How a stay-at-home mom found lasting success with the iconic transmission franchise
Kim Johnson never expected to own and manage one of AAMCO’s most successful franchise centers, but that is exactly what she has done for 13 years. An unlikely entrepreneur whose primary experience was as a stay-at-home mother and Jazzercise instructor, Johnson has shattered the stereotypes of who can be successful in the male-dominated auto repair industry — and she credits her commitment to treating her employees and her customers with integrity, respect and empathy.
When Johnson and her husband, Greg, began investigating franchise opportunities in 2004, the couple sought the services of a franchise broker to best evaluate the franchise market. After investigating several concepts, the couple decided that opening an AAMCO in their community of Santa Cruz, California, had the best potential for lasting success.
“Our franchise broker showed us five concepts that wanted to expand in Santa Cruz. After researching the opportunities very closely, we decided that AAMCO was the only business that served a ‘need’ and not a ‘want,’ ” Johnson says. “In any economy, good or bad, we depend on our cars. When our cars need to be fixed, it isn’t an option to not fix your car. We were immediately attracted to AAMCO because it is a recession-resistant business model. In Santa Cruz, at that time and to this day, there was a lack of competition in terms of brands that focus on fixing transmissions. That made the prospect of investing in AAMCO very attractive to us.”
As the couple went through training and worked with the AAMCO executive team to scout the ideal location for their new center, Johnson’s husband was offered a job that was too good to pass up. This meant that Johnson was going to have to do something she had not expected: run her AAMCO on her own.
“I was completely overwhelmed at the idea of running this business at first,” Johnson says. “I assumed that Greg was going to be managing the business and that I would play a background role taking care of the paperwork. I had planned on going back to teach Jazzercise lessons and having more free time to do my own thing. That went completely out the window, and suddenly, I had to learn how to manage a business in a segment that I knew very little about. To counter this, I set about hiring an exceptional crew of experienced technicians. Because of them, I learned quite a lot through osmosis — just by being around my crew. I also spent a long time studying, trying to become an expert in auto repair, so that I could deliver the best customer experience to my community.”
The focus on treating her customers with empathy, dignity and respect has helped Johnson to grow a thriving and prosperous business over 13 years. In the male-dominated world of auto repair, Johnson realized that offering understanding and honesty to her customers was going to differentiate her shop from all other auto repair brands in her area.
“As a woman owner, it is extremely important to me that my customers not only recognize that they are in knowledgeable, expert hands, but also that they feel comfortable bringing their cars into my shop,” she says. “The customer experience is the most important aspect of this business because no one wants to spend money on their car. The customer, especially women customers, might have negative feelings about past experiences with auto repair businesses, and we work hard to deliver the exact opposite: we want them to leave us with a sense of empowerment, we want them to feel positive about their experience with us. This has absolutely worked. Now we have more business from customer referrals than ever before, and we have a loyal customer base that will not go anywhere else.”
Because she focuses on her customers, Johnson is acutely aware of their needs and anxieties. Last month, a car showed up with two grandparents from out of town who were taking their grandchildren to see the beach for the first time. While the parking lot was completely packed with cars waiting to be serviced, Johnson watched in terror as both children began having seizures. After the grandparents explained that they were in control of the medical issues, Johnson rushed to get the car serviced, and in an hour, the family was on their way to see the Pacific Ocean.
“We just received a photograph of the kids at the ocean,” Johnson says, tears welling up in her eyes. “This is really what being in business is all about. We didn’t try and sell them on other services that their car obviously needed — we fixed what was wrong with their car as quickly as we possibly could, made sure that their car was safe, and we sent them on their way. They were very stressed out, and one of my technicians, who also has children with special needs, took the time to assuage their fears. So to receive this beautiful photograph is really something to treasure. It’s proof that our focus on the customer means something much more profound than just sales.”
Johnson is extremely proud that her 23-year-old son has returned home after graduating from college to work in the business. She also sent her son to AAMCO University, the brand’s state-of-the-art training facility in Newnan, Georgia, and she is amazed at his knowledge of auto repair and the way he engages with her customers.
“My husband and I would be so proud if our son continued this business after I retire,” she says. “It’s become part of our plan to make this a legacy business. It makes me extremely proud to think that my business started with zero sales, and we’re now having our best year ever. AAMCO, as a name brand, is going to be around forever, and we would like our center to be around for just as long.”
Bring the iconic transmission franchise to your community
With nearly 650 centers across North America, AAMCO is actively seeking single- and multi-unit operators who are passionate about the brand and committed to providing the highest-quality service. Interested candidates should have a minimum net worth of $250,000 and liquid assets of at least $65,000 per unit. Depending on the real estate selected, franchisees can expect the total investment to be $226,300 to $333,500, with a $39,500 initial franchise fee. Reduced franchise fees are available for honorably discharged veterans.