J & B Transmission in Dayton, Ohio is as close to being a 100% family-owned and operated business as you’ll find. Operating under the corporate umbrella of J & B Transmission Services, Inc., the company is composed of two distinct divisions – torque converter remanufacturing and the transmission division.
A Long History
The company was founded by Jesse Broadstock in 1964. Jesse ran the shop with his longtime friend and employee Robert Smith until Jesse’s death in 1993. Jesse demonstrated his loyalty and devotion to Robert by leaving him a partnership interest with Jesse’s widow, Bonnie.
Shortly thereafter, the two partners decided to divide the business with Robert acquiring a 100% ownership of the transmission facility and Bonnie retaining full ownership of the torque converter business.
For the next five years, a noncompete agreement restricted Robert from producing torque converters for resale, but he was free to build them for use within the transmission shop.
This proved to be advantageous for Robert by providing the transmission business the opportunity to better control its quality by producing its own converters as well as allowing the company to ramp up to be able to jump into the wholesale converter business after the non-compete expired. The two divisions have both experienced steady growth and success ever since.
Growth of a Family Operation
Robert’s brother, Ray (Uncle Ray) joined the company back in 1976 and worked in virtually every capacity throughout his 43-year career. Ray just retired this past May, a well-deserved retirement; don’t you think?
Scott Smith, Robert’s son came aboard in 1994, right after Jesse’s death. Scott describes his career, “I’ve done every job in the business at one point or another. I’ve been the service writer, office manager, and the lead rebuilder for 25 years. During that time I’ve obtained my ATRA and ASE Certifications.” You’ll hear more from Scott later in the article.
Scott’s brother, Bobby was brought into the business in 1999 to spearhead the company’s push and expansion into the wholesale torque converter operation. Today, Bobby’s focus remains solely with the torque converter division. He’s committed to producing the highest quality converters by using the most up-to-date parts, updates, and equipment. He knows that even the best transmission is only as good as the torque converter.
Chris Smith, Uncle Ray’s son has been with the company for over 17 years. He has advanced his career from installer to lead rack tech to swingman, and today, he’s a rebuilder and soon to be the head rebuilder.
The company’s only non-family member is Tim Barnett. Tim is filling the shoe’s vacated by Chris when Chris moved to the bench. Based on the company’s track record for being a family business, I jokingly wondered how long it would be before they adopt him.
Finally, the head of the family, Robert is still active every day in the business. Scott says, “Dad’s the money guy and the anchor that keeps us all working together. We each have our jobs to do, and we’re committed to doing things right. Whether you’re a family business or not, that’s the secret to unity.”
J & B’s Competitive Edge
The company spokesperson for this article was Scott Smith. When I asked him what he felt gave J & B a competitive edge over the other shops in their market, he didn’t hesitate, “The way we build our transmissions and torque converters is the difference. We simply build a better product because we don’t cut corners. Every unit gets the latest upgrades and updates plus the full complement of Sonnax and Transgo enhancements. And by building our own converters, we have 100% control of the quality. Of course, that means we don’t have anyone to blame when something goes wrong with one of our products; so it’s also a huge responsibility.”
Scott summarized his commitment to quality by adding, “We do it right or we don’t do it at all. We don’t do any patchwork. The only used car dealer we do jobs for is Car Max because the quality is important to them. They’re also willing to pay the right price for the quality. They came to us about ten years ago looking for a shop that would meet their standards. We average one to two jobs per month from Car Max.”
While J & B does a large volume of work for the general public and their private vehicles, I was surprised when Scott told me that 70% of their volume comes from commercial fleets. Scott stated, “We’re commercial fleet specialists. Our accounts include big fleets, municipal fleets – police and sheriff cars, medic vans, and government agency vehicles.” The company also does the school buses for Dayton, Northridge, and Kettering school districts. They’ve even added two lifts to accommodate the school buses, larger trucks, and vans.
Scott explained that they don’t have bid contracts for these fleets and the secret to the long-term relationships is quality over price. These agencies understand that in the long run, quality always trumps price. J & B even offers a 2-year, unlimited mileage warranty on the police vehicles and medic vans.
According to Scott, the one exception to their, “We do it right or we don’t do it at all” policy is with low-mileage used units. He says they will sometimes, make that exception to accommodate a customer who is truly in a financial jam. In those cases, they make it clear with the customer that the supplier of the unit is the warrantor. Scott added, “This way we aren’t putting our reputation for quality on the line. If we did the job and cut corners or just did a patch, then we’re responsible. If we’re going to be responsible, it has to be done right, period.”
I asked Scott if his strict adherence to quality ever lost him a job. He said, “Yes, but because of the policy, I don’t lose sleep.” I thought that pretty much put the exclamation point on that topic.
In summary, we can all relate to the temptation to cut corners just to save a job. However, I’m sure you’ll agree that every time you’ve succumbed to that temptation you thought to yourself, “I know I shouldn’t do this, but I’m going to do it anyhow.” How dumb is that?
It reminds me of something I heard many years ago about learning from experience. It went something like this… Experience is a cruel teacher; she gives you the test before she gives you the lesson.