Shop Profile - January/February - 2019

Transmission City Builds Its Reputation One Job At a Time

Meet Tony Chavez, owner and operator of Transmission City in Fresno, California. Tony got into the business as a transmission rebuilder. “I don’t build transmissions any more, but I am a rebuilder,” he says.

“When I was coming home from school, I used to walk past a general repair shop,” says Tony. “They were fixing school buses. I’d stop by and think, ‘One day I’m going to fix these things.’

“After high school, about 1993, one of my roommate’s brothers-in-law opened a transmission shop. I used to talk about how I wanted to work on cars, and my roommate sent me to see him.

“I started going there a couple times a week, just to clean parts and help out, and I loved it.” Eventually, Tony started taking transmissions apart. “It was like a different world. It changed my mind about the work I wanted to do.

“I remember my first transmission; it was a 200-4R. I just fell in love with the work, and ever since then I’ve been 100% transmission.

“I took a job there and I worked for him for about two years. Then I moved to a bigger transmission shop. After that, I worked for another shop for about five years. That’s where I completed my education, because we were doing all types of transmissions at that shop.”

Tony opened his first transmission shop in 2005. In 2012, he purchased a shop about a block away from his first shop and moved the business. The new shop is big: about 48,000 square feet! “We have plenty of room for the work we’re doing today; we have 12 bays,” says Tony.

FULL SERVICE SHOP

When Tony opened Transmission City, it was originally a transmission-only repair shop. But about five or six years ago, he hired a couple general technicians and added general repairs to his shop service menu.

The reason? Transmission repairs were becoming less plentiful, and, “I didn’t want my business to have to depend on just one thing,” says Tony. “I wanted to be able to expand into different services.”

It’s a fairly common refrain among shop owners who’ve expanded into general repairs. And for Tony, it’s been a profitable addition. Today, about 45% of their work is transmissions; the rest is general repairs.

Of course, adding general repairs isn’t cheap. His equipment investment was fairly substantial in that first year. According to Tony, the largest investment was in buying a wheel alignment machine.

“My friends all told me that there was no money in alignments. But you know what? It was well worth it. It paid off quickly.”

Not surprising, because Tony realized that, every time his technicians removed a transaxle, they were altering the position of the front cradle, and that changed the wheel alignment. So he made it a point to sell an alignment every time they pulled a front wheel drive trans.

Overall, the addition of general repairs has been profitable for Transmission City. Their workload continues to grow. And, as Tony noted, having general repairs makes it easier to sell transmission work when one of his regular customers needs one.

That’s because one of the most important parts of selling a large job like a transmission rebuild is to earn the customer’s trust. But when you’re the customer’s regular repair shop, you’ve already established that trust. At that point the only questions left to answer are “how much?” and “how long?”

And the same thing works in reverse: “When we do a transmission, they always become loyal customers,” says Tony.

ON THE SAME PAGE

One thing that Tony likes to be sure of is that he and his technicians are on the same page when it comes to their responsibility to their customers.

“It’s not just about fixing a car or installing a part. We’re here to serve the customer,” explains Tony. For Transmission City, it’s about making sure the customer gets what he or she needs.

If that means fixing the car, great; that’s what they do. But they’re there to get the customer back on the road, whatever that involves. “By fixing their cars, we’re making their lives easier.”

Knowing what the car needs? That’s easy. But sometimes it isn’t easy to know what the customer wants. Getting into the customer’s mindset can be difficult. But it’s a goal they all try to reach whenever a customer comes in with a problem.

Among the ways they try to help serve their customers are shuttle services back home or to work, and financing to help cover an unexpected repair expense.

SERVING THE HISPANIC COMMUNITY

Another thing that helps Transmission City remain successful is that Tony and several of his employees are fluent in Spanish. “We’re on the south side of Fresno, and there are a lot of Spanish speakers on this side of town.”

And, while many of those people are fluent in English, a lot of them are more comfortable speaking in their native language, especially when they have a problem that they aren’t familiar with.

Tony recognizes this, and he’s been quick to mention that feature to his message-on-hold system. He wants his customers to know that they can communicate with his shop in whichever language they find most comfortable. And that’s been a very useful service for many customers in their town.

“There are two other transmission shops that aren’t too far away, and neither of them speak Spanish.” That puts those shops at a disadvantage when dealing with the Hispanic community.

And the benefit of being bilingual doesn’t end with the ease of communication. That additional familiarity can help breed trust with customers, which provides an additional incentive for them to use Transmission City and to recommend them to their friends and neighbors.

SERVING THEIR COMMUNITY

We’ve long recognized that community involvement can make a big difference in your business. And it’s something that Tony has been part of for years, “and I’d like to increase it even more,” he says.

“I’m a member of the Fresno Select Group,” says Tony. They operate the Wheels of Hope program that gives away a couple cars twice a year: once in the summer and again around Christmas. What they do is find cars that have gotten tired, and the members of the group donate time and money to fix them up and then donate them to needy families.

It’s a valuable service, one that gives people in need a chance to become mobile again. Transmission City has been part of the program for about five years now.

Tony is planning on starting his own program next year. His new program may not be a car giveaway, but he is planning a new program that lets him continue to serve the community.

In addition to the car giveaway, Tony takes part in programs at a few nearby churches where he provides coupons for free services that they can give away or raffle off.

And Tony is trying to instill that attitude of service in the next generation by getting his kids, Tony Jr. and Samantha, involved. “I told them we’re going to volunteer for a program on Christmas this year,” says Tony. “I want them to be part of something like that. They need to learn the value of helping another human being.”

TRANSMISSION CITY AND ATRA

Transmission City has been an ATRA Member for a few years now, and Tony has nothing but good things to say about the Association. What’s most important to him is ATRA’s overall support for the transmission repair industry.

“They care for this industry,” says Tony. “Their service, the information they provide, it’s all related to my business. Anyone who’s in this business and isn’t part of ATRA is missing out on something very, very important.”

One thing Tony is exceptionally interested in is the ATRA technical seminar program. He tries to get other shops in his area involved, but many aren’t willing to spend the money to send their technicians there. “I don’t understand that,” says Tony. “I always send my guys.

“You’re always going to learn something, and if you’re going to remain in this industry, you have to keep up to date with the latest changes. That makes you more valuable to your shop.”

Tony also offers the Golden Rule Warranty for his transmission customers. “That’s one of the best things you can offer your customer; it provides them with peace of mind when they learn that, wherever they go, their transmissions are protected. If they move to Texas and something happens, they don’t have to worry about it; their transmissions are covered.

And, in addition to the local seminars, Tony also attends Expo. “I’ve been to three Expos so far. I was there last year,” he says. And he’s planning to attend this year’s program at Caesar’s Palace.

RUNNING FOR FUN

Most of his day is spent working at his shop, but when he has some spare time, Tony has gotten into running. It’s an interest he shares with his son, Tony Jr.

“My son and I did a 5k this past weekend; that was just a little race,” says Tony. “I normally do a half-marathon. And my first full marathon — I’m so excited about it! — is going to be in Los Angeles on March 23.

“My son has always been involved in track, and I always try to be there to support him. It’s something I love to do; it makes me so happy to see him compete. And it lets us spend more time together, which is really important.”

Tony Jr. began in track when he was in 5th grade; Tony Sr. got involved with it a couple years ago. And running has helped Tony get into better shape than he was two years ago: “I lost my belly!” he says with a laugh.

It’s wonderful to hear that Tony and his son have something like this to share; let’s all wish him the best at the marathon next March!