Jeff Madison is the founder and general manager of Got All Auto Parts in Bay City, Michigan. Jeff has an extensive history in the automotive parts industry, beginning at the age of sixteen. After graduating from high school, Jeff expanded his knowledge by working as a district manager for a local transmission repair shop. At just 21, Jeff opened his own repair shop.
Shortly after, Jeff had an epiphany: rebuilding transmissions to be used again could save his customers money. Many people don’t have the money to purchase a new transmission at retail prices. The option of a rebuilt transmission is much more reasonable, especially if the value of the vehicle is lower than the cost of the replacement.
This idea came to life in a pole barn where, initially, they rebuilt less than 30 transmissions a week. It didn’t take long for word to get out and the demand grew. Jeff purchased Got All Auto Parts new facility about seven years ago and brought on his old friend Kevin Karwat, to allow for more than just transmission rebuilds. Got All Auto Parts is now a leading supplier of all new and used auto parts. Due to their business plan, they are able to provide parts at wholesale prices.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
I started out in the repair business when I was still in high school. I was young and eager to learn. I took what I learned and opened my own repair shop. When I thought of rebuilding transmissions, there wasn’t anything like that available. I wanted to give my customers better and more options when they needed repairs done. It started out small, just a few rebuilds a week. It caught on well and it wasn’t long before we needed more space.
Kevin and I revamped the business to set up an assembly line similar to car factories. It makes it a lot easier to do the rebuilds. We expanded to include other parts because our customers have come to rely on us for transmissions, but we were always asked if we were able to get other parts. It just made sense to change it up to include those as well.
How do you make money?
We bring in vehicles and will use their parts for the remanufacturing side of the business. We have a yard full of vehicles that people can find parts they need for their repairs. We use the cores from transmissions to do the rebuilds. Because we are recycling, the cost to us is lower. We share that with our customers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that our parts cost is half what it was somewhere else.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
We were lucky, it didn’t take long for us to become profitable. Rebuilt transmissions weren’t really an option before we started it. We found a market that wasn’t being catered to and it’s been very successful.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
This is all I know. I don’t recall a time when I doubted it would work. We have had to change processes over the years. We grew so fast, there were times we had to reconsider things. The benefit of that was we have become more efficient. We are more particular about who we hire and how we do things. It wasn’t doubt; it was learning.
How did you get your first customer?
My first customer was family. After that, word of mouth brought more people. When you do a good job, have a product that people need, and can save them money you’re going to do well.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
Honestly, I still believe the best marketing strategy that we have is the relationships we have with our clients. Every part of the automotive industry requires an amount of trust. You can’t put out subpar products, people will know and they will share that. We build relationships with our customers and the companies that we supply to. Their satisfaction means our business grows because they’ll share our name.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
We have seen some more growth recently. While it’s exciting, it can make it necessary to change how you’re doing things. We have had to work longer hours at times to meet demand. We have also had to bring on more employees. It makes it very hard to get a day off. Each time we’ve had a fast growth period, we’ve had to adjust. It’s exciting, but it can be tough.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I think my determination is what helps me be successful. When the idea came to me about rebuilding the transmissions, I knew it just had to be done. I didn’t worry about whether it would work, I knew it would. It was having the mindset of what needed to be done to get there. You must be willing to put in the hours.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Getting the yard here was a great moment for me. We had outgrown where we were at and we wanted to be able to provide more for our customers. Having the yard gives us room to bring in more vehicles, which gives us more parts to rebuild and to sell. I don’t know that I expected to grow as quickly as we did. I love knowing that we can give options to our community.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
I think we are going to keep growing. We already ship nationwide, but we aren’t number one yet. I want to be the number one automatic transmission supplier. If we keep growing the way we have been, I have no doubt we’ll get there.
What business books have inspired you?
I have always been more of a hands-on learner. I really haven’t read business related books. I have learned from trial and error. You listen to your customers and respond to their needs. It helps to bring on the right people that you can learn from also.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
Purchasing the yard is a great investment we’ve made for the business. We have also been upgrading the workshop to be more environmentally friendly. We are always looking for ways to improve how we do things. We also consider our impact on the environment and try to keep it as minimal as possible.