Longtime residents of Northwest Arkansas have known it as the iconic Williams Tractor since 1973. But by the end of 2021, the name will change to W.T. Equipment, and the business will move up Interstate 49 to Springdale.
This year, brothers Doug and Dwight Williams sold the company to their cousin, Gary Tollett, who will combine the old Williams Tractor and its sister companies, Freedom Powersports and Bobcat of Northwest Arkansas, into one true “destination” for tractors, farm equipment, construction equipment and powersports, the latter of which is a subset of motorsports and includes motorcycles, ATVs and side-by-sides.
Tollett told Arkansas Money & Politics the move and expansion will enable the family to serve their customers better and more efficiently.
Williams Tractor, long visible to interstate motorists on the west side of I-49 just north of Wedington Road, is a Fayetteville institution. Tollett is counting on the new location becoming something like a Bass Pro Shops, a superstore for tractor and outdoor recreation enthusiasts.
“It should be one of the nicest tractor and powersports facilities in the state, if not the nicest,” Tollett said. “We hope it becomes a destination.”
Currently, the Williams Tractor empire includes the original dealership, the Bobcat dealership in Rogers, Freedom Powersports in Rogers and Fayetteville, and South Arkansas Equipment in McGehee and Rayville, La. All but the South Arkansas Equipment locations will be consolidated into the new Springdale location, which will span 20 acres. It will include two buildings totaling 80,000-square feet that will front I-49 on the east side, just south of Don Tyson Parkway.
The story of Williams Tractor goes back almost 50 years to the Williams brothers’ dad. As an agriculture instructor at Fayetteville High School, Don Williams always had an interest in farming. When he heard that the local business, Hailey Tractor Sales, was on the market, Williams went to the owner and proposed a deal. After some consideration, the owner agreed to finance the dealership to Williams.
Thus began Williams Tractor in ’73.
The Williams brothers worked for the company since Day One. They remember the school bus dropping them off at dad’s work. There, they would sweep the floors and take out the trash.
Doug Williams explained how the Williams Tractor philosophy reflects his dad’s start in the business. “We do a lot of financing for people who don’t have the money to pay for whatever they need for their farm or their business themselves.”
In 1991, the company opened a second location, in Berryville, but was still looking to grow. By the year 2000, Don Williams was looking at retirement. Doug and Dwight were handed the keys and continued expanding the family business. In 2004 and 2006, they opened Freedom Powersports and Bobcat of Northwest Arkansas, both in Rogers. Freedom’s inventory includes ATVs, rangers and side-by-sides. Bobcat sells equipment specializing in construction, agriculture and lawn care.
In 2014, the Williams brothers were ready for another addition, this one in the firm of their cousin, Gary, who brought new ideas to the table.
“We wanted to expand the company and make it grow. And we have since Gary has come in,” Doug said. Williams Tractor sales have doubled since Gary, now the CEO, joined the team.
By 2016, a second Freedom Powersports was opened in Fayetteville, and the company launched South Arkansas Equipment in McGehee and Rayville, located just east of Monroe in northern Louisiana.
Through all this growth, Williams Tractor remained a dominant force in the NWA market.
The group describes how throughout all the company’s dealerships, the NWA region sees the original Fayetteville Williams Tractor dealership as dominant. More specifically, in the New Holland brand.
And COVID-19 didn’t slow things down. In mid-April of 2020, the demand spiked for outdoor equipment, especially powersports. Tollett said the dealership saw record sales during this time with strong sales in tractors for part-time farmers.
Tollett’s sons, Travis and Trent, will step in to fill the management roles previously manned by the Williams brothers. The Tolletts now will carry the family baton as WT Equipment. And the new location will be hard to miss for drivers on I-49. Trulove Construction expects to finish construction by the end of the year. Doug Williams said the new site simply is a better location — “more centrally located, more acreage and great frontage on the interstate.”
The Tollett brothers, meanwhile, are focused on marketing, sales and getting the company’s full inventory, including used inventory, online. Online business, especially since the pandemic hit, has been brisk and led to overall increased sales, Tollett noted.
“With COVID and the way everything is going, that’s huge for us.”
But the personal relationships developed over decades with the company’s customer base — which stretches into Oklahoma and Missouri in addition to its Louisiana clientele — remain the driving factor for the Tolletts, just as they did with the Williams family.
WT Equipment was so named to pay homage to Williams Tractor. Though the company name and location may be changing, one thing will always remain the same, Tollett said.
“We’re proud to be associated with our customers as they feed the world.”