Certified Transmissions Complete Auto Care didn’t start out to be what it’s become. That’s probably not unusual as most every business evolves over time, and Certified has had 32 years during which to change. However, founder and owner, Mike Pfeiffer, is more likely to think of it as change driven by divine guidance and intervention rather than random evolution.
In July of 2008, Rodger Bland wrote a Shop Profile featuring Mike and Certified. It was titled Built On a Wing and a Prayer, borrowing on the title of an old, black and white, World War II film. The article detailed a series of events that many people would consider to be good fortune or lucky coincidences that occurred in Mike’s life, leading to his indisputable success. Mike would be quick to correct that assumption by attributing everything to God’s influence. He says, “My life and everything I have is on loan from God. I’m just a servant – a caretaker so to speak.”
By 2008, Mike was an overnight success, 30 years in the making. Now, twelve years later, he has continued to successfully navigate the company through the tides of change with God at his side.
Mike’s transmission career began out of necessity in 1980. Due to his newly assigned, unrealistic work schedule, he quit his midlevel management job at the world’s largest True Value Hardware. He took a significant pay cut and went to work for his uncle Robert Pfeiffer who owned Pfeiffer Auto Clinic in Winthrop, Illinois. For the next six years, he soaked up all the tech training he could from his uncle while applying the management skills he’d learned at True Value to help make his uncle’s shop more successful.
Seeking to escape the cold Illinois winters, Mike and his wife, Sharon, decided to consider a move to a warmer climate. They were invited to visit Phoenix, Arizona, where his cousin was living. Their initial reaction to the Arizona heat was, “It’s not for us!” But, call it luck or divine coincidence, during the last few days of their exploratory visit, they took a bus tour to the Grand Canyon. The tour bus made an unscheduled detour through Prescott, a small mile-high town about two hours out of Phoenix. As Mike puts it, “We fell in love with Prescott through the window of a tour bus. Prescott is nothing like Phoenix. It has a small-town culture and values. And, its four seasons with mild temperatures compared to those of the Phoenix summers and the Illinois winters clinched it for Sharon and me.”
Good fortune shined on the couple again when Mike landed a job as the transmission specialist at a new GM dealership in Prescott. Up to that point, the dealership had only installed CRTA units, but Mike showed them how to make transmissions a profitable part of their business.
The story could have ended there with Mike comfortably serving out a dealership career with excellent benefits and a retirement plan while living in his dream climate. But Mike began to experience physical problems caused by a poorly designed ventilation system in the dealership’s shop. So, it was time to make another change.
Mike was able to locate and purchase a small commercial lot just outside of the downtown area of Prescott. The town hadn’t yet grown out that far, but it was in the growth path. While purchasing land and building a shop isn’t uncommon in our industry, what happened next is.
The day construction was to begin, the bank backed out of financing the project. Mike raced over to the site, hoping to halt the construction before it started. According to Mike, “When I told the owner of the construction company, Dave Kaufman, what had happened, God stepped in. Dave hesitated for a moment, and then he offered to be the banker. He financed the entire project. That was the beginning of a friendship that continues today.” So, less than eight years after quitting his secure job at True Value, Mike opened Certified Transmissions in July of 1988.
Whether you’re inclined to attribute life’s blessings to good luck or to answered prayers, Mike shared two more incidents that are difficult to dismiss as purely coincidental. By now, I’m sure you know who Mike attributes them to.
The first occurred while he was still operating out of just two bays. He couldn’t even afford a parts washer; so, he’d take the transmission cases over to a shop that was willing to run them through their parts washer for $10 each. One day, that shop decided to stop washing Mike’s cases, probably because it wasn’t good for their business. Mike prayed about what to do, and within minutes, his answer drove into the parking lot. The fellow said, “I heard you might be looking for a parts washer. I have one I’d like to sell.” It was a nearly new cabinet-style washer. The fellow wanted $1,500 for it, but Mike told him he only had $700 available. He was reluctant, but the fellow agreed to part with it for $700 – Certified had its first parts washer.
The second incident occurred in 1989. The business was doing well enough for a one-year-old shop. However, due to the town’s expansion, the road in front of the shop had to be closed for six months. This virtually shut down the fledgling business. Again, Mike turned to prayer, and again, he got a quick answer. Within minutes, the phone rang, and it was the service manager at the GM dealership, where Mike worked before opening Certified. They had lost their transmission tech, and he wanted to know if Mike could take over their transmission work for a while. “A while” turned out to perfectly coincide with the road closure. So, Mike had enough work to get through until the road reopened.
