Twelve years ago, Fred Bowen knew very little about auto transmissions. He certainly didn’t know anything about fixing them, since he is not a mechanic and didn’t tinker with cars as a young man.
Despite a decidedly non-automotive background, in twelve years Bowen has built the leading transmission and car care business in the Triad and among the biggest in North Carolina. Since he opened his first Cottman Transmission and Total Car Care franchise in Greensboro late in 2002, Bowen has developed four highly successful auto repair centers. More than that, he has built one customer at a time, a solid reputation in the communities where he does business for being honest, fair and customer-friendly – not words often used when people think of auto repair centers.
Bowen, 57, credits his success 100 percent to his sixteen years as an officer in the Marine Corps, where he served throughout the U.S., in South and Central America, Asia and the Pacific.
Successful Auto Repair Shop
“Running a successful auto care business requires good team-building and leadership skills,” Bowen said. “That’s exactly the training and hands-on experience I received in the Marines. It was all about teamwork and leadership, and that’s what has made my stores successful.”
Bowen served two stints in the Marines, beginning in 1973 with a six-year tour. He then spent six years serving as a police officer in the Oklahoma City Police Department, during which time he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Oklahoma. After graduating, he returned to the Marines for 16 more years of service. He then managed a low- income housing program in Winston-Salem, where in three years he helped turn around an at-risk neighborhood.
His transition into the auto care industry began when he saw an ad for a transmission repair center. Although he wasn’t able to buy that center in Winston-Salem, where he lives, he ended up opening the first Cottman in the area. He recalls starting literally from the ground up, searching for a suitable location in Greensboro, hiring and training the staff and, finally, opening in the fall of 2002.
“Back then,” Bowen recalled, “everyone wasn’t on the internet and phone books were still the place to check when looking for a transmission repair center. But the new phone book wasn’t going to be published for another few months, so I did whatever I could to get the word out.” He spent heavily on newspaper ads to get the Cottman name out, and did a lot of personal networking. At the same time, he used his Marines team-building expertise to create a business that focused on doing the best work and keeping the customer informed and satisfied throughout the process. He steadily built a core of satisfied customers who trusted and respected the Cottman store and its people.
“Most people know little about transmissions other than they are essential to functioning of a car,” Bowen said. “When they have a transmission problem, any of a number of feelings come into the customer’s mind – fear, anger, frustration and often a feeling of distrust for the auto center. I’ve trained my team to understand and deal with these feelings by maintaining what we call an ‘open door’ policy. We calmly explain the process from a thorough and no-obligation free diagnostic to a very detailed explanation of what needs to be done and what it will cost. If asked, we’ll even show the customer their transmission that we’ve taken apart, to show the damaged parts that must be replaced.”
Bowen noted that tearing down a transmission for a diagnostic is not a simple process, since an automatic transmission can have from 300 – 500 parts and a manual transmission can have upwards of a thousand. “Transmission work is not something the average mechanic wants to tackle, nor are most qualified,” he said.
Transmission And Auto Care Centers in North Carolina
Over the past four years, Bowen has expanded his Cottman business, with four Cottman centers now in the Triad area. He bought an existing Cottman center in Durham in February of 2011 and bought another existing Cottman center in Cornelius in April, 2012. Three months later, in July 2012, he converted a center in Winston-Salem that he had bought two years earlier to the Cottman brand.
He is proud that his Greensboro center is now in the top three performers in the Cottman chain nationwide. “It’s a great feeling of accomplishment to take a troubled business, turn it around and increase sales by double or triple within two years,” Bowen said. “But even more rewarding is when people trust you with their car and recommend you to their friends.”
About Cottman Transmission and Total Auto Care:
With locations across the U.S. and in Canada, Cottman Transmission and Total Auto Care is an auto repair and transmission company for almost any make or model vehicle, foreign or domestic. Cottman Transmission and Total Auto Care continues to take claim of the growing $250 billion aftermarket auto industry and specializes in complete transmission service, brakes, suspension, air conditioning service and much more. Cottman is based in Horsham, Pa. For more information, please visit www.cottman.com.