WAXAHACHIE — He had worked as a mortician, milk deliveryman and furniture salesman. Never once during any of those gigs, among others, did Bill Larkin ever see himself as a tire salesman and certainly not one who recently celebrated 25 years of running his own small business in Ellis County.
The original shop that housed six sizes of tires and served as the combo office and workspace still stands at 631 Sardis Road. There are even still a few sizes and brands of tires inside.
But Sardis Tires and Wheels has long outgrown the small sheet metal covered room that sold half a dozen tires on its opening day. The family-owned, and, in a sense completely family-operated business now sells upwards of 75 tires a day. Of course, the roughly 2,000 tires in stock needed adequate storage space, too, so the building and complex have also expanded.
“It was very slow when I first started,” said owner Bill Larkin from inside the front office while a pair of customers waited — and not for long — on their vehicles to be serviced. “There was only one building here and I think we sold about six tires on that first day."
He added, “business has been very good to us, and we have increased every year since we have been here. We feel like we are the lowest price around, open seven days a week and have you in-and-out in 20 minutes. But, we also give good service and aren’t going to sell you a tire unless you need it.”
Sardis Tires and Wheels was born out of a friendship that began just a few miles down the road at Hilltop Lanes, which is where Larkin, L.H. and Gary Thompson bowled together during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Thompsons, who still own Thompson Tire in Waxahachie, wanted out of one side or the other of the tire business, explained Larkin.
“They wanted to get rid of one part of their business, so they kept the wholesale side and sold me the retail. The rest, just happened,” Larkin explained. He added that, even though he credits part of his success to having already known the community and a “habit” of waking up at 4:30 a.m. every day, “I owe a lot of it to Gary Thompson and those guys. Gary has just been awesome.”
When asked if the thought of being in business for a quarter century had yet crossed his mind, Larkin responded, “It just seems like it has been a long time” and added it is easy to show up when everyone feels like “part of the family.”
“Most (employees) have been here 10 years, but some have been with us for as many as 18 or 19 years,” said Tim Larkin, Bill’s son. “They have a boss who respects them and takes care of them and there aren’t many places where you have a boss who works just as hard as they do.”
Tim, who was three years old when his father opened the shop in June 1992, graduated from Waxahachie High School in 2007 and moved into a full-time role at the tire shop in 2009 after attending Tarleton State University. He then graduated from Texas A&M — Commerce in 2011 with a bachelor degree in business and became an assistant manager alongside 11-year employee, Patrick Briones.
It was also Tim who created the “Wild Bill” logo — in jest — that can now be seen on t-shirts, koozies, decals and advertisements. Fifty shirts later and “Wild Bill” begrudgingly decided the caricature with large reading glasses and iconic mustache needed to stick around for a while.
Bill also said that when “Wild Bill” takes his final ride to Sardis as the full-time owner, Tim will be the one to take over the reins.
According to both Larkins, Tim brings the technology aspect to Sardis while his dad supplies the mindset created during the “bust-your-ass generation,” as the younger described it.
Where there were once notepads or carbon copies are now iPads, wifi and an interactive website — and even a gate alarm that sends a notification to Tim’s phone every day, like clockwork, at 5:30 a.m., letting him know the old man has made it into work.
“I can’t ask for a better boss. At first, it was tough working with family, but it just took some time to get that separation,” Tim said. “My only goal now is to make it to 50 (years of business) and keep dad’s hard work going.”
*Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Ellis County Business Journal, a Daily Light special publication.