Coincidences? You decide. Clearly, Mike is a religious man, but he also believes that we make our own path in life. He says, “We need to be good stewards of the time, money, talents, and relationships that are trusted to us.” As business and community leaders, we need to look for ways to lead by example. That’s best done by serving and having a good work ethic. Many business gurus refer to this as servant leadership. Mike demonstrates servant leadership in many ways.
By 1993, Mike decided to make another change. He thought he could better serve his customers and employees in a management role. Mike started by attending business management seminars. He earned his AAM Certification from the Automotive Management Institute and made the transition from tech to manager. That decision has paid off big-time for Certified, its employees, his community, and for our industry. He now leads the company by supporting and serving the management and tech team members, and the company is a pillar in the community.
Mike is quick to credit his team with Certified’s success. The team is made up of highly-skilled, seasoned professionals. Paul Deming has served as the company’s service manager for 17 years. Paul is supported by a service advisor, Tara, and the back-office duties are handled by Rick.
The tech team is led by Andy, the shop foreman and transmission rebuilder, who’s been with Certified since 2003. The crew is comprised of 3 ASE Master Certified Techs, each with their own areas of expertise. George is also a transmission rebuilder. Ed and James perform general repair and under-car work. Combined, the team has over 200 years of overall automotive experience.
Mike explained, “The reason we have general repair techs is that we transitioned from specializing only in transmissions to complete auto care shortly after the 2008 article in GEARS. Of course, the transition was more than just changing our name to Certified Transmissions Complete Auto Care. However, the process was smoother for us than what I’ve heard from other shops. We’d been doing some general repair at the request of our transmission customers for quite some time. Plus, I was fortunate that the lead tech at a shop we’d been sending much our GR work to wanted to make a change. He ended up applying to join our team just as we were transitioning. He stayed with us for several years before opening his own shop.”
Mike also finds the time to serve the automotive industry. For instance, Mike noticed the camaraderie among shops that belonged to ATRA Chapters whenever he attended the Powertrain Expos. At a 2010 ATRA Tech Seminar in Phoenix, he asked why Arizona didn’t have its own Chapter. At that time, Arizona was part of the SoCal Chapter. Well, at the urging of ATRA Membership and Bill Brayton, Mike agreed to start the Arizona Chapter. Mike recalled, “Jimmy Rodd of the Rocky Mountain States Chapter and now ATRA President has always been helpful to me with organizing the Arizona Chapter as well as helping out at our regional tech seminars.” Mike is the Chapter’s one-man-band, singlehandedly organizing and administering all the Arizona Chapter’s affairs. However, I’m sure he’d welcome a few volunteers to help lighten his load.
- ASA, the Automotive Service Association, Mike serves as the President of the Prescott Chapter.
- ATSG, Automatic Transmission Service Group – Certified is the longest standing ATSG member West of the Mississippi.
- ASE Blue Seal of Excellence – ASE stands for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. The ASE certification is regarded as the standard measure of automotive competency. The Blue Seal of Excellence identifies shops with at least 75% of their staff being ASE-Certified professionals. In the office, Paul and Mike are both ASE-Certified Service Consultants and ASE-Certified Parts Specialists.
- The Better Business Bureau – Certified is an A+ rated business, the highest rating issued by the BBB, and has been for over 25 years.
- NFIB, National Federation of Independent Businesses – NFIB’s purpose is to impact public policy at the state and federal level and be a vital business resource for small and independent businesses in America.
- Sonnax Task Force – comprised of a few transmission shop owners from around the globe who’ve been selected for their expertise with diagnosing transmission issues. Mike is a long-standing member of this elite group.
- Certified Auto Repair Program – Not a shop name, a chain, or a franchise. CAR is a shop certification program that embodies a standard of quality for a nationwide network of the most respected auto repair facilities in the industry.
- Yavapai College Career and Technical Education Center – Mike serves on the CTEC Board of Advisors at both the high school and college levels.
I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little guilty for any excuse I’ve ever given for not making time to step up and to serve others. I’m reminded of two things my father told me when I opened my first shop. First, he said, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” And second, he said, “The harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.” I think Mike Pfeiffer is the model for both statements, and he defines this article’s title, Service Above Self.