For most of the world, the auto repair industry is one populated by men. Oh sure, there are a few women here and there… you usually see them in the office, taking care of customers or handling the billing. Female technicians are out there, but they’re still a rarity.
And, of course, there are a few women shop owners, but generally, they’re part of a husband-and-wife team. It’s beyond unusual to find a woman who chose auto repair for a business on her own, much less one who’s thriving at it. For that to happen, you might think it would involve some sort of magic.
Meet Kristina Magic, owner and operator of Speedy Transmission Centers of Marietta, Georgia. And how she got into transmission repair demands a peek behind the curtain.
“Growing up, I never thought about owning a transmission shop,” says Kristina with a laugh. “That never appeared on my radar.” But, as the saying goes, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”
“A friend of mine convinced me to take the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University course. What I learned from that was that I needed to do something different. I’d gone from making a six-figure income to making $38,000 a year, and the ends just weren’t meeting. I was drowning very quickly.
“I came to Georgia in 2010 with $136 to my name — and $100 of that was a loan from a neighbor! I had family here who’d be able to help me by babysitting my daughter Brianna, while I got a second job, which I was going to have to do to get out of debt.
“I took my daughter to the lake to feed the ducks one day, and while I was there, one of the restaurant owners came by and offered me a job waiting tables.
“I thought about it: It was a lake restaurant, and if people were boating in this economy, they’re making money. And that means they’re in a professional industry and I’m likely to meet someone who could offer me a job.
“One of the customers at the restaurant owned three transmission shops. I’d been laid off and he offered me a job selling transmissions. I didn’t even know what a transmission was, but he was willing to show me and I was willing to learn.”
So Kristina had a new job in the transmission business. But that didn’t last long: “A couple weeks later, the franchise holder presented me with a lease assumption and a franchise agreement. He said, ‘I think you’re gonna do great,’ and I was so flattered that I didn’t do any due diligence. I was, ‘Where do I sign?’
“The person who offered me the job was closing his shops and leaving the state, and the franchise holder just wanted a warm body to keep one of his shops open.”
Just like that, Kristina was a transmission shop owner.
A PEOPLE BUSINESS
Somehow, Kristina made it work: “When I first got the shop, we had an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau. The shop was a shambles and its reputation was awful. We’re now the number-1 rated shop in a 35-mile radius.
“We do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Quality… reputation… customer service… those things are imperative; there’s no excuse not to have that. Reestablishing credibility in a non-credible industry is something I feel really privileged to be a part of.
“What I quickly realized is that I have the ability to help people make a good financial decision, which supports my vision of becoming debt free. I can help people fix their cars for $1500 to $3000, instead of buying a new car and taking on $40,000 worth of debt and a $500 monthly payment, when their cars still have a lot of life left in them.”
Maybe it was the tough times that she went through that makes Kristina so willing to help others: “A family from Chicago that came through last year. Their motor home broke down, and they wouldn’t work with anyone but me. They waited an entire week in my parking lot, because they saw us online and they didn’t want to work with anyone else.
“That trip meant so much to the customer because, when his mother was diagnosed with cancer, he’d promised he’d take her to Miami before she passed away. We helped them achieve that dream.
“This is a people business. It isn’t really about transmissions at all; it’s about the human interaction that we have.”
And, in talking to Kristina, there’s no doubt about the passion she feels for her work… and her life in the transmission repair industry.
AN OUTSTANDING TEAM
One thing Kristina’s learned is just how much she depends on her technicians. As she points out, without having experience in transmissions, “you’re at their mercy, 100%. That’s why it’s absolutely essential that I have a team I can trust.
“In the beginning I didn’t know anything, and I was hiring B- and C-rated builders. They were building units out the back door and stealing parts. They’d charge parts to an invoice and I had no idea whether they were for that unit or not.
“I’m very, very fortunate that I have a team I can trust. I rely on them to be honest, trustworthy, and loyal. It’s really no different than any other business: It’s the people who can make you… or break you.
