Fernando Gomez’s dad got into the business after being in the Army. “It was what he always wanted to do,” Fernando says. But that wasn’t the case for Fernando at first.
“My dad needed an apprentice and he was a pretty tough guy to work for, so they were having trouble finding somebody to be his apprentice. They asked me if I was interested in doing it, which I really wasn’t at that time. Transmissions definitely weren’t what I had planned as my trade.
“But once I started doing it, it was a very easy thing for me to learn. I got really good at it, really fast.”
Fernando suspects this came from watching his dad in the garage doing side jobs when he was a kid.
“But,” he continues, “I never really had any interest in it until I actually put my hands on a transmission, to be quite honest. And it was just like second nature. I was just really good at it. It was pretty crazy. Since high school, this is the only thing I’ve ever done.
“And I love it now. It’s given us so much as a family and for me as an individual and I’ve learned so much along the way. It’s been an amazing journey.”
Along with Fernando’s mom, the family bought a shop, Rohnert Park Transmissions in Rohnert Park, California, in 1997.
“My dad purchased the business from a couple of older gentlemen,” Fernando relates. “They had several people interested, but when they met me and my dad, they just thought that that was a really cool thing that we were doing as a father and son. So they went ahead and sold it to us.
“We took over and maybe three years later, my dad had an opportunity to buy a building about two blocks from where we started. We’ve been here ever since, and went from just the three of us to now having five employees.”
Excluding Fernando’s now semi-retired parents, there is a five-person crew at Rohnert Park Transmissions. Fernando walked us through who everyone is and what they do:
“We have David, he’s my main service writer. He’s been with us for about 10 years. He handles most of the customers, but my daughter’s slowly having a bigger presence there.
“Then I have one main R&R technician. His name’s Aldo. He’s been with us about six years and he does most of the R&R, most of the general repair. So together, we do most of the floor work.
“And then I have Enrique, who’s my main rebuilder. He does differential transfer cases, manual transmissions, etc. And he’s been with us for about 20 years.
“I kind of just do a little bit of everything, whatever needs to be done,” Fernando says on his own role at the shop. “I help out in the office when needed. I do most of the diagnostics, but I even will do R&R. I’ll do rebuilding when needed. If I see that we’re really heavy on transmission rebuilds, I’ll help there. Wherever I’m needed, I can pretty much do everything.
“And then my mom, of course. When she’s here, she handles all of the bookkeeping and so on, the owner duties. And she comes back and forth from here in Florida. They have a home in Florida. And so when she’s not here, I’m doing that stuff. And when she’s here, she’s doing it.”
“My daughter, Desiree, she’s the newest addition. She takes phone calls and I’m grooming her to be a service writer. That’s my ultimate goal for her.”
Desiree has been working at the shop for about two years, and spoke to TD about her experience so far and what it’s been like learning the business from her family.
“My family are really positive people to be around, and they all work hard,” she says. “They’ve all taught me how to find a solution and not get negative, because I would always get frustrated, and my grandfather, who originally owned this shop would just always tell me, ‘We’re always going to find a solution. It’s what we do. We find solutions here.’”
The shop details
“In Rohnert Park, there is no other transmission shop; Rohnert Park’s pretty small,” Fernando says. “But right next to us is Santa Rosa and there are maybe seven shops there. So there’s a lot of competition, and there are some really good shops in the area. There seem to be a couple that really stand out, and I believe we’re one of them.”
Rohnert Park Transmissions is in northern California, in Sonoma County. The shop is still in the original building that Fernando and his father bought, and Fernando is very proud of the space.
“We were very blessed with this location. We have five bays here, and the whole outside of it’s got glass, on the outside of the office so you can see a lot. It’s just a beautiful building.”
The shop mostly handles transmission repair, and Fernando says that their greatest strength is a quick turnaround time.
“We have a lot of fleet accounts,” he says. “And especially when we do work trucks or work vehicles, we’re able to turn these jobs around very quickly. Being that I have Enrique as my head rebuilder. But I can also rebuild so we can do it together and really pump out these units pretty quickly. We’ve rebuilt pretty much everything here. We do very little purchasing of transmissions from elsewhere.
“But we can pretty much do anything. We do a lot of classic cars. It seems like nowadays, a lot of people are pushing away from [working on classic cars] because they don’t have an in-house rebuilder anymore. And that’s really something we’re really good at. We can pretty much rebuild any transmission. That’s where our strength is.”
Rohnert Park Transmission also handles general repair for their customers.
“We do tires, we do brakes, we do AC work,” Fernando says. “Most customers really love dealing with us, so they just want us to be able to do everything else for them.”
It’s a similar reason that a lot of other transmission shops branch out into general repair as well: As a customer, once you find a place that you like, you stick with them.
So with Rohnert Park’s specialty being a quick turnaround time, TD asked Fernando what he thinks the key is to keeping those turnaround times quick but also keeping up the quality level you want.
“We purchase a lot of cores,” he answers. “So like your common Chevy truck, Chevy van or anything work related, Dodge, Ford, the trucks, the vans. We purchased a bunch of those cores so we have those units on the shelf already rebuilt. That way, if a guy doing construction work comes in—and most of those guys, they need their truck every day—we tell them, ‘Hey, I’ve got your transmission sitting here on my shelf.’ Boom, we can turn that around in maybe two days. And that’s really a huge thing for them because once their truck is down and they’re loaded up with their tools, that’s money out of their pocket every day. We offer that service a lot and can do that a lot because of that availability we have from the units on our shelf.”
Rohnert Park hasn’t yet branched out into working on hybrids and electric vehicles, but it’s something they plan to start doing, especially considering that the shop is in California.
“I just want to make sure I get the proper education and that’s something we’re looking to do here in 2023,” Fernando says. “It is something I definitely want to get into. As I see here in California especially, the electric vehicles are going to be the future here, very soon.”
A strong community presence
When asked what makes his shop stand out, Fernando highlights empathy for the customers.
“I believe that service-wise, we are willing to do pretty much anything for our customers and go out of our way to help them out in any way. Whether they need a ride two cities away or whatever’s going on in their life, whatever we can do to help ease that if they have their vehicle broken down. If they’re here and their car’s broken down, that’s their livelihood.
“We have a large Latino clientele as well,” he notes. “We all speak Spanish here. So it seems to be a big thing for us. And we do a lot of work for the community.”
Desiree says her dad is well-known in the community for this attitude of empathy.
“He’ll go out of his way to feed the homeless on Thanksgiving or even on Christmas; that’s something that he’s passionate about. The community knows him pretty well for being someone that gives, and I think that’s really special because not everybody does that.”
“There are a lot of choices out there,” Fernando says. “So for customers to choose us, we have to be very thankful for that. I don’t care if it’s a $50 oil change or a $5,000 transmission job. I want every customer treated the same way and given same amount of respect, and that’s what we try to do here.”