Shop Profile - September - 2020

Baker’s Transmission: A Fork in the Road

Hall of Fame baseball great, Yogi Berra is perhaps, most remembered for his Yogi-isms – amusing, absurdly profound statements like: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” “It’s déjà vu all over again.” “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

A favorite among motivational speakers is, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” It’s perfect for topics like decision making, overcoming challenges, strategic planning, and many more. Most people don’t know that when Yogi said it, he was giving directions to his house. Yogi’s house happened to be at the end of a closed loop that began at a fork in the road. So, it didn’t matter which direction you went at the fork because either way, you’d still end up at Yogi’s house. It’s perfect for this article.

This article is the story of two couples starting out in 2006, nearly 600 miles apart, traveling on two different roads. The forks they encountered, and the choices they made over the next 13 years ultimately brought them to the same place at the same time, Baker’s Transmission in Grand Junction, Colorado.

2006 was the year that Marc and Veta Baker established Baker’s Transmission. Meanwhile, 600 miles away, Calvin and Andrea Diebold were courting one another while attending Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. So, you get the picture. Marc and Veta were getting started down their road, and Calvin and Andrea were starting down theirs.

Let’s start with the young lovers. 2007 was a big year for them. It included marriage, graduation, and launching a career. Calvin’s major was Operations Management, a perfect fit for a field operations position with Halliburton.

Halliburton is a global company serving the oil industry. Calvin worked with Halliburton clients that were primarily focused on oil field operations and rebuilding oil field equipment. That meant he needed to be where the equipment was located – in the oil fields. He was born and raised in Grand Junction, and when Halliburton offered him a job, he was eager to return with the love of his life, Andrea, at his side. Grand Junction is about 250 miles west of Denver on the west side of the Rockies.

Calvin reflected, “At that time, I didn’t realize it, but I was learning people skills, operational methods, and rebuilding processes like those of the transmission business. On each project, I was part of a team that diagnosed and fixed hydraulic and mechanical problems.”

The projects kept Calvin busy on the West Slope until 2013 when he and Andrea faced A Fork in the Road. He was slated for an unaccompanied assignment to the dreaded North Slope of Alaska. Of course, he could have declined it and looked for another job, but he went and continued to earn his stripes. That assignment lasted until 2017 when he returned home.

In 2019, Calvin realized that another Halliburton Fork in the Road was approaching. This time, he and Andrea decided it was time for a change. They decided to set their own course and purchase a business of their own. They realized this was going to be more than a game-changer; it was going to be life changing.

They engaged a business broker, who helped them determine what kind of a business would suit them. They created a punch-list of criteria they wanted in a business. Here’s a brief version of their list.

  • A business that has an operating system, like a franchise. It won’t require that they do the work of the business, but that they manage the business system. Calvin mused, “You run the system, and the system runs the business.”
  • A business that’s open from 8 to 5, Monday – Friday. This eliminated options like gas station/convenience stores and restaurants.
  • A business that involves interaction with people at an actual place of business rather than an online business.
  • A business that’s established and running well – not a startup of turnaround business.
  • A business with opportunity for growth and expansion.

Prior to college, Calvin had worked at an autobody shop, and he enjoyed mechanical challenges; so, he felt drawn to automotive. The broker matched them with a national autobody franchise. They went through the qualification process. But they both felt uncomfortable with orientation day at the corporate headquarters, and they elected to not make the purchase.

So, after several months, they were back to square one. In the meantime, Baker’s Transmission had come on the market. Andrea recalled, “At first, we didn’t think a transmission shop was right for us. But it checked all the boxes on our punch-list.” Calvin chimed in, “We decided to take a closer look. When we met Marc and Veta Baker, we felt a connection. The more we learned about them and their business, the more we felt this would be perfect for us.”

As I mentioned earlier, the Bakers had established Baker’s Transmission in 2006. Starting a shop was A Fork in the Road decision for them. Marc had worked in the transmission business for over 15 years, beginning at age 16. They wanted to establish a business that gave great service, top quality, and honest value by treating people with respect. That included not only customers but their employees, as well. By respecting their employees, they were able to handpick from the best and assembled a team that embraced their philosophy.