“Would it be to my advantage to know the ins and outs of turning wrenches? Of course. Maybe that would help me tighten things up and become more profitable.” But she’s quick to acknowledge just how lucky she is to have people who are just as concerned with their reputation as she is.
Speedy Transmission Centers of Marietta is exclusively a transmission shop. That’s becoming more and more unusual in this day and age, but Kristina has a reason for that decision: About 30% of her business comes directly from referrals from general repair shops in the area.
“I’ve worked very hard to build strategic partnerships with some general repair shops… shops that don’t do transmission work, and I round-robin referrals to these shops. If they found out that I was offering general repair, they’d be less-likely to refer transmission work, for fear that I’d steal their customers.”
While their business model is that of a custom rebuild shop, Kristina isn’t adverse to using remans if it makes sense. “Sometimes the customer asks for a reman because they want the warranty that comes with it.” Other times the damage may be too extensive to make a custom rebuild profitable.
When those situations occur, they’ll order a reman. The rest of the time they try to stick with custom rebuilds.
HER FIRST EXPO
This year was the first time Kristina attended Expo, and she certainly made the most of it. “It was awesome,” says Kristina. “It really was great.”
For years, we’ve discussed how there’s more to Expo than the actual seminars; there’s the relationships you build between the seminars. And for Kristina, that was a valuable part of her experience at this year’s Expo. One of the friendships she made was with Laura Wilson, who owns Advanced Transmission in Spanish Fort, Alabama, with her husband, Marvin.
Kristina heard about Laura during Alex Goldfayn’s seminar: He used Advanced Transmission’s practices for getting referrals. So, during the break, she went over and introduced herself to Laura. The two of them quickly hit it off. “We had a little time to talk at one of the receptions,” explains Laura, “and I thought, ‘Hey, this girl is really on fire!’
“At the last minute, one of my employees couldn’t make it, so we had an extra ticket to one of the Cirque du Soleil shows. I invited Kristina to join us for dinner and a show.”
“Laura and I have kept in contact, and she’s going to come out to my shop and make some recommendations where I can improve,” says Kristina. “After almost seven years of doing this I figured, ‘I have to get better at this because this is real… this is happening!’
And just to show that the universe has a sense of humor, shortly after they met, one of Laura’s customers ended up in Kristina’s shop for a possible transmission warranty problem. The technicians from both shops worked together to determine the problem was actually a faulty MAP sensor, not a transmission. So the customer had his car fixed and was back on the road in no time. “The bad news was the customer had to pay for the sensor,” says Kristina with a laugh.
Obviously Kristina took away a lot from Expo in the form of management training and in her new friendship with Laura. But that was just the beginning of what she brought back.
Because, unlike most shop owners, Kristina also made time to attend the R&R 101 seminar. “I took the R&R 101 course and, when I got home, we redesigned our check sheet to make sure we’re checking every battery terminal and putting dielectric grease on. And we’re checking the ground wires and the PRNDL switch, and making sure we aren’t missing any bellhousing bolts.
Thanks to the R&R course, Kristina is now aware of the proper procedures that will help her staff avoid problems they simply overlooked during the initial checks. “I want to know this stuff up front, so I can sell an axle, or an engine or transmission mount, instead of having to go back to the customer after the job’s done.”
What’s amazing about this is that the R&R 101 course wasn’t designed for shop owners; it was designed for people who wanted to become R&R technicians. But Kristina managed to take what she learned and turn it into something valuable for her shop. “I was so glad I went!”
And she was so impressed by what she’d learned at this year’s Expo that she’s hoping to take her entire team in the coming years. It’s a smart move… one that’s sure to pay off for her as time goes on.
It isn’t often you find someone who can dominate in a business without any experience or formal training. Even less so when it’s a woman in what’s traditionally a man’s world. It’s rare… but is it magic? In this case, maybe it is.