From The CEO - July - 2018

The Results Are In!

Every few years Rodger Bland and I set out to learn more about this industry through a series of surveys and focus groups. Since the first What’s Working study in 2006, we’ve studied shop owners (including general-repair shop owners), consumers and automotive students.

The amount of data we’ve collected has been staggering and it’s provided us with insight as to what’s really happening in the automotive repair industry: specifically the transmission repair industry.

You see, we can convince ourselves of just about any reason why business is up or down; it’s easy to find causality or any number of problems we might have. A lot of times we hear people talking about the city they’re in. I’ve heard “There’s no money in (name that town),” only to find a shop in that very town that was doing gangbusters. We’ve even visited shops in places ranked high on Forbes’ list of America’s most miserable cities, only to find a few shops with so much work they could barely move.

Then we looked at the opposite situation: cities and towns that seem to be enjoying unparalleled success. Same results: They have shops that are doing well, while others, right around the corner, can barely keep their heads above water.

We also did a demographic study that supported the idea that the city population and standard of living had little effect in the wellbeing of a transmission shop. This study included every state in the USA, from bustling urban areas on the two coasts to small towns in the middle regions. No relationship there: they had busy shops and slow shops, with little-to-no correlation to their locations.

In 2013, we looked at dealer customers and discovered that over 90% would consider using an independent shop for their automotive-repair needs. It’d be easy to think these customers were locked into the dealer, but it was surprising to learn how little it’d take to change their minds.

Think millennials are unmotivated and don’t want to learn? And that there aren’t any out there interested in transmission repair? Think again. The 2016 focus-group study showed us that we’ve just done a horrible job trying to reach these individuals in a way that makes sense to them. Once again, another myth that doesn’t hold up, when examined in the harsh light of day.

We can find any number of reasons to explain our business ups and downs, but in the end, the only thing that holds up is the data.

So here we are again, looking at a new panel of data where we’ve surveyed over a thousand consumers to get an inside look at their buying habits, their views on their auto repair needs, and the people they trust to fix their cars. It’s broken down by gender and age, so we not only get a general sense from the public, but a few outliers, too.

It’s always interesting to test what we know against what we think we know. Some of the data we found surprising and then, some of it was exactly what we would’ve expected. But even when you think you’re right about something, it’s always good to have the facts to back up your opinions.

But we didn’t stop there. We also surveyed over 250 shops across the country to see how their view of the industry has changed since our last study. Overall, we found positive results. And, like previous studies, we found the attitude of the shop owner has a lot to do with the success of their business. No surprise there; it’s one of the cornerstones of the What’s Working program.

A lot has changed in the transmission industry over the years. A few things haven’t: millennial men are still the worst customers out there for auto repair businesses and it’s still a great industry for those who really enjoy the work.

Rodger and I will share the results of our latest survey at this year’s ATRA Powertrain Expo. Not only will we share what we’ve learned, we’ll even tell you what to think of it. You have the easy part: All you have to do is get yourselves to Las Vegas this October.

I’ll be looking for you there.