American Transmissions LLC is a small-town operation. Well, if you can call Springfield, Mo., a small town. To someone from Chicago or NYC, the town probably feels like a real one-horse operation. But to someone from a truly rural location, Springfield might be close to Chicago in their mind.
But “small-town” doesn’t refer to the size of town the company operates in so much as it describes the principles that make it what it is. “Small-town” is sometimes synonymous with “all-American”
when referring to a certain set of ideals or manner of behavior. American Transmissions has an “all-American” name, so what of its business?
Owner Austin Dryer said his father was a “gear head,” a trait that was passed down to him. But before he was fixing the drivetrains of Springfield residents, he was assembling ammunition, bombs and other devices of combat during his 10-year stint in the United States Air Force.
“My dad was a gearhead; cars, motorcycles, anything with an engine, I grew up racing dirtbikes and swapping engines and working on cars. I don’t know, it just runs in the blood I guess. My sister deals with heavy equipment. We’ve all kind of got the bug.” After his time in the Air Force, he “worked at CNH Reman Industrial for a short period.”
While in the military, Austin said, “I was in what they call the maintenance systems career field, but what it was, was munitions technology. Basically, what we did was build aircraft ammunition: bombs, rockets, missiles, and also small and large arms all the way from .22 caliber bullets to hand grenades and 105-millimeter shells.”
He assured Transmission Digest that transmissions and explosives were very different, mechanically speaking.
“Completely separate. Very few similarities,” he said emphatically.
American Transmissions operates five lifts in five bays with a total workforce of five people. His employees are Stacey Hickman, Mike McKinnon, Zach Easley and Tim Meakins. Six people total if you count the shop dog, Bonnie. Austin said that, roughly, the shop performs anywhere between four to 12 jobs per week, but the number can vary depending on the complexity of certain jobs. “It really just depends,” he said.
Austin said that the shop had been in operation for years, and two years ago he bought it from Larry Harris, the previous owner. Austin had been working for American only six months before he bought the operation.
“I know the shop’s been in existence since 1996. It was kind of happenstance. I kind of stumbled my way into it. I’d been working somewhere else but I’d always been a gearhead. I didn’t know anything about transmissions but somebody told me that American Transmission was looking for a service writer and I went and talked to the owner and went to work for him for about six months before I bought it from him,” Austin said.
Austin said there is no one particular thing, in his mind, that really sets American Transmission apart from other transmission shops. He said what makes the shop unique, rather, is the crew’s dedication to the customer above all else.
“We’re all about the customer. It really is about getting what you pay for. The customer needs to know what the best step going forward is.
“There is no room for talking the customer into doing something they’re not comfortable with just to sell the job. We do free diagnostics for the fact that, to me, a professional repair facility should be able to properly diagnose the vehicle and then go in and fix that aspect. We don’t just rebuild transmissions. We actually go in and do transmission repairs.
“We do solenoid repairs, we do valve body repairs. We just try to help. That’s what it comes down to. And my warranty rate is probably the best in Springfield. It’s two-year, 24,000-mile. We use OEM parts and we just, like I said, you get what you pay for,” Austin said.
Austin said his previous experiences affected his philosophy on customer services.
“I’ve been taken advantage too many times in my life to do it to someone else. We make sure that the customer’s comfortable; we make sure that the customer understands what they’re getting. No surprise billing, they know what their price is before they come to pick it up; before the job is done they know what their price is going to be. And we stick to it. That’s hard for some places to do. But in this area of the country, incomes aren’t massive. A lot of folks don’t have the money to spend on transmission repair, let alone on some of these bigger, newer trucks that are running you know 5,000-6,000 jobs for a rebuilt tranny,” he said.
Austin said his employees had by and large been working for other companies where they felt unsatisfied, and where they were given certain parameters in their repairs that affected their ability to fix things properly.
“We’re all about the customer. It really is about getting what you pay for,” he said.
Austin believes in keeping the customer informed along the way. “The customer needs to know what the best step going forward is.”
“You have to be able to pinpoint the problem, be confident and accurate.
If you aren’t, you won’t get repeat business, that’s for sure. We take our time with diagnostics, we don’t rush it. I don’t want a customer to have to come in and spend what may be the bottom of their life savings so they can fix their vehicle, just to have it burn up six months later.”
Austin said he doesn’t believe in rushing things and tries to check for any electrical problems as part of diagnostics before ever suggesting a repair to a customer.
He also believes in not charging a customer for diagnostics.
Austin tries to keep the customers happy, and he said that they can come from not only within Springfield, as he’s had people bring their vehicles from up to 70 miles away.
At the end of the day, Austin said that the shop’s goal isn’t great fortune, but rather a simpler achievement. “Me and my guys aren’t trying to get rich. Literally, we want to make a living, we want to support our families, and we want to support our communities, but that’s it. We want people to have a shop that they trust, and that’s becoming a rarity these days.”