The transmission industry has seen a lot of changes in the past 50 years, and Al’s Transmissions in Turlock, California, has witnessed those changes first-hand.
When Al Garcia first acquired a transmission business in the 1980s, transmissions were much simpler beasts and relatively easy to diagnose and repair. However, today’s transmissions are full of electronic components, making diagnosis and repair much more challenging. But Al and his son, Nathan, have learned to adapt, and they’re now experts at troubleshooting and repairing even the most complex transmissions.
Al’s shop has been in business since 1962, but Al Garcia purchased it in the 1980s. Al became well-known in the community as the “go-to” transmission rebuilder for street rods and classic automobiles. Early on, he was known for producing transmissions that could withstand high horsepower engines. “Al was a builder during the 3-speed era, and he could do it well,” Nathan explained. “Dad’s reputation as a hotrod expert spread throughout the area, and the hotrod community would come to him for high-performance conversions.”
As the industry transitioned into the electronic era, Al also took a new direction. He gradually adapted from builder to running the front of the shop. During this transition, Nathan was preparing to graduate from high school, and he began expressing an interest in the automotive repair field.
Nathan wanted to work at his dad’s shop straight out of high school, but Al insisted that he work for another company for a couple of years to get a feel for the industry in an environment that wasn’t family operated. Nathan attended WyoTech in Sacramento, California, and worked for BMW as a master technician for two years. Finally, in December 2010 he joined his dad at Al’s.
Nathan’s Godfather, Andrade, was the primary builder at the shop when Nathan joined the Al’s team, and he showed Nathan the ropes. He became Nathan’s mentor for learning transmission builds. After logging over 20 years as the main builder for Al, Andrade retired and passed the torch on to Nathan.
Nathan states, “My father is my mentor in life, and Andrade is my mentor in the transmission business. Even though he’s retired, he still helps out in the shop at times.” This mentorship allowed Nathan to learn not only transmission builds but also diagnostics, which is crucial in today’s market. Nathan is now the main builder at the shop. He’s also assuming more and more responsibility for the operational aspects of the company.
In 1989, Al moved the shop to its current Turlock location at 1377 Lander Avenue. It has eight indoor bays and a lift in the back of the building. Turlock is a community that’s heavily involved in agriculture. Nathan states, “We have evolved into a shop that specializes in keeping these farm trucks moving. We work on a lot of agricultural vehicles offering diesel transmission repairs and performing a full range of services.” He continued, “Agriculture is the livelihood of the people in our community, and it’s vital that we get the repairs done efficiently and timely.”
Although most of the vehicles they see rumbling through their doors are agricultural, they do service a healthy mix of street and performance vehicles as well. Nathan has several customers that he builds transmissions for on a regular basis, a few of which are running behind engines in the 600- 700 horsepower range. He’s even built some that have over 1,000 horsepower.
To accommodate the mixed demand, the shop takes in street rod transmission builds one at a time and deals with them on a separate schedule. The high-performance customers come to Al’s by word-of-mouth. Nathan explained that they’re the only shop in the area that will work on these types of vehicles, and they have the reputation of building their high-performance transmissions to the customers’ specs. Nathan is very passionate about his work and takes great pride in his craftsmanship. “There’s nothing like hearing a car or truck with one of our transmissions running down the street and knowing that we built it,” he says
With the region’s economy primarily driven by agriculture, fuel costs have significantly influenced the business. Nathan described the challenges presented by the current economic difficulties, including part shortages, inflationary pressure on component prices, and constraints on the consumers’ ability to afford the resulting higher prices. “The fuel prices have a big effect on our shop. The effects of rising costs and prices roll downhill, and we seem to be at the bottom of the hill,” he explains. Putting this into perspective, when fuel prices go up, farming costs go up, and farmers must cut back on their spending. This, in turn, reduces the amount of money they have available to spend on repairs, ultimately reaching the repair shops.
While navigating through these challenges, Nathan has discovered that their shop tends to run efficiently with a smaller staff. Nathan is the main transmission builder, also performing repairs on differentials and transfer cases. Additionally, he does most of the diagnostics and manages the workflow in the shop. His father, Al, runs the front office and handles sales. There’s one R&R technician, Dylan Manchester. He’s been working with the company for seven years. Pat Brooks has also been with Al’s for around seven years. She assists with paperwork and maintains the books.
Regarding the shop’s marketing, Nathan admits to not being a social media butterfly. He, however, has recently begun marketing on Instagram and Facebook, posting photos and videos of their work. Nathan explained that this has been a challenging learning curve, but he understands the evolution of marketing strategies moving online. Posting on these platforms allows customers to see the company’s updated equipment, provides information on the available repair services, and showcases their expertise in high-performance rebuilds.
Nathan’s goals for the company include adapting to the changing industry and finding a niche in which the shop can thrive. Nathan states, “I believe that we are getting into a world where you either specialize in certain rebuilds or become really savvy in electronic diagnostics.” He explained that adapting to the new vehicles and having the ability to perform diagnostics will distinguish the difference between shops and push some shops ahead of the rest.
Nathan added, “I hope to get to a point where I not only run my business, but I enjoy my business.” When Nathan has time off from the shop, he likes spending quality time with his wife and 5-year-old daughter. With Turlock being located in the mountainous center of California, Nathan and his family enjoy camping and riding ATVs. It’s refreshing to see that spending quality family time is of utmost importance to Nathan.
This family-oriented mentality crosses over to the business model. What started as a street rod transmission repair facility has evolved into a wide range of transmission specialties uniquely situated with a focus on agricultural vehicles. Al’s Transmissions has succeeded in adapting to a continuously changing industry by remaining open to change and embracing new technologies. Nathan Garcia’s willingness to learn and his dedication to his family is admirable and make him the perfect owner of a thriving business.
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