Twenty-seven years ago, David Dobbs, his father and grandfather refurbished an old Goodyear store in Webster Groves, Mo., creating the first Dobbs Tire & Auto Center.
On April 3, Mr. Dobbs and his father, Don, watched as the 10-bay store-the first for the 37-outlet dealership-was destroyed by fire.
``That was our baby,'' Mr. Dobbs told Tire Business. ``That was the flagship...It was very emotional. That's why we're so committed to rebuild it.''
That reconstruction project will be in addition to two new stores under construction and a third that will relocate to an existing store, Mr. Dobbs said. High Ridge-based Dobbs Tire will then have 39 locations. The retail dealership sells Goodyear, Michelin, Fulda, Cordovan, Cooper, Pirelli and Dunlop brands.
He estimated the loss in the Webster Groves store to be roughly $1 million.
``It may be that we just bulldoze the whole thing and start over brand new with a bigger and better store,'' he said.
The trouble started when auto service technicians were working on a car's gas tank, Mr. Dobbs said. The tank had been properly drained and contained, but gasoline or its vapors remained, he said. Mike Capriglione, chief of the Webster Groves Fire Department, said a technician in an adjoining bay either had been or just finished cutting an exhaust pipe. Chief Capriglione speculated that either sparks or heat from the tool may have ignited the vapors, though investigators have not pinpointed exactly what sparked the fire.
Mr. Dobbs said the two cars being serviced quickly blew up. Employees tried to use the more than 10 fire extinguishers in the shop, but the fire was already out of control. ``From there it was kind of history,'' he said.
Fourteen employees were working in the L-shaped building at the time. Everyone escaped uninjured. Since the fire started in the back section, it quickly spread to the tire warehouse, which contained about 1,500 tires that fueled the growing inferno. Though the shop and its equipment is a near loss, employees were able to push out and salvage 10 of the 12 cars in the service bays.
With 14 fire trucks from various municipalities responding, firefighters spent almost five hours battling the blaze. But the fire was contained to the tire store, preventing major damage to adjoining retail stores.
The fire itself wasn't the only strain on Mr. Dobbs. He said the store still was engulfed in flames when various people appeared trying to sell him unnecessary services, from renting two generators for $1,000 for 24 hours to others claiming to be third-party insurance underwriters.
``That was all a rip-off,'' he said. ``You have to be careful because they see an opportunity. They know there's insurance money there.''
He suggests tire dealers in similar situations quickly appoint one person to be in control. That person should be the only one making decisions and signing papers to make sure confusion doesn't lead a business into a scam contract.
``Don't sign anything, and don't believe anybody who tells you they're there to help you,'' he advised.
Dobbs Tire ended up hiring two responding police officers who were going off-duty to guard the shop and advise the owners.
Chief Capriglione also suggested tire dealers outline very specific policies for working on certain service jobs and make sure employees are aware of them.
``A lot of times it's human error that creates the circumstances,'' he said.
Reconstruction likely won't start for another 30 to 60 days as the company talks with its insurance company, architects and the adjoining shopping center. The dealership also is sending out circulars to regular customers to encourage them to go to other Dobbs Tire locations while the store is being rebuilt.
``It's just so many things that you don't think about that hit you at once,'' Mr. Dobbs said.