With more than half a century in operation, it is safe to say Cottman Transmission and Total Auto Care is not new to the business. In fact, Cottman, which first opened its doors back in 1962, was around before anyone even considered the modern transmission repair and quick lube business model.
The company has been dedicated to its vision statement for 54 years — “to provide quality transmission and general automotive repairs at competitive prices with our success being built from repeat customers who trust the service we provide.” Given the longevity of Cottman, it does seem they’re doing something right.
It all began on Cottman Avenue, a well-known and rather busy street in Philadelphia.
“This location not only grew a close and strong bond with its neighborhood, but it also quickly became a close community partner famed for providing customers with excellent service and fair prices,” said Randy Wright, president at Cottman Transmission and Total Auto Care. “For this reason, in order to keep its heritage alive, the founder Richard Silva, decided to name the franchise after his original location.”
From the City of Brotherly Love in 1964, Silva offered the first Cottman franchise opportunities, and today there are 56 franchises across the country. The company has expanded its business, and today each location specializes in complete transmission service, brakes, suspension, air conditioning service and oil changes, as well as other services.
From Family Business to Franchise
Cottman’s business has evolved in not only the services it offers but also in the changing world of franchising — as one must remember McDonald’s had been in the franchise business for only a decade when Silva opted to utilize a similar business model.
“There have certainly been many changes, especially when discussing the transformation of a company-operated business model to a franchising model,” Wright said. “As with the growth of any brand, the more businesses added to the network increases the complexity of promotional programs, geographic coverage, supply chain considerations, and various other market dynamics.”
Add to that the proliferation of franchising — or the licensing of its trademarks and a proprietary system to independent operators — and the infrastructure of services to support franchisee performance has required franchisors to evolve along with today’s business environment and keep current with all advances in the marketplace.
“For example, we have been especially proactive in the areas of technological enhancements to the system — such as advancements in point-of-sale software systems, social media guidance/advisory training, sponsored programming in marketing campaigns and PR support and financing alternatives structured through third-party lenders or funding platforms that are specifically designed for Cottman franchisees,” Wright added. “Many of our initiatives begin well before an individual prospect makes the franchise investment to make the Cottman franchise opportunity — and franchise experience — as differentiated as possible when compared to other franchised brands, regardless of the industry.”
Throughout these changes, the company has remained committed to its core principles, its vision statement and its commitment to its customers.
“At Cottman, we pride ourselves on many things, such as our national A+ Better Business Bureau rating and our code of ethics, which requires the highest level of fairness and openness to consumers across all shops,” Wright said. “As a matter of fact, consumers are strongly encouraged to call or email our consumer affairs department to discuss their customer service experience at Cottman. Additionally, at our annual convention, we recognize and award our franchisees with the coveted ‘Customer Service Award’ if they have no unresolved consumer issues at their shop throughout the year.”
Just as the world of franchising has evolved, so too have the various fluids that go into vehicles, and Cottman has strived to go with the flow.
“Certainly the first major change is regarding recent enhancements in auto transmission fluid,” explained Wright, who added that over the past 40 years auto transmission fluid has had quite an evolution.
It has gone from being very generic, where it could be used across all types of transmissions for different makes and models, to now, where the fluid has become very specific to fit a certain type of transmission.
“This is happening because transmissions are becoming more and more complex, directly resulting in more complex lubrication requirements as well,” Wright noted. “Overall, much has changed in the motor oil field; for example, companies have gone from creating [conventional] motor oil to now having semi-synthetic and full-synthetic options available. The reasons behind these updates and advancements have to do with fuel efficiency.”
The other major change that Cottman has faced in recent years is the fact that today’s cars have much more technology under the hood. In fact, today’s smartphones that are in many driver’s pockets are more powerful than the most advanced computers in use back in 1962. This has created challenges for shops, but being able to handle these issues has ensured customers can feel comfortable taking their vehicles to any Cottman location.
The company has also worked to ensure customers can understand issues and how these are resolved.
“Today’s automobiles are highly computerized, which results in longer lasting cars and better fuel efficiency,” Wright said. “With that said, these same advancements also make car repairs that much more complex. For example, transmissions are far more computerized than they have ever been. In response to this, our centers have access to our technical department, which was created to support all of the centers with technical information and recommendations regarding the complex auto repair issues that can arise from time to time.”
The greatest challenge Cottman has had to overcome is the technical advances in transmissions, while the other issue is ensuring that the team members have the right skills to satisfy customer demands.
“Additionally, we have noticed there has been shortage of available transmission rebuilders,” Wright said. “Since this is an important position that our shops hire for, our corporate team provides ongoing hiring support to ensure our franchisees can be connected with the best transmission rebuilders in the industry.”
The Future for Cottman
With more than five decades in the rearview mirror, the executive team at Cottman’s remains focused on the future of the company and its franchises.
This includes a number of franchise opportunities available in select markets within the U.S.
“Over the years, we have watched our individual franchise locations grow their customer base and become increasingly known within their respective communities,” Wright said. “Overall, our Cottman locations have outpaced the industry average for comparable sales. With that said, we plan to continue our high performance and improve comparable store sales.”
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