Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2008   by Debbie And Milton Dennie, Owners Of Advance Transmission And Auto Repair, Perth, Ont.

Success in a small town comes from building strong community connections

Starting a new business is always a challenge; more so when one decides to start a new business in a small town where one is just coming into for the first time. My husband Milton and I decided to sta...

Starting a new business is always a challenge; more so when one decides to start a new business in a small town where one is just coming into for the first time. My husband Milton and I decided to start Advance Transmission and Auto Repair five years ago after Milton’s work with Volkswagen ended when the dealership and service operation closed down. We decided rather than looking at the closing of his former employer as a setback, it was instead an opportunity to strike out on our own.

Like any new business there are a host of challenges to face, many of which are familiar to anyone who has started a new venture. Only we faced a set of unique challenges, many of which were around starting a business in a small town. While a population of just over six-thousand persons sounds like a lot, Perth is very much a tight-knit community. There are families here that stretch back generations, almost everyone seems to know each other quite well and everyone seems to have gone to high-school together. Because of that closeness, everyone supports each other, both in their personal relationships and in business. Our challenge in starting up our shop, especially being new to the town, was developing those same kinds of relationships. We had to become part of the local business family of independent garages, and the first step was joining the Welcome Wagon program. This program not only invited us to the town but it offered us an opportunity to acquaint the townspeople with us.

Another thing Milton and I did was to buy a cube van and begin a mobile transmission repair operation. This allowed us to do two things: first, it helped up specialize in one kind of repair business and to further develop close working relationships with the other garages and owners in Perth; the next was to foster our connection to the town and our future customers. These steps were important because it told people that Milton and I were not out to take business away from anyone and we wanted to work with others, and were open and approachable to the town’s people.

For example, each year there is a very popular Maple Festival in Perth. We attended that fair and set up our cube van, a table and placed on that table a pulled-apart transmission. Then we told people that if they had any questions about their cars or even transmissions, we were there to answer them. There was no pressure on anyone to come to us, but soon people came to us and wanted to see how we could help them.

Other things we did were to become active in many other community events, supporting local soccer teams and the highly-regarded special Olympics, as well as becoming members of the local Citizens’ Club. We also support and encourage co-operative education programs working with the two local high-schools in mentoring and supporting students who wanted to apprentice in the automotive trade.

When we opened up our shop, the efforts we put into building those community relationship paid off. We soon had steady work and we continue to grow. The community and local businesses have been supportive and we have made many deep and lasting business and personal friendships in Perth.

But that does not mean we still do not face other challenges. Another is being some one to two hours away from a major city, we both have to be very efficient in how we book and repair vehicles. The reason is because of the distance, a jobber can only deliver once a day so you have to make sure that you order the right parts and be as efficient and accurate in repairing a person’s vehicle. If you find you are in the middle of a job and a bolt seizes and breaks or a simple job becomes a bigger job well, it can very well tie up a hoist till the following day. There have been times when someone has to take 2-3 hours out of their day to go and retrieve the necessary parts from the city. Either way, such as situation presents another challenge that we have to be creative to overcome. Milton, Debbie and family would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the Perth businesses and their customers for their trust and friendship that we have gained from this venture in our life.



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