Auto Repair and Tire Service in Mesa, AZ
Gunnell's Keeps Customers Rolling
Family business has grown with the East Valley
– By Troy Emenecker, East Valley Tribune, Sept 2003
Gunnell's Tires and Service has done everything in the tire business, from retreading wheels to customizing hot rods. While the tread on each tire it sells or services eventually wears down, what hasn't worn out after 61 years is the shop itself.
Initially established by J. Darwin Gunnell is 1942 as an OK Rubber Welder franchise, the store now is owned by Gunnell's youngest son, Doug. He stopped retreading tires nearly 20 years ago, but adapted enough over the past 25 years to keep the business in the family and part of the community.
"We've always tried to change with the times," Gunnell said. "Most of our business remains to be tires, but we've opened to (a) service garage and offer custom services as well."
When Gunnell's dad came to Mesa to open the shop, retreading was the big business of the time, in large part because of the war. He also sold various appliances and radios on the side, and by the 1950s he was doing detailed work on cars.
Gunnell moved next door into the store's current building in 1995, and, by 1962, the store became a Big O franchise.
Doug and his two older brothers hung around the shop and caught on to the tire trade by their teenage years.
"As kids we kind of gravitated to the tire business," he said. "Between my dad and my older brothers, I learned pretty much everything I would need down the road to get by."
By the 1970s, the boys were running most of the store's operations. They bought the business from their dad in 1978, and a year later had two more stores in Mesa and one in Apache Junction. In 1986, they split off, with Doug taking over the downtown Mesa and Apache Junction shops, the latter of which he sold two years later.
Gunnell said business philosophies haven't changed too much, mainly because the same ideas that worked for his dad have worked for him.
"There was an old ad from my dad that said something to the effect of ‘good service, fair pricing, quality product,’" he said. "That was the same for his original customers as it was for their kids, and grandkids, and so forth."
In 2001, Gunnell chose not to remain with Big O - but the consistency of his shop, from regular customers to longtime employees, as made it worthwhile for him to remain in business.
"There's something to be said about opening in the morning and closing at night," he said. "I guess we could have expanded more back then, but I learned to be content with what I had."
Instead, he credits his dad with becoming a presence in Mesa and establishing the customer base that currently exists.
"I'm grateful for the work of my dad," he said. "From 1942 to 1978, he was ‘it.’ He started this whole thing, and I've tried to run things the way we did when he was in charge."