MCMXVIII is the Roman Numeral for 1918. I think you’ll agree that this is a fitting title after you read this article. To gain a little better perspective as to why, let’s take a quick look at the historical events of 1918.
- The last battle of the American Indian Wars was fought in 1918.
- The first world war, WWI, ended on 11/11 at 11:00 AM in 1918.
- The first-ever tank-on-tank battle was fought in Europe, Germany’s ace, “The Red Barron,” was shot down and killed, and Lawrence of Arabia led the capture of Damascus – all in 1918. (Yes; the Red Barron and Lawrence of Arabia were real people.)
- General Motors acquired Chevrolet Motor Company in 1918.
- Oregon imposed the first-ever gasoline tax in 1918 – it was a penny per gallon.
- Time Zones and Daylight Savings Time were established by Congress in 1918.
- Babe Ruth played for the 1918 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. He led the league in Home Runs, On Base Percentage, and Slugging Percentage while also pitching 20 regular-season games with 13 wins and a 2.22 ERA. Ruth was the starting and winning pitcher in 2 of Boston’s 4 wins, tossing a 1-0 shutout in game 1.
You’re probably wondering, “Why the history lesson?” Well, I wanted to give perspective to the fact that 1918 is also the year the first iteration of Camargo Transmission Repair opened for business. For added context, the first synchronized manual transmission wasn’t introduced by Cadillac until 1928. It wasn’t until 1938 that General Motors introduced the clutchless automatic transmission, which they called the Hydra-Matic. And when Camargo first opened in 1918, the first fully automatic transmission, the Buick Dynaflow, was still 30 years in the future – 72 years ago.
GEARS shop profiles often feature multigenerational shops, but this is the first time I can recall a shop with a history of 102 years, spanning 4 generations of direct family ownership.
Needless to say, it would be easy to get caught up in all the history of this great little family-owned shop, but we’ll also look at the past relative to the present with an eye to the future and see what we can learn from it.
However, if you’re like me, you’re itching to hear about the history of Camargo Transmission.
In 1918, William Cockrell opened Camargo Car Repair in Camargo, Kentucky after serving in WWI. At that time, car repair shops were far and few between, and in rural Kentucky, horses significantly outnumbered cars. Despite the lack of competition, William was committed to always treating people right and doing the best work possible at a fair price. As car numbers increased, the business flourished under his leadership.
In 1945, William’s son, Kenneth, returned from serving as a combat engineer in WWII. He had survived performing one of the most critical and dangerous roles in the European theater – disarming bombs on roads and bridges over the Rhine River.
Larry Cockrell joined his father in the business in 1969 after serving in the Army Reserves. Back in the day, Larry was known to take part in street racing and developed an inclination toward fixing automatic transmissions. Recognizing the growth potential, Larry steered the company to specialize in automatic transmissions. He assumed the reigns in 1988 and is still active in the company as the diagnostic specialist. In 1999, because highway expansion was encroaching on the property, Larry purchased the company’s current location at 2355 Camargo Road, in Mt. Sterling, just 2 miles from the original shop.
Larry’s son, Justin Cockrell, who at 6’4” and 275 pounds, prefers to go by his nickname, Moose, is the current owner of Camargo Transmission. After receiving a BA in Management at Sullivan University and a four-year stint in the corporate world, Moose never felt that he’d end up in the family business. In 2000, Larry offered Moose a work-study program to work at Camargo and work his master’s degree. Moose accepted his father’s offer, earned his master’s, and ultimately purchased the shop 2011.
Moose and Larry still work together every day, and they’ve graciously agreed to share their story.
Customers for Life
When a business is over a century old, it gives a new meaning to the phrase customers for life. Moose emphasized, “We’re all about taking care of – taking care of customers’ concerns, taking care of their car problems, taking care of anything that stands in the way of making them a happy customer, and all the while, taking care of business. This has been our guiding principle for over 100 years. I know customer service, along with all the trendy catchphrases like customers-first and customer-centric, have been popularized in recent years, but for us, it began with my great grandfather, William Cockrell’s commitment to treating people right, and it’s been preserved from generation to generation.”
