NETTLETON – Hawkins Tire Center owner Will Hawkins has a well-versed background. He has played college baseball and football at Millsaps, partnered with college friends for an apparel company, taught and coached at Nettleton and done farm work. Years before all of that, though, there were tires.
For years, his grandfather, Billy Rouse, owned Discount Tire Store, one of Nettleton’s oldest businesses. When Hawkins was a teenager, he got his hands dirty working there and learned a few life lessons in the process.
“I learned to be a people person. I can say I know a little about everything and a lot about nothing. I think it’s very important to be able to connect with people,” he said.
Now as an adult he’s connecting with people through two businesses – the tire center and Cajun Magnolia Outdoors, which offers hats, performance gear and shirts for men and women.
“It’s been an adventure, but it’s kept us in touch,” he said of running the business with college friends. “We live six, seven hours away from each other but get to text every day to talk about new product lines.”
Cajun Magnolia, a name that gives a nod to Louisiana and Mississippi where its founders are from, started last November. Whereas the business operates mostly online, Hawkins and his business partners are working towards a presence at events such as the Amory Railroad Festival and Louisiana Sportsman Show in addition to brick and mortar locations.
“Whatever we sell, we donate 10 percent to charities like Hope for Justice, St. Jude and LeBonheur. We donated $8,000 this year,” he said.
Cajun Magnolia Outdoors recently rolled out a line of mesh game day series hats in school colors for Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Southern Miss, Tulane and Millsaps. Each hat bears a Mississippi or Louisiana state shape on the side.
While the clothing company is Hawkins’ latest business venture, a continuation of his grandfather’s business is what keeps him busy.
“Two or three days after I graduated from Millsaps, I started working with him until I found something, and I helped coach baseball. In April 2012, I bought the business from him,” he said.
He opened at a new location, alongside the Highway 45 bypass, in October 2016. In addition to Hawkins, the tire center currently employs four full-time and two part-time employees. Some of the employees are family members and some are his former baseball players, which helps establish a strong level of trust.
“I taught and coached baseball at Nettleton but went full time with the business this May,” Hawkins said. “This past Christmas, it got to be so busy here, and I had to make the decision to work here full time.”
He added that he earned his master’s degree in administration last December, coincidentally the time he was posed with making the decision.
The tire center offers a number of brand names like Michelin, Toyo, Bridgestone, Cooper, Hercules, Continental, Nexen and Yokohama.
It provides tires for 18-wheelers and agriculture equipment as well, in addition to offering a number of services. Hawkins Tire Center will provide onsite service at the nearby BAM! Market after it opens.
“We do everything except transmissions and big engine swaps,” Hawkins said. “One rule we follow is to treat it like it’s your own, and it’s a prized possession. If you do that, you’ll do well. Since I’ve been married for a while, I also go by the rule to treat it like it’s my wife’s. I’m not big on selling people something they don’t need, and I think it’s paid off to treat people the right way.”