Donny Caccamise and I met earlier this year when I wrote the GEARS article, From the Classroom to Your Shop for the June issue. It was about developing relationships with tech schools through ATRA’s VTS – Virtual Training Solutions platform. Donny provided me with much of the information I needed to write that article. I knew then that I wanted to write a shop profile about Donny and his shop, DMC Transmissions.
The reasons I titled this article, Back to the Future, will become apparent as you read on. However, one reason is the DMC Transmissions name and Donny’s coincidental connection with the DeLorean Motor Company. By the way, Donny didn’t get the idea for the DMC name from DeLorean – it is purely coincidental.
My interview with Donny flowed so well, and his answers to my questions were so well-stated that a transcript of the Q&A is the best way to share Donny’s story. I hope you enjoy this format as much as I enjoyed Donny’s engaging responses.
Thom: Is there anything unique about your start in transmissions?
Donny: I was born into the business. My father opened a transmission shop in San Gabriel, California in 1959, and I was born in 1962. It’s really been the only life I’ve known. I remember back in high school, my counselor asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I vividly recall being certain that I would continue with the transmission industry.
I spent most of my youth working with my dad. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from my father was how to be a professional. He taught automotive technology at the college level. He was unquestionably one of the most intelligent men and best technicians I’ve ever known. I spent many evenings in the classroom with him, which I believe has helped with my success at DMC.
Unfortunately, during my late teens, my dad and I had some differences that we never reconciled. Looking back, I have regrets because there were things I could have and should have done differently. But I saw things through a lens distorted by my youth, and I made some decisions that I wish I could go back and change.
Thom: How did your career progress after you left your dad’s shop?
Donny: In 1980, I went to work for Howard Daley, who owned ATS – Automatic Transmission Service in Santa Ana. Howard was a member of the ATRA Board of Directors. He introduced me to John Maloney, the President of the Board at that time. I developed a friendship and great respect for both men, and they had a positive influence over my career path.
In 1981, a little fledgling company, DeLorean Motor Company, was advertising for part-time quality assurance technicians to work evenings in their Santa Ana facility. I applied and was hired. It was a blast working there. I got to meet John DeLorean several times, and I’ll forever treasure the memories of working at the first DMC in my career.
Thom: When and why did you decide to open your own shop?
Donny: I felt that with the early lessons I learned from my father and later from Chevrolet, where I spent most of my career, I could be an effective shop owner.
Thom: You started as a technician. When did you make the transition to managing, and why?
Donny: Let’s start with why. Like most small business owners have discovered, it’s difficult to work in your business while simultaneously working on your business. This is especially difficult in our industry because, for so many of us, the allure of the rebuilders bench is so great, and we keep getting sucked into the technician’s role.
I began tapering out of the technician’s role in the early 2000s. I still occasionally build a unit or do some other mechanical tasks. But for the most part, my time is spent in administration and management.
I very much enjoy working with my hands, and there are times when I go in on a weekend when we’re closed and tinker around. I don’t suppose I’ll ever tire of the actual rebuilding process. In fact, I often find it therapeutic and calming. However, I know my greatest value is in working on the business.
Thom: How is DMC different from your competition?
Donny: Several things make us different from other transmission shops, but the main difference is that we genuinely care about the client. That’s not to say others don’t, but there’s a noticeable difference with us. The relationship between our customers and us is paramount. It’s important to each member of our team that the customers feel confident not only in the quality of the repair but also in knowing that we always have their best interest in mind.
Donny: While that’s essentially the case, to elaborate a little more, I believe the basis of confidence is trust. Our customers learn very quickly that we can be trusted throughout the repair process and in the ongoing provider-customer relationship. Many of our clients find it comforting to know they aren’t going to be misled or taken advantage of. It’s no secret that the automotive industry has a somewhat dubious distinction – especially for customers who have little understanding of how automobiles function. We make every effort to educate our customers to whatever extent they’re interested.
Donny: The primary thing I do for every customer is to spend as much time as necessary with them. I explain the repair process, and most importantly, I listen to them. If they’re interested, I take them into the shop for a show and tell – I explain what we’re going to do and why.
Additionally, every client gets my personal cell number. They can call me anytime they feel the need for further explanation or updates. If they have a problem at 9:PM on Sunday evening, I’m the first guy I want them to call.
Thom: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your business life?
Donny: Balance is at the root of the two challenges I want to talk about. First, I had to learn how to balance maintaining high quality with the rapid growth of DMC. In a few short years, our customer database went from zero to over 8,000, including several car dealerships and wholesale fleet accounts.
My wife, Susie and I resolved this challenge by enrolling in the Automotive Training Institute (ATI), where we learned about the business end of running a transmission shop. I also had the privilege of being selected to the ATRA Board of Directors, where I was able to learn from other industry veterans, as well as through the What’s Working seminars at the ATRA Powertrain Expo each year.
An even more important lesson had to do with balancing my business life with my family life – balancing business and recreation. My marriage suffered from me not understanding how and when to shut down thoughts of the business and to spend quality recreational time with my family.
To make matters worse, I had added another layer of distraction by forming an automotive broadcast company called “Horsepower Broadcasting.” We created, and I performed on a nationally syndicated, 2-hour, weekly radio show for seven years. This added to the stress on my marriage due to a lack of balance. I ultimately made the decision to bring the broadcast to a close. Since shutting down the radio show and striking a better balance between business and family, my marriage has improved significantly.
I want to credit two people for helping me through my life challenges. My son, Chris, while 28 years my junior, has been a true inspiration during my struggles and difficulties. Susie and I are always amazed by his character, wisdom, and his ability to see beyond the moment and to the future. We thank God for him every day.
The second person is the late R.C. Sproul. He was the foremost leading theologian and teacher of the 20th century, and I’ve learned many things from him. It’s a gift from God when we have someone who can add so much substance to our lives. I will forever miss him.
Donny: I think the DMC mission statement says it in a nutshell. Our mission is to provide exemplary automotive service by creating a safe and enjoyable workplace for our team, by giving each client an honest estimate and quality repair, and by maintaining an ethical environment that creates opportunities for all.
Thom: Is there anything else you would like to add?
- Nancy Saldana is our office manager as well as our primary reflash and reprogramming technician. She handles 90% of our parts ordering and can type faster than any human I’ve ever met. She’s a multitasker, and there’s no task she won’t tackle.
- Luis Yepez is our lead technician and diagnostician. He came to us about 4 years ago on a recommendation by the Automotive Technology coordinator at Ventura College. Luis is a unique blend of youth, attitude, and aptitude. He possesses a drive and thirst for learning, bridled by his calm, understanding, and composed disposition.
- Juan Mendoza is our lead rebuilder. In over 40 years, I’ve never known a more quality and qualified rebuilder. To make it better, he’s a joy to work with – always ready to lend a hand and fill in wherever and whenever necessary.
- Jeff Albrizzio is our lead automotive technician. After knowing Jeff for more than 20 years, I’m happy that he’s recently joined our team. He’s an outstanding technician with the ability to solve problems and sort through diagnostic details. Jeff is an outstanding addition to our team.
Do you see why I feel that Back to the Future is a good title for this article? It’s not only because I couldn’t resist the DeLorean connection, but Donny’s business and life circumstances, challenges, and successes are a series of starts, reflections, corrections, and restarts. Likewise, Marty McFly helped his father, George, in the movie, and Donny credits his son Chris for helping him to be a better man.
It’s been my privilege and honor to get to share Donny’s story with you.