When Tabatha Anderson started working at a Statesboro tire store 30 years ago, she had no idea she would one day own the very same business.
“I started out answering phones,” Anderson said. “I needed a job, and Mack Nevil’s daughter was a friend of mine.”
Back then it was called Nevil Tire, owned by Mack Nevil and his wife, Linda. “Being with Mack and Mrs. Linda so long, I just learned the business and worked my way up,” Anderson said.
All the way up to owner. As of March of this year, she assumed ownership of Gateway Auto, Tires & Trucks.
“I signed the papers on March 6, opened on March 23, and the pandemic was declared a few days later,” she said.
Anderson said it’s been challenging to run a business during the uncertainty of the times, but believes the timing of the opening was meant to be, since she had dreamed of buying the tire business for quite some time.
“We struggled through it and we’re going to be okay,” Anderson said. “Some of my guys remind me often, ‘God’s taken us this far. He won’t let us down now.’ It’s been a wild ride for sure.”
Anderson’s first stint with the tire business that began in 1990 lasted 19 years. She took a seven year break when owner Mack Nevil passed away.
“I’d been there so long, and when he passed away, I needed to get away,” she said. “Mack was the best teacher. He was like a second father to me.”
Having grown up on a farm, Anderson chose that familiarity to help her work in the office of a produce business in Cobbtown.
But when a friend who worked for the new owner of the business asked her to come back to the tire industry, she decided to return.
“When you love a business and you really understand it, it felt like I was coming home.”
Seeing an opportunity
That was in 2017 and the opportunity to purchase the business came about at the beginning of this year. Through the lengthy transition time, however, three months lagged by, and Anderson wasn’t sure if everything would work out.
In the end, it did, and Anderson brags on three loyal employees who waited it out with her.
“It was an uncertain time, but Ricky Pearson, Jimmy Espinoza and Sammy Deal stuck with me. Rode that wave all the way with me.”
Those three are still with her at the business that she renamed Gateway Auto Tires and Truck, and though her husband doesn’t currently work with her, Anderson said Ricky Anderson was a huge support throughout her career and she hopes to have him working at the store one day, too.
Being a female owner of a business that’s typically dominated by males has brought a few challenges over the years, but those difficulties served to strengthen Anderson’s motto for the business.
“Unfortunately, there have been a few times when I was out of town and had car problems and someone has tried to take advantage of me when I took the car in, just because I am a woman. I don’t ever want my customers to feel that way. My motto is, ‘We don’t take advantage of you – we take care of you.’
“We want to build a rapport with our customers. We want them to trust us 100 percent. And if something’s not right, I want to know about it, so that I can correct it. I want to lay my head down at night and be able to go to sleep.”
Anderson said that because most people know she’s been in the business so long, she’s trusted locally, but she has had a few instances where she had to earn the trust.
“I hate to say this, but some men don’t think women know what they’re talking about when it comes to vehicle maintenance,” she said. “But in just a short time, they figure out I do know the business, and I’m always willing to admit when I don’t know something, and I’ll look for the answer.”
Building that trust is part of the reason Anderson plans to host four training workshops for the community, one each quarter, now that she owns the business.
The first one, held back in June, was a huge success and those that attended the free event received a gift bag with a tread depth gauge, a tire gauge and a maintenance booklet.
“We showed each customer how to change a spare, check the tread depth of their tires, check the fluids, look at the battery – anything to do with maintenance. We want to show our customers things and not hide them. We had door prize drawings and cookies and snow cones.”
Anderson, who lives in Collins, said she is a huge supporter of Statesboro and Bulloch County because of working in the area so long. “I may not live in Statesboro, but I love this community and want to be really involved.”
She recently set up a plan to provide school supplies to five underprivileged students from each school.
To meet the ever-changing needs of the community during the recent pandemic, Gateway Auto Tires and Truck offers contactless service of pick-up and delivery to customers within a 10-mile radius of the store, as well as contactless service in person by filling out forms, dropping of the vehicle and payment by phone.
What started out as a job answering phones has turned into a lifelong passion and a business-ownership dream come true.
“I look forward to serving the community for a long time,” Anderson said.
Gateway Auto Tires and Truck is located on 301 South, near the Walmart Distribution Center, at 173 Jimps Road.