We’re more than just rebuilders,” says Ron Shaw, owner of A-Affordable Transmission Centers, with two shops in the Denver, Colorado area. “We understand how transmissions work, so we aren’t afraid to repair a transmission, rather than simply rebuild it.
“Too many shops seem to think that every part in a transmission needs to be updated for the unit to last. But some customers don’t want to rebuild the whole transmission; they don’t want to put a lot of money into it.”
That rebuild mentality may be a holdover from the days when a transmission could be rebuilt for a few hundred dollars. Back then, there just wasn’t much point to repair only what was wrong with the transmission: You couldn’t save enough on the repair to justify not replacing the rest of the clutches.
But today, with some rebuilds reaching three and four thousand dollars, suddenly it may well be worthwhile to consider a repair instead of a complete rebuild. While the savings may only be a fraction of the total cost of the job, that could still be enough to satisfy the customer.
So Ron and his team evaluate the damage, and, when it makes sense, they’ll offer their customers the opportunity to choose whether a repair or rebuild works best for them.
“Giving folks an option — as long as it’s going to be a proper fix that’ll last — is what customers want to hear,” says Ron.
“And I don’t expect it to last just a couple years after a repair; I expect it to last a hundred thousand miles! So we work hard to deliver perfection, even on a unit that’s a ‘repair as needed.’”
According to Ron, even the most basic ‘repair-as-needed’ service still gets a thorough examination. “The transmission still gets disassembled completely, everything gets washed, it still gets a full paper-and-rubber kit… we don’t just throw in a piston and button it up… we make sure it’s repaired properly.”
Of course, even if a basic repair could be successful, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be happy to rebuild the transmission. And the warranties for those services vary, based on the level of repair: from a flat 90-day warranty for a repair-as-needed service to 3 years/50,000 miles for a full rebuild using OEM parts.
The shop name, A-Affordable Transmission Center, is a holdover from the days when your business depended on position in the Yellow Pages: “Back in the day when phone books were important for business, A-minus came before AA, so we used that for placement purposes,” explains Ron.
“I started in the industry in 1984 as a transmission installer at a shop in Chicago. I was there for about five years, working my way up. By the time I left there, I was working as a swing man. I was rebuilding all types of transmissions, but I never did it on a daily basis.
“I moved to Houston, Texas, in the early ’90s where I worked for one of the larger franchised shops. I started there as an installer, and I eventually moved up into management. That’s where I learned basic sales techniques and the franchise’s procedures. I stayed with them for about 12 years.”
It was while he was in Houston that he met his wife, Brandie. She’d been raised in Houston, but her family was living in Denver, and a lot of Ron’s acquaintances in the transmission industry had opened shops in Colorado. So they decided to move to Denver.
“I began working at a franchised transmission shop in Denver early in 1999 or 2000,” says Ron. They weren’t in Colorado long before Ron decided to open his own franchised shop. He made the deal complete, he’d left his job, but at the last moment the deal fell through.
“I tried to get my old job back but they’d already hired a replacement. There was a small shop in Englewood called Affordable Automatic and Standard that’d been in business since 1979. The owner heard my deal fell through, so he contacted me, we negotiated a deal, and within a week I owned the shop.”
Ron still owns that shop in Englewood; he bought his second shop in Thornton, Colorado in 2004. “That was another transmission shop, called Independent Transmissions. They were struggling to make ends meet. I took that shop over and have been running it ever since.”
Ron acknowledges that he took a lot of his business and management procedures from his years working with the franchise company. A lot, but not everything: “What sets us apart from the typical franchised shop is that we price everything up front, before removing or disassembling the transmission.”
Not much wonder they stay so busy; seems like that’d be a valuable selling point to their customers.
“Everything we do is transparent and up front. After all the years I’ve spent in the business, I think I have a good idea of what people should be able to expect from us. It’s worked pretty well for us over the last 20 years.”
