3 million in sales. It’s on track to double its annual pre-tornado sales. Tires account for 80% of the Jonesboro location’s overall business.
Cook says he’s proud of the store and his team. But he’s also glad the rebuilding phase is over.
“I don’t want to do this again.”