Shop Profile - August - 2016

Paul and Mike’s Transmissions A Lesson in Preparedness

Tomorrow.

Annie was happy to let us know how much she loved tomorrow in song, and it seems a lot of people agree with her. Maybe that’s why so many people plan to begin their new diets or exercise routines “tomorrow.”

Tomorrow is also when a lot of folks schedule time to begin handling future eventualities: taxes, wills, and such. Not much wonder; no one really wants to do those things. Why not put them off till tomorrow… and maybe the day after that?

A few years ago, GEARS ran a series of articles by longtime ATRA Member Paul Mathewson about the value of creating an operations manual for your shop. Basically he was suggesting that shop owners write down all the information someone would need if one day they suddenly weren’t there to open the door.

Paul even provided a template for his view of the manual (there’s a copy of that template available for download from ATRA’s Member site).

A lot of people were excited about the idea when they first read about it. But how many actually stepped up and created an operations manual for their shops? Chances are you could count them on the fingers on one hand.

If you’re one of those shop owners who know you need to put that critical information together but haven’t started yet, you need to read this profile.

And do it today… don’t wait till tomorrow.

A Little History

Meet George T. and Kaleena Mormann; a brother and sister who jointly own Paul and Mike’s Transmissions in Joliet, Illinois. Paul and Mike’s is a transmission and general repair shop that’s been in the same location since it opened back in 1955.

One of the first things you’ll probably notice about George and Kaleena is that neither of them is named Paul or Mike. And even the most cursory glance at their pictures will reveal that, in 1955, neither of them was, technically, born yet.

The reason for these little discrepancies is that — you guessed it! — they aren’t the original owners. The shop was opened by brothers-in-law Paul Blatti and Mike Kijowski. And they ran a very successful shop through the heyday of the transmission repair industry.

In May, 1981, George J. Mormann — George T. and Kaleena’s father — began working for Paul and Mike as a mechanic. It wasn’t long before he was promoted to service manager; a position he held for 35 years.

Mike sold his share of the business to Paul, and he passed away in the early’90s. “Paul continued as the sole owner until his passing in October 2014,” says George T.

When Paul passed away, he left the business to George J. “Paul said he thought of Dad like a son,” says Kaleena. And George J. continued to operate the business under the name Paul and Mike’s; carrying on the reputation they’d built for so long.

Difficult Times

Unfortunately, his time as shop owner didn’t last long: George J. was diagnosed with stomach cancer in July 2015, less than a year after taking over the business. He struggled for a few months and passed away in September 2015.

At the time of his father’s diagnosis, George T. was enjoying a meteoric rise in retail sales. Kaleena had earned her Bachelors degree in biology and was working on her Masters in chemistry.

Upon receiving word of their father’s illness, they both dropped what they were doing and ran home to help take care of their father.

While the elder George was happy to have his children by his side, he refused to allow them to join him at work. “He didn’t want us to have anything to do with the auto repair business,” explains Kaleena. So when he passed, neither George nor Kaleena were even remotely familiar with the day-to-day requirements of operating a repair shop.

Upon taking the reins of the business, George began learning to handle the front desk, speaking with customers and handling all those little details necessary to keep the shop running smoothly. If a customer needs to get home or work, George will give them a ride. “And I’ll pick them up once their cars are done,” he says.

When they first took over, there was also a bookkeeper on staff who’s since retired. But she was there long enough to acquaint Kaleena with the records for the shop and show her most of the important background information so she could keep the shop running.

Fortunately, Kaleena’s academic background made her a quick study, and it wasn’t long before she was finding ways to improve their recordkeeping techniques. She also handles the company’s marketing, and, when things get busy out front, she’ll pop out of her office and help out. “I try to jump in where I’m needed,” she says.

While new to the industry, they’ve already begun finding ways to help improve their sales… and their bottom line. “I got us started installing BAIID (Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device) units for people who’ve been convicted of driving under the influence,” explains George. While they may have gotten their start by being tossed into the deep end, it sounds like George and Kaleena have managed to remain well afloat.

Honesty and Integrity

George J. knew how difficult this business can be, which is why he tried to keep his children away from it. But Paul and Mike’s has been a successful shop for a long time. And both George and Kaleena recognize that success has a lot to do with its longstanding tradition for honesty and integrity.

“I think that’s why this business has been able to sustain itself for so long,” explains George. “The vast majority of our customers come here based on referrals and word of mouth.”