Like most shops, A-Affordable has its own web site: www.AAffordableTransmissions.com. They also take advantage of Google Adwords, and “we’re fully advanced on line as far as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. And of course we work with the Better Business Bureau; we’re on their web site.
“We’re also the only transmission shop in the Denver area on Dave Logan’s web site.” Logan is the announcer for the Denver Broncos football team. “Dave Logan is very selective; it’s very hard to get in with him.”
While advertising is an important part of any business model, Ron is quick to point out that a large percentage of their business comes from returning customers or referrals. “When we get a job, we make a lasting impression, so our repeat and referral business tends to be very good,” explains Ron. “80% of our business comes from referrals or repeat business; that’s not an exaggeration.”
They also have a radio ad they run occasionally, but it isn’t something that provides them with a terrific return. “I’m just not seeing enough business from that,” says Ron. “The majority of our business comes from routine referrals or through hits on Adwords.
A Really Smart Phone
“We update our customers twice a day,” explains Ron. “Even if we don’t have anything to tell them, we’ll at least let them know where we are in the process. I have a person at each shop whose job it is to call the customers.”
Think about that: The customer always knows where his or her car is in the repair process. That means there’s no reason for them to call the shop at 4:30 while Ron and his crew are trying to deliver other customers’ cars, to see whether their cars are finished or where they are in the repair. That has to save time and effort.
But that’s only part of the job for the phone salesperson: “After he’s updated the existing customers, he starts making cold calls. He’ll bust out the phonebook and make cold calls all day. He averages about 100 cold calls a week to businesses in the area.
“His job is to keep it quick and simple: ‘Hi, I’m Randall at Affordable Transmissions. I don’t want to take a lot of your time. We offer discount repair to businesses like yours. Would you consider keeping our number on file?’ That’s our pitch.
“It’s a numbers game. I tell them, ‘You aren’t here to try to be their buddy; frankly, cold calls and people who make them are irritating. You don’t want to waste their time; you want to be short and to the point.’
“It allows them to make a lot of calls. And we get business from it; we might get two jobs out of 100 calls… two jobs we wouldn’t have gotten if we hadn’t made the calls.
“You don’t have to sell anything; you just have to call and tell them who you are; that’s it. It’s worked for us through the years and I think it’s one of the reasons we stay so busy.”
By using the phones for cold calls, Ron has created his own form of outside sales program, without the expense for a car. And his sales people can “visit” a lot more businesses in less time that your average outside salesperson.
One thing that we all understand is the importance of image. For a lot of shops, that means sponsoring local sports teams or events within the community. Ron does that, and he donates money to programs to help underprivileged kids in the Denver area.
But all the sponsorships in the world won’t overcome bad press, and your image can be destroyed when another shop in your neighborhood cheats customers or provides careless repair work.
“We had a transmission repair center nearby that was ripping everyone off,” says Ron. “He was taking people’s money and not fixing their cars.
“One of my employees saw a report on the local news about it, so we contacted the network and told them that anyone who had a problem from that shop could contact us and we’d take care of it. Three of his customers called us.
“One of them had a ’98 Jeep Cherokee; the shop charged him $3300 for a rebuild, and it only lasted 10 days. Okay, things happen. But then the shop took the car and let it sit for 3½ months without fixing it. The shop ended up getting shut down, so there was the customer’s Jeep, just sitting there in the parking lot.
“We got the Jeep in and took the transmission apart. Turns out they didn’t have the overdrive section assembled correctly. It was a pretty quick fix; I had maybe $100 in it, and now I’m a hero… it was money well spent.”
You might think that stepping up like that was a great way to garner some free publicity, but Ron wouldn’t let the network report his generosity. He preferred to stay anonymous. “I just think it was the right thing to do,” he says. “Things are tough enough in this industry. We don’t need shops like that making us all look bad.”
Well, Ron, with that kind of attitude, chances are you’ll never have to worry too much about looking bad to the customers in your neighborhood!