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Staff, Reputation Move into Next Half-Century

Lansing (Michigan) Transmission, founded in 1963, has built a reputation as the best and most reliable transmission shop in town.

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Lansing Transmission, Lansing, Mich.

Lansing (Michigan) Transmission, founded in 1963, has built a reputation as the best and most reliable transmission shop in town.

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Owner Greg McGarey and longtime technician Lori Bailey said they’re aware of the shop’s status, and they’re working to maintain it. Greg employs six people, including his son Jeramie Goetschy, who is learning the technical side, and Greg’s son-in-law Brian Gwizdala, learning the office side.
Greg started at Lansing Transmission in 1980 and in 1999 bought the business from Jim Houghton, who started the business with Jim Henfling. Greg and his crew have sustained the shop’s reputation by word of mouth and referrals, and by focusing on what they do best: repairing transmissions.

“One thing we’ve never done: They said 10 years ago we needed to go more general automotive,” Greg said. “We’ve stayed busy enough with just transmission and driveline. I send work to friends who do the automotive work. (General automotive) is something that down the road we might do, but I haven’t felt the need. We’ve never been slow enough, long enough to have to make that move.”

Greg said he’s pleased with the lack of turnover and the quality of staff, including Donnie Austin, Rick Holland and Stacy Ferrin, the rebuilder who has worked for 28 years in the shop.

Lansing Transmission stands on good footing with retail, wholesale and fleet work. Wholesale (referrals) comprise 60-70% of the business, with retail being the lesser of the three sectors.

The shop had nine bays, but Greg removed two of them to create more space for building, which represents 80% of the activity in the shop, with just 20% R&R. “Years ago, we wouldn’t even do that much R&R but when times are hard, and people just don’t have the money, you try to help them as best you can. You do what you can to help out the customer,” Greg said.

Used-car dealers are important customers in the wholesale category, said Lori Bailey, an experienced technician who handles electrical and diagnostic matters. Among the fleets they serve are a major hospital, a police department, Michigan Department of Transportation, and a regional chain of neighborhood food stores.

The shop pulls from a radius of 50 miles for customers and referrals. The shop gets its parts from Whatever It Takes and Transtar. DIY customers can buy parts from Lansing Transmission.

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Maintenance and checkups

The shop encourages customers to drop by to maintain proper fluid levels and to get a checkup at no cost, Lori said.

“We tell people, if you have anything going on, just stop in. They know if they have any trouble with their vehicle, they can come to us first, and we’ll refer them to other places, because they trust us.”

When customers stop in or drop off their vehicles, the shop gets the opportunity to gain their confidence, she said.

“We show them we know what we’re talking about. A lot of times, it may not be their worst fears. When they come in, they’re fearing the worst. It’s one of the worst places you want to go. It’s like the dentist. I love to see people walking out and not having to pay what they were thinking.”

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On another note, the shop stands ready to deal with challenges during the upper-Midwest winters. The shop works on a lot of 4WD and AWD vehicles, and it’s prepared to respond to the elements. People get stuck in a snowdrift or a ditch, and they burn out their transmissions trying to get out, Lori said. In addition, drivers of plow trucks may need transmission assistance.

“They’re trying to clear a parking lot fast, and they have a lot of them, and they’re working all night long,” Lori said, noting that repairs might be required. “So we try to get them done as quickly as possible. Sometimes we’ll have a unit ready if it’s a company we deal with. So if one breaks down, we can swap within a day.”

During the warm months, owners of vintage vehicles come to Lansing Transmission. Recently Greg serviced a 1938 Hudson that he has been working on for several years while the owner restores the vehicle. The shop had assisted in getting the 200R4 transmission to function in the car, Greg said. Lately it had been in the shop for replacement of the governor.

“We’re known around town because we have a lot of the older stuff: Superglides, Jetaways, Slim Jims,” Lori said. “We’ve got some parts still in stock and we know where to get the parts for them.”

Looking ahead

In the early years of his career, Greg wanted to own the business some day. Eventually he realized his hopes. More recently, transmissions have become more complex and costly, and now he’s trying to keep up with technology. Meanwhile, he’s training Jeremy and Brian so he can hand off the business to them.

Greg acknowledged that computers are not his strong suit; however, he has assembled a capable crew, including Lori with her expertise as well as the next-generation family members. “They’ve got all the computer knowledge that I lack,” he said. “These guys – you know how young people are. It’s second nature.”

‘Give Me a Shot’

Lori Bailey started running parts at the Cottman franchise where her then-husband worked.

“Then they lost a guy on the floor. I asked the manager, ‘Give me a shot.’ I was out there eager to learn, always have been,” she said.

“So he didn’t laugh at me or anything; he gave me a shot at it.” She worked there on and off for five years. Lori worked in general-repair shops around town before she joined Lansing Transmission, where she has been working for 18 years.

She learned on the job and by reading and studying.

“When I was here, they lost a person who was doing electrical when that first was coming out. Then I stepped up to that,” she said. Taking a class in automotive electronics was not in her budget. “So I bought a book, just studied off of the book they had for that class. There was a shop across the street, a general-repair place. Tracy over there, he would help me whenever I ran into a problem.”

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She also does R&R and manages when needed.

“So I do all the electrical here, too. Plus diagnosing the repairs. A lot of wiring, it’s on the job. You have to learn as you go.”

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