In 2009, Marc and Veta took another Fork in the Road. They moved the shop to its present location at 2220 East Main Street in Grand Junction. It was adjacent to one of their suppliers, another well-established company, Drive Line Service. They eventually purchased Drive Line Service in 2012. In 2014 they also opened Accelerated Torque Converters at a separate location a couple of miles away.

The Baker’s combined operations were well-run, profitable, and they enjoyed an excellent reputation. However, after over 30 years in the transmission industry, Marc and Veta wanted to take another Fork in the Road before they got too old to have the freedom to choose a new direction. After a great deal of deliberation, they decided to sell, and they’re now considering what to do for their encore.

Calvin and Andrea decided to purchase the business. It took several months to complete the purchase process, and it finally closed in February of 2020. They agreed, “A major factor in our decision to buy the business was the reputation and strong brand equity that Baker’s Transmission had established. We knew the name had a great deal of value, and if we bought the company, we’d continue under that name.”

Calvin added, “The company was so well-run by the Bakers, that our first-year plan is to not make any changes. We want to maintain things as they are to establish a baseline before making any changes. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Marc and Veta worked with us for 90 days to teach us the ropes – where all the light switches are and where to kick the pop machine when it jams. We’ve become friends, and they’re always available to help us when we need it.”

The new ownership entity is Rocky Mountain Drivetrain, LLC. However, Calvin wanted to be clear, “We’ll continue to operate under the Baker’s Transmission, Drive Line Service, and Accelerated Torque Converters tradenames. We want our customers and the community to know that we’re committed to continuing the same level of integrity and quality they’ve come to expect. Our service and tech teams have remained with us through the transition, and we’ll continue as a dedicated, cohesive unit.”

Speaking of the team, Calvin and Andrea wanted to honor each of them in this article.

Glen Hepburn is our Service Writer. He’s been with the company for 11 years and brings years of experience in automotive customer service. Outside of work, Glen enjoys camping and playing music.

Lance Wells has been our transmission rebuilder and shop foreman for 5 years. Lance is also an accomplished rock crawler.

Danny Rice has been our torque converter rebuilder for 6 years. Having owned a shop in Denver, he brings over 40 years of experience to our team. When he has time, he enjoys golf and drag racing. We wonder how fast those golf carts turn a quarter.

Anthony Anderson is our newest team member, still in his first year. He likes to pan gold in his leisure time.

Cole Baker, the son of Marc and Veta, was born for this business. He has 5 years under his belt, rebuilding driveshafts and differentials. Cole likes to dirt bike as one of his off-time pursuits.

Jim Horn has been in drive lines for 35 years and with the company since its founding. There’s nothing he can’t do, but his primary role is managing Drive Line Service. Jim enjoys hunting and farming to keep himself busy away from the shop.

Andrea performs the administrative and bookkeeping functions, while Calvin’s focus is on all things operational – systems and processes. They enjoy spending time with their three sons, Cason – age 9, Holden – age 6, and Stratton – age 2. They also enjoy camping, motorcycling, and winding down by touring local wineries.

With the sale occurring in February of this year, we can’t ignore the elephant in the room, the COVID-19 pandemic. To my surprise, Calvin and Andrea didn’t want to get too deep in the weeds on this subject. They both felt that everyone has been beaten to death with it, and it’s time to move on.

Can you imagine buying a business only to face a national shutdown a few weeks later? While concerned, Calvin and Andrea didn’t panic. They did all the prudent things like taking advantage of the PPP assistance and establishing the operational protocols to keep employees and customers safe. They’ve also kept the entire team involved and employed.

Like almost every business, things drastically slowed down. They went from a constant flow of inbound phone calls to just a trickle. Andrea said, “Sometimes, we’d call ourselves just to make sure the phones were still working.”

Calvin encouraged the team to take advantage of the slowdown. “I felt like it gave us a good opportunity to get to know one another better. I suggested that with fewer jobs, we’d have more time to find ways to improve our already great quality and processes. Of course, we were also able to address deferred shop and equipment maintenance.”

It was early in August when I interviewed Calvin and Andrea. The business had already returned to full capacity, booking appointments two weeks out. That’s a high-class problem to have any time, let alone during the pandemic.

As ATRA members, they appreciate the support that’s available through the association. They’ve taken advantage of the tech support. They’re becoming engaged with the Virtual Training Solutions (VTS) platform on ATRA’s website. They’re also looking forward to the Virtual Powertrain Expo and Tradeshow that’s rolling out in November.