Even though they have a great reputation in their neighborhood, they recognize that many new customers walk in the door worried they’re going to be cheated. “For a while it’s like walking on eggshells,” says George.

“They know they need the repairs, but the repairs are so expensive, and they’re worried whether they’re going to be done properly… or if they have to be done at all.”

“We’re kind of paying for what another shop did,” says Kaleena. But they both understand their customers’ trepidation, and they realize how important it is to build trust with their customers. Not bad for just a year: We’ve all seen shop owners who haven’t learned that lesson after far more time in the business!

Meet the Staff

Under the circumstances, it’s no surprise that George and Kaleena have come to depend on the shop’s employees for helping to keep the business running. And those employees haven’t disappointed, providing background information and advice along with great technical support.

Angel Patino is an R&R technician who’s been with Paul and Mike’s since 1981. In addition to basic R&R work, he also performs transmission services. “Angel is a fixture in the shop,” says George. “Like the presence of my father at the service desk all these years, it’s hard to imagine a car on a lift without Angel peering into the chassis with his worklight.”

Paul Schultz has been the shop’s transmission rebuilder since 1988. “Not since my father have I met someone who has such a comprehensive knowledge of automatic and manual transmissions,” says George.

Chris Deridder has been with the shop since 1999 as a master technician, handling virtually all general repairs, including brakes, steering, suspension, electronics, engine work, and more. According to George, “Chris’ mechanical savvy and expertise is invaluable to us; with his guidance, I’ve learned a lot about vehicles, which has helped me serve our customers better at the service desk.”

Allen Urbina worked at Paul and Mike’s 14 years ago as a technician. He left for a while and then came back in 2014, first as an assistant at the front desk and then as the shop’s service manager. “As service manager, it’s not uncommon for Allen to jump into his former role on especially busy days to help the technicians back in the shop,” says George.

Both George and Kaleena are extremely grateful for the integrity and dedication of their employees. “They all know the place like the back of their hands; they know what they have to do… they’re very self reliant. They really helped ease the transition for us,” says George. “And they still do,” Kaleena chimes in.

The Value of ATRA

Paul and Mike’s became an ATRA Member right around the time it first reached out into Michigan. But that was someone else’s decision; George and Kaleena found themselves as ATRA Members when they opened the doors for the first time. It wasn’t something they decided on their own.

Of course they both recognize its value for technical support and the Golden Rule Warranty. But there’s another reason that being Members is important to them.

“Being associated with ATRA is, in some ways, akin to walking in with our father’s reputation,” explains George. “When we took over, I was worried we might lose customers; to this day customers call asking for ‘George,’ and they aren’t asking for me.

“But a lot of customers stayed here because they knew our father and they trusted him. And we’ve told our customers that we want to maintain that quality. ATRA provides us with proof of the continuity we’re hoping to present to our customers. It’s part of who we are as a business.”

Being fairly new to the industry, they weren’t familiar with Expo. But as soon as they heard about it and all it had to offer, they started making plans to attend. They’re looking forward to building relationships with other ATRA Members with more experience who can offer advice for their future.

It’s a smart move; one we’d like to see more shop owners follow. If you’re going to be there, keep your eye out for them, and make it a point to get to know them. It could well turn out to be a terrific relationship for both of you.

Never Again

There’s little doubt that taking ownership of the business has been a tough row to hoe for both George and Kaleena… one that would have been made a lot easier if their father had shown them the ropes.

So when they learned that ATRA has a free template for an operations manual available on line, they downloaded it right away. They learned the hard way that changes can come suddenly, without a lot of warning.

And when it does, it’s important to have that information together, all in one place, in case someone else has to open the doors tomorrow. Not to mention the additional value they’ll have if they ever decide to sell the shop.

It doesn’t have to be pretty and it doesn’t have to be done all at once. But creating an operations manual is something that’s worth doing, especially if you have anyone who’s likely to be left holding the bag if you suddenly aren’t there to handle things.

Still not sure you’re ready to create one yourself? Drop GEARS Managing Editor Rodger Bland a line and ask him for a reference. He’ll send you to someone who’ll be able to help you put everything together.

There’s a fable that says “a wise man learns from the misfortunes of others.” Sure, George and Kaleena seem to be doing well now, but things could have been easier for them and that alone should serve as a lesson for the rest of us. Start putting your business information together for your family’s security.

Don’t wait for tomorrow… because in some cases tomorrow may be too late.