From The CEO - April - 2016

Escape from Gilligan’s Island

One of the most popular TV shows of the mid-’60s was Gilligan’s Island. It was the epitome of a show that was so bad it was good. It told the story of seven very different people who were thrust together on a deserted island, isolated from the rest of the world.

One of the funniest twists about these castaways was that, even though they were in a totally different environment, they still did everything exactly as they did when they were living in the civilized world… even if it didn’t make sense.

For example, they needed to clean their clothes (which they seemed to have way more of than they should have needed for a “3-hour tour.”) So the professor built a pedal-powered washing machine. Forget that it was more work to use than simply taking their cloths to the creek; they needed clean clothes so they built a washing machine.

Over the course of the show, the professor came up with some amazingly inventive ways of doing things. Kind of made you wonder: If he could build a radio out of a couple coconuts, why couldn’t he figure out a way to patch a small hole in the side of the boat?

It didn’t occur to me until recently just how much of a metaphor Gilligan’s Island was for the transmission repair business just a few years ago. Back in the ’80s, the business environment began to change. Computers started worming their way into everything, so it wasn’t unusual for a “transmission problem” to have nothing to do with the transmission.

But most businesses were stuck with an outdated model… one that was very successful back in the ’60s and ’70s. They were transmission shops… they rebuilt transmissions. If the transmission wasn’t operating right, they’d sell the customer a new one. If there was something else wrong, they’d send him down the road.

This business model is one we called commoditization; they were treating transmissions like a commodity instead of focusing on the customer’s needs. Let’s call it the “Gilligan’s Island” business model: restricting themselves to a strategy they were familiar with, instead of adapting to the new environment.

This was the mindset we began to change when we introduced the What’s Working program. Our goal was to show shop owners that, to be successful in today’s business climate, you have to serve the customer… whatever that means in each particular case.

I recently began an ongoing series of meetings with some of the businesses that serve the transmission industry; from manufacturers to parts suppliers. For years their business model was simple: Sell parts to transmission shops. It was their version of the Gilligan’s Island approach: It worked before, so let’s keep on doing it.

But, just as shops have had to adapt to the changing business environment, so have the suppliers. They’ve realized their goal has to change from simply supplying parts, to helping shops serve their customers… whatever that involves.

This wasn’t just one company’s viewpoint, and it wasn’t something I had to convince them to consider. Virtually every business I visited shared the same message: If we don’t start thinking about our customers’ businesses, it won’t be long before we don’t have any customers left.

Great, but what did they have in mind? And, just as before, they all seemed to have the same basic strategy: Partnering with ATRA.

Partnering how? To begin with, by helping support ATRA’s regional training and webinar programs. They recognize how valuable these programs are for keeping their customers on track.

But that’s just the beginning: Many had new ideas to share, and we’re actively working with them to find ways to develop these ideas into new programs, to build a brighter, more profitable future… for all of us.

I have to tell you, I was a bit overwhelmed: It was a refreshing outlook for a business that spent so many years languishing on a deserted island. And that vote of confidence was just what we need to reinvigorate our approach as we take the next step in discovering what’s working for today’s transmission shops.

And who knows? Maybe by partnering with ATRA, our industry will finally figure out a way to patch that damn boat!