Location, location, location. It’s commonly cited as a real estate motto, but really, it’s essential for any type of business. Whether it means being in close proximity to as many customers as possible or simply being in a visible or noticeable location, it can be a key to success for a transmission repair shop. After all, you can have the greatest service in the world, but that can only go so far if no one even knows your shop is there.
One shop that recently learned the value of a good location is DL Transmissions in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Cape Girardeau is a city of just under 40,000 people in southeastern Missouri, very close to the Illinois border. Established in 2008, the shop moved to a new location in September 2021, and since then business has, to use co-owner Gina LeGrand’s term, “skyrocketed.”
“We’re literally on the main strip in town. We’re very visible where we are,” she says.
“A better facility was a huge thing,” adds Darryl LeGrand, co-owner and Gina’s husband (he’s the “DL” in DL Transmissions, as you may have guessed). “Everything’s much more organized, there are more lifts, more space.”
The new DL Transmissions is a 5,000-sq.-ft. shop, with six work bays, five lifts and a large rebuilding area.
“We have always advertised and marketed really well. There are probably a lot of things that have played into [the shop’s recent success],” Darryl says, “but the visibility I know is a really big one.”
A focus on marketing
As Darryl alluded, there is another component of visibility beyond the literal visibility of your shop, and that’s an online presence. Shops that realize the importance of strong internet visibility often see dividends. Of course, that requires time and energy. DL Transmissions places a lot of importance on marketing and advertising, which is Gina’s specialty, up to and including writing and recording their radio ads.
“At our old facility, I was the service writer, and I was the owner, and I was everything else if it pertained to the office. I rarely had time [to work on marketing] because we were so busy.”
From there, Gina started using a program called Thrive Marketing, which she credits with making it much easier to establish an online presence for the shop.
“We can text our customers, whether it be advertising or just a service reminder, those sorts of things. And then we can also send them a link to leave us a review. That’s been extremely successful for us.”
Currently, DL Transmissions has a 4.6 star rating on Google, based on 77 reviews.
Gina also places a lot of importance on responding to reviews, both positive and negative.
“The more quickly you respond to your reviews, the more it will help boost your Google rating,” she says. “So when people look up transmissions in Cape Girardeau, our shop is likely to pop up very close to the top because I’ve been responding to my reviews, and I’ve been active in my Google My Business presence.”
Additionally, seeing that a shop has responded to the occasional negative review and attempted to make things right or find out what the problem was often goes a long way with future customers.
“Another thing that I do is I offer my service writer a $10 bonus for every five-star review she gets, just to really incentivize her to remind people of those reviews and prioritize them,” she notes.
“We try to get as many good reviews as we can, but it’s really not hard. We simply try very hard to make sure that our customers have a very good experience here, and that the work is done timely and with quality.”
The origins of DL Transmissions
Let’s back up a bit, and talk about how things got started. Darryl’s father established a shop, LeGrand’s Garage, in 1953.
“I grew up in the shop in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. The first transmission I ever built was there. I was in high school, I was 17,” he says. “To this day, people will come in and say they had cars that were worked on by my dad. I even remember helping with some of them as a teenager.”
After his dad’s retirement, Darryl and his brothers went on to operate separate transmission businesses in Cape Girardeau, with DL Transmissions opening in 2008 – a challenging time to open up any new business.
The details of the business
DL Transmissions has eight employees: three in the office and five in the shop. The shop employees include Darryl as master builder, a tear-down technician, a swing technician and two technicians. The office employees include Gina; Sarah, a service writer; and Darryl and Gina’s daughter, who works part time and helps with finances.
Darryl also notes that, at the time of our interview, they were “heavily recruiting” one additional technician–something that can be tricky in a competitive labor market.
“We’ve got some very loyal employees, and we take good care of our employees,” Gina says. “When we hire people, we really emphasize long-term career choices because we’re looking for that long-term employee. One of the first things that we always say in our advertising when we’re advertising for a technician is, ‘are you unhappy with your current position or are you feeling unappreciated?’ Because the technicians that we’re looking for already have a job somewhere.”
Darryl estimates that about one-third of the shop’s current business is in wholesale, providing transmissions to local shops within a 100-mile radius. He also operates a tech line for shops in the area who may need help with transmission repair or have questions.
Additionally, the shop offers a free checkout to customers, a practice that dates back to his father’s days at LeGrand’s Garage.
“I have a lot of friends who are shop owners, and they just wonder how in the world we do it,” Darryl shares. “The truth is, it’s just a matter of being efficient with your time, and the technicians do get a time credit for doing it. In a week’s time, if a technician does 10, or 12, or 15 checkouts, each one of them is worth about 20 minutes.
“It includes a simple checkout of the vehicle, checking the fluid when it’s possible to do so as the vehicle sits. We can easily verify if it has an obvious leak. Our main goal is to see if they have any likely transmission concerns, of course. It gives us a chance to separate obvious engine problems from something we can help them with, which helps the customer out tremendously.
“It also helps us,” he adds, “because we don’t pack our lot full of unneeded checkouts. So we may drive something and there’s an obvious engine misfire, no transmission codes, no obvious symptoms, the fluid’s clean. We simply refer them to a local shop to get that handled.”
“I’m fairly certain,” Gina chimes in, “that we are the only shop, whether it be a general repair, or transmission or whatever in this area that offers a free checkout like that.”
“We may be the only shop left doing that in the world,” Darryl speculates. “I don’t know.”
The free checkout offering, the two share, brings advantages with it that go beyond simply getting customers in the door.
“The look on peoples’ faces when they’re standing there and Darryl is telling them they don’t have a transmission problem, and they realize that we’re being honest with them,” Gina trails off. “If they had gone somewhere else, who knows? They might have gotten a transmission whether they needed it or not.
“We are absolutely honest with our customers,” she says firmly. “Even the ones that end up not needing work here appreciate us so much. And if you actually look through some of our reviews, some of them are regarding just that: That they didn’t have to get their car worked on here, but that we were honest and we told them the truth.”
“And we didn’t charge them,” Darryl notes.
“Yes, it is a bit of an investment for us [offering free checkouts],” Gina says. “But it’s also an excellent advertisement because most of our customers come on personal reviews.”
“That’s actually our biggest statistic on new people coming in as they were referred by one of our other customers,” Darryl adds. “We’re pretty proud of that one.
“One of our main goals is customer satisfaction,” he says. “Because if you have a couple of people that are ticked off in a small town, it doesn’t take very long for the whole town to know about it. You know what I mean? We want our customers to be happy and when they leave here, we want them to be satisfied and feel like they got what they paid for.”