This past March 24th, ATRA’s Dennis Madden and Keith Clark were on hand at the Mister Transmission annual convention. Mister Transmission is a strictly Canadian company, founded in 1963. Today they have over 60 transmission repair centers across the country.
Don’t confuse Mister Transmission with Mr. Transmission, a U.S. franchise company based in Illinois; the two are totally different companies.
The weekend event was a full industry get-together. Sort of a small Expo for Canadian transmission shops. And it was attended by about 29 independent shops in addition to representation by nearly every Mister Transmission center.
In addition to being transmission repair centers, every Mister Transmission center is also an ATRA technical subscriber, so it’s no wonder that they’d invite ATRA to be a part of their event, to provide some of ATRA’s in-depth industry training.
Of course, Dennis shared his highly respected management studies, and Keith was there to deliver the ATRA regional seminar program. They were followed by a CVT rebuild program courtesy of Seal Aftermarket Products.
Later, after the seminars, Dennis got a chance to speak with a number of the shop owners and technicians from a wide range of Mister Transmission centers. And in all those encounters, one thing stood out to him: “Every one of them has an amazing attitude. There’s no negativity… no complaining… they all seem to be psyched to be here and to be in this business.”
That attitude is something that always rings with those of us who’ve spent the last dozen years with the What’s Working program: A good attitude was the first common trait we identified when we began to poll shop owners to learn what makes one shop successful while another flounders. Today it sits at the top of the list of the five recurring traits for operating a successful shop.
So a good attitude is important. But everyone having a good attitude? That’s saying a lot. But in all his conversations during the event, that attitude stood out to Dennis, so much so that it was the first thing he shared when he returned to the ATRA home office. And it got us all thinking: Why? What is it that has everyone from Mister Transmission so upbeat?
Could it be a Canadian thing? It’s long been a stereotype when talking about Canadians that they’re so — how can I put this? — nice. You see someone portraying a Canadian on TV or movie, and they always seem friendly and welcoming. Could the stereotype be accurate?
Turns out it kind of is. As a whole, Canadians are a friendly bunch. An unusual stereotype to be sure, but way better than the stereotypes you usually hear when talking about some groups.
Okay, that’s a start, but even nice people get negative once in a while. And the transmission industry has become a tough row to hoe these days. It isn’t like back in the ’60s and ’70s, when owning a transmission repair shop was almost a guarantee for success. Today, not so much.
These days the work is more complicated and less profitable, and transmissions are lasting longer. And a lot of people are competing for your business, in part due to remans and how common they’ve become. That’s often why transmission shops in this country expand into general repairs: There just isn’t enough transmission work to keep them busy.
But that’s where another stereotype kicks in: that Canadians are living in the past. Turns out that may be true, too, but not the way you might think.
Let’s be clear: Today’s Canadian transmission shops are working on the same, highly technical transmissions and computer systems that we work with here in the U.S. on a daily basis. They’re just as skilled and up to date as the technicians here in the U.S.
But the business model in Canada is awfully similar to what U.S. shops remember from 30 or 40 years ago. For example, according to Mister Transmission President and CEO Tony Kuczynski, about 40% of the business reaching the average transmission shop is wholesale, 15% is fleet, and just 45% is retail.
In addition, remans aren’t all that common in Canada. Seems most reman companies are in the U.S., and, when you factor in the exchange rate and the tariffs for crossing the border, selling remans in Canada isn’t as profitable for reman companies. That reduces the competition for Canadian shops.
Maybe that’s why today’s Mister Transmission centers are all still strictly transmission specialists: Few of their centers have expanded their service model into general repairs. And why would they? A large part of their business comes right from the general repair market, and they certainly don’t want to compete with their customers.
So there are a lot of differences that give today’s Canadian transmission shop advantages that we haven’t seen in the U.S. since the ’60s and ’70s. Maybe that’s where some of that attitude comes from.
But maybe the biggest effect comes right from the Mister Transmission franchise. Because their involvement in their franchisees’ businesses seems to support the attitude that stood out so clearly at this year’s event.
For example, they make it a point to provide the training that’s so important for today’s shops to keep up with the changing market. And they provide marketing support: “We do a lot of radio marketing and digital marketing for our centers, and that’s basically focused toward the retail customer,” explains Tony. And the company has a marketing program for their wholesale accounts, too.
Of course, just like in the U.S., transmission shops in Canada have to deal with their aging workforce. But that’s one more area where Mister Transmission is stepping up to support their centers: They’ve gone in and evaluated the personnel at each shop, and rated the shops based on how soon their technicians are likely to retire.
Maybe most of all, that positive attitude is part of the company’s landscape: “We see the future as very promising,” explains Tony. “We attended the CTI symposium in December, and we took a close, hard look at what’s coming. We’re really excited about what we’re seeing.”
So maybe that’s it: a combination of an easier market, terrific support from the home office, and just plain being nice. Maybe it’s no wonder that the folks from Mister Transmission have such a terrific attitude when it comes to the industry at large. And who knows? Maybe we can all take a page out of their notebooks.