Moose added, “Treating people right isn’t limited to customers or, for that matter, only to people. It includes doing the right things for our production team, for our front office staff, for our facilities and equipment, for the environment, and for our community.”
The Production Team
Camargo’s technicians are highly skilled and loyal to the company. The company believes in developing techs from within.
Their veteran tech, Steve Hager, began working for Camargo in 1993 while he was still in high school. He started out cleaning up the shop, and today, he rebuilds transmissions.
The R&R team is composed of 3 specialists – Moose’s brother Jared Cockrell, Kevin Hymel, and Hunter Martin combining for over a decade of experience.
The company’s solution to the industry’s technician shortage is to hire based on attitude and aptitude, and then provide the necessary training to do things the Camargo way. For example, Hunter was recruited from nearby Maysville Community and Technical College and is advancing quickly in developing his skills.
Moose is big on continuing education, making sure the production team has access to all the latest tech training and research. For instance, Dewey and Steve were treated to a trip to the ATRA Powertrain Expo in Las Vegas. Moose said, “They learn all the latest information in the Technical Seminars, and it’s a nice getaway for them and their wives.”
The Front Office Staff
Moose believes that the first impression sets the tone for the entire customer experience. Customers, whether calling or stopping in, are met with a friendly smile and welcoming greeting. That Kentucky charm was evident from the minute Chelsea answered the phone and all the way through my interview with Moose.
With a century-old company, as you might expect, Camargo’s reputation and word-of-mouth referrals keep them plenty busy. However, Camargo doesn’t view marketing as just a way to get new customers, it’s to let their customers know that they matter and keep them informed, and of course, to get them to send their friends.
Chelsea points out, “Social media is the new word-of-mouth.” With that in mind, Chelsea is spearheading the company’s social media campaigns. They’re employing the newest strategies and platforms to build top of mind awareness as well as to get referrals and positive internet reviews.
Chelsea explained, “We use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I post to each of the platforms 2-3 times a day. A post could be a picture of one of the team members in action, a unique vehicle we have in the shop, a handy tip, a fun fact, or anything I think would be of interest to our customers or anyone who follows us on these sites. In addition to doing giveaways and running specials to help promote our business, when a job is completed, we ask customers to post reviews on Google and Facebook.”
Four years ago, Moose’s wife, Stacey, joined the team. Stacey’s primary role is payroll and accounts manager, but she is heavily involved in the everyday aspects of the business and decision-making processes. It truly is a marital team effort.
Moose explains, “We focus on taking care of our customers. This doesn’t just mean fixing their cars. It means caring about them personally as well as addressing their concerns, fears, and frustrations related to their car problems. Price is always their first concern, but we offer multiple solutions to their problems with different price points, depending on the type of damage. We always check the car first to diagnose the issue so we can offer accurate repair solutions and two or more price alternatives.”
Camargo offers a variety of longterm warranties as their competitive edge and for establishing the value of their price alternatives. But Moose explained, “At the end of the day, our word is our warranty. Without our word, we have nothing. Without integrity, nothing works.” He added, “Our extended warranties are helping us help our customers. It’s like a blanket that makes them feel safe, comfy, warm, and cozy.”
For over 5 years, Michael Dean has served as the tow truck driver and is responsible for facilities maintenance.
The Camargo team takes pride in the facilities. They’re committed to keeping the production areas and state-of-the-art equipment impeccably clean and maintained to promote efficiency and safety as well as to protect the environment and demonstrate to their customers that they’ll also take great care of their vehicles.
For Camargo, doing right things goes beyond the walls of the business. They’re members of ATRA and the Mt. Sterling Chamber of Commerce. They support the community economically and through volunteering. Moose serves as a Lieutenant at the nearby regional jail.
The Mt. Sterling Chamber of Commerce named Camargo Transmission the “Small Business of the Year” for 2019.
When I asked Moose if there was a 5th generation Cockrell in waiting, he replied, “Well, I have 2 sons and a daughter, but just as my dad didn’t push me, I’m not going to push them into the business. If they show an interest, of course, I’ll encourage and help them, but I’ll support whatever path they choose as long as it’s consistent with our family values.”
ATRA and GEARS salute Camargo for its long, rich history, its support of our industry, and for its contribution to its community.