Dunlap & Kyle: A Solid Retail Strategy With a Giving Spirit

Sept. 14, 2022

Wholesaling may grab the spotlight at Dunlap & Kyle Co. Inc., but that shouldn’t be an indication that the company’s 41 retail stores aren’t an important piece of the profitability puzzle.

The stores are spread across four states - Arkansas, Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee - and operate under the Gateway Tire & Service brand. Collectively, their sales are a 55% mix of tires and 45% service.

Joe Dunlap leads the company’s retail efforts. And like any enterprising tire dealer, he is brainstorming ways to recruit new employees.

He says one of the company’s master technicians in Nashville is taking automotive school graduates under his wing.

“They have the knowledge, but don’t have the hands-on experience. So they come to us. We just graduated the first three.”

Training is one thing, but Joe says the company’s biggest differentiator is its compensation program. It’s modeled after Les Schwab’s plan. At year end, half of the profits are shared with employees.

“People make good money,” he says. “We had some young boys (who) mount tires, fix flats. They’re 20-some years old. One got a bonus check for $15,000. Another one got $13,000. Not a lot of companies pay that kind of bonus to a tire tech. Those guys who got those bonuses, they’re not going anywhere.

“Your customers are important because if you don’t have customers, you don’t have anything. But your people - if you don’t have good people, what have you got? You’ve got nothing. Pay them and be generous. Then they want to be with you because they’ll know you’re going to take care of them.”

Joe Dunlap is proud of his father’s generous spirit.

“One of the finest things you can do is to give that money to someone who needs it, because my family doesn’t need it.” 

He cites this Bible verse: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”

Joe says that “a lot of people are struggling. We don’t know what’s going to happen with the economy. Ordinary people have problems. Somebody’s got to help them.”

As he talks, a family that visited a Gateway Tire store last year comes to mind. A tire on their car was worn out and they didn’t have the money to replace it. The store manager called him and asked him what to do.

“I said, ‘You give them four new tires and wish them well. We don’t need those four tires. That’s the best thing you can do.’”

It’s a philosophy that’s been handed down through the generations at Dunlap & Kyle. Joe remembers going for car rides with his grandfather. They’d get up in the morning and ride out into the country, stopping to ask people how they were doing and if they needed a ride anywhere. 

“To me, that was a big deal,” he says. “I’m very proud of that.”

Generosity Runs in the Dunlap family

All three of Bob Dunlap’s sons followed him into the tire business. The oldest, Michael, is semi-retired, but has led the company’s purchasing department. Joe’s expertise is in the retail side of the business, while the youngest, Richard, oversees some of the company’s wholesale operations.

The men’s two sisters, Amy and Angela, don’t work in the family business, though some of their children have joined the ranks over the years.

Bob says, “I don’t worry about the girls, but the boys - I don’t mind putting the heat on them. I can assure you they’re going to work.”

Joe and Richard agree their father’s sense of responsibility  and inclination to be generous - are his greatest attributes and reasons why he’s been successful.

At age 92, Bob Dunlap “gets up and comes to work and does what he thinks he’s supposed to do,” says his son, Richard. “He feels a sense of responsibility to the people in the company and to the community and whatever he’s involved with.”

Richard remembers an incident when he was a college student. His dad brought home a local, colorful character. Some might have called him “the village idiot.” Richard was annoyed by the whole spectacle.

Later that night, his father asked him what made him so special that he couldn’t be bothered by someone who was a little different.

It was a humbling experience. “You know a big ego when you see one. But he’s not doing it for attention.”

About the Author

Joy Kopcha | Managing Editor

After more than a dozen years working as a newspaper reporter in Kansas, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, Joy Kopcha joined Modern Tire Dealer as senior editor in 2014. She has covered murder trials, a prison riot and more city council, county commission, and school board meetings than she cares to remember.