A Lifetime as an AAMCO Franchise Owner: An Interview with Bill Harrison
AAMCO’s longest-tenured franchise owner opens up about his nearly 50-year career with the iconic American auto repair franchise
After nearly 50 years in business, Bill Harrison can still be found each morning behind the desk of the AAMCO franchise he purchased in Springfield, Ohio, in 1967.
“I’m a workaholic,” says Bill, laughing. “I admit it. Even after 49 years, I still feel an obligation to be successful. I’m 78 years old, and most people my age are probably retired by now. I never wanted to retire. I still have a lot to do.”
The drive that Bill exhibits today has kept his auto repair franchise successful for 50 years. Long before the adage, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” became a mantra for entrepreneurs, Bill made the decision to go into business for himself because he wanted to wake up every day and feel passionate about going to work.
“In 1967, I was 29 years old. I took what savings I had, borrowed money from my grandfather, and I bought an AAMCO franchise,” Bill says. “I really wanted to take control of my own future and provide a good life for my family. I knew that the failure rate for small businesses was high, so it was important to me that I franchised with a company that had a plan. AAMCO really knew what they were doing; they were experts in transmission repair, they had a robust national guarantee — which is still important — so it was easy to be successful right out of the gate. Over time, we became a household name. Franchising with a company that knew what they were doing really helped.”
A meaningful part of the community
The fact that Bill is approaching 50 years as an AAMCO franchise owner is significant when considering that AAMCO is in its 51st year of franchising. As an AAMCO franchise owner, Bill has weathered five national recessions since 1970, has witnessed the end of the Vietnam War and the Iraq War and has watched as eight U.S. presidents be sworn into office. Since 1967, Bill’s AAMCO franchise has been a meaningful part of his community of Springfield, Ohio.
“Over time you definitely become part of the community,” Bill says. “When the people of Springfield think of AAMCO here, they don’t necessarily think of the national AAMCO brand. This is something that I’m proud of. Our customers know us on a first-name basis. They know that we’re in it for the long haul.”
Not only has Bill forged meaningful, lifelong relationships with his community in Springfield, he also has struck lifelong friendships with other AAMCO franchisees.
“AAMCO has a national dealer’s association, and I’ve been a member since it started in 1969,” Bill says. “The dealers have been organized, and we have made it through some tough times because we’re stronger together. We’ve weathered recessions and changes in management; we just work together and are there for one another. Now, the new management and franchisees are working together really well, and the mood is very positive. We’re all very impressed with the new management team.”
Why AAMCO is stronger than ever before
The new management team that Bill mentioned is led by CEO and President Brett Ponton, who prior to joining the iconic auto repair franchise, was the largest Jiffy Lube franchisee in North America, operating nearly 575 units.
“AAMCO franchisees have a lot of confidence in the new management team,” Bill says. “They have a five-year plan, which is going to position AAMCO as the leader in Total Car Care. As a franchisee, it’s very easy to convince my customers that we can fix way more than their transmissions. We had to advertise, and we got a new sign from AAMCO, but the more people that come into our shop, the more people that get the concept. The essential thing is to provide an exceptional level of service and make a genuine connection with people. If you do that, your customers will keep coming back.”
Bill also applauds the new management team for furthering its commitment to training and educating AAMCO franchise owners. The new leadership launched AAMCO University, a state-of-the-art facility in Newnan, Georgia, which not only gives attendees new tools to boost their skills in their daily work environment, but it also offers ongoing opportunities for career development. In order to position themselves as leaders in their communities, AAMCO franchise owners can attend more than 250 hours of training, as well as more than 300 online courses focused on comprehensive business ownership principles and procedural applications.
“When I was started out, we didn’t have anything like AAMCO University,” Bill says. “You really do need it to succeed.”
A better future for your family
When Bill looks back on his nearly 50 years as an AAMCO franchise owner, he is most proud that his business will survive him.
“My stepson is going to take over when I hit my 50-year anniversary,” Bill says. “I feel really good about that. I see that at a lot of AAMCO centers, where the next generation steps up to run the business. It makes it worthwhile when you have a business that’s valuable and should be passed on. I think I am passing on something that is valuable. My stepson knows that we’ve done well, so he knows that there is a future in this business. We’re not rich, but we’re rich enough.”
As AAMCO’s longest-tenured franchisee, Bill knows a thing or two about what qualities are needed to run a successful auto repair franchise.
“You don’t have to be super educated — have a Harvard MBA or anything like that,” Bill says. “I’ve seen mechanics and techs take over ownership of shops and do well. You have to put in a lot of hours, be adaptable to change and work hard, but most importantly you have to have some common sense.”