Melinda Kriner was home caring for her young son when her father and husband made the life-changing decision to open their own business —a Cottman Transmission & Total Auto Care center at 3315 N.E. 112th Avenue in Vancouver, WA.
Melinda’s father Larry Postlewait had spent most of his career at a major baked goods company, starting as a route delivery driver and working his way up to northwest regional manager of the national company known for its bread and snack cakes. When the business was sold to a foreign company, Larry found himself out of work.
At the same time, Melinda’s husband Jason, who had been working in construction, wanted to be in business for himself.
That was 15 years ago, and Melinda, now 36, runs the business that her father and husband began. She joined about two years after the business opened, once she was ready to return to the workforce. Customer service had been her background, working for a tea marketer. She had also been studying online, receiving a B.S. in Business Management. But she had no automotive experience.
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“I didn’t know how to fix cars, but I did know how to serve customers,” she says. “Most people are intimidated when it comes to car repairs, and they may be uneasy placing their trust in someone else’s hands. That’s why we try to educate our customers so they can understand, in layman’s terms, why their car isn’t working properly and what must be done to fix it.”
Melinda says she listens to the customer, to see what their needs are and also what their concerns might be. She takes the time to explain and educate, and she also talks to customers about preventive maintenance which can save hundreds or thousands of dollars down the road.
“We do what’s best for the customer rather than what’s best for our own bottom line,” she says. “In the end, that policy does work in our favor since we’ve built a reputation for honesty and fairness. Customers come back to us, and they refer us to their friends and neighbors, which is always the best way to get business.”
Melinda has found that many of her customers are women and that they appreciate the patience and extra time it takes to thoroughly and simply explain the work.
Larry still does some sales work, but Melinda says he spends more time on the golf course as Melinda and Jason have taken over the reins. They’ve remodeled the office and waiting area, adding a new TV and other amenities. The 5-bay shop has updated equipment including a new wireless scan tool that enables the mechanic or service rep to show the customer in real time what is shown on the diagnostic computer, creating a better understanding of the work and building greater trust.
When not at the shop, Melinda spends time with the school PTA, where she is a local leader. What makes her proud? “Helping people by doing good, honest work and not taking advantage, that’s what makes us feel good,” she says.
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Cottman of Vancouver can be reached at www.cottmanofvancouver.com