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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 26, 2016 4 years ago

Gear change

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Dallas Council is the epitome of an accidental entrepreneur. But he's turned fortuitous opportunity into a growing enterprise.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

A leap of faith. That's how Dallas Council describes his 2008 purchase of the AAMCO Transmissions shop on U.S. 41 in Venice.

He'd been working for AAMCO since 2002 as a customer service manager, overseeing shops in the Tampa and Sarasota areas. The owner of the Bradenton location where he worked at the time recently sold the Venice shop, and the new owner was struggling with the business. Council's boss didn't want to buy it back, but he thought Council should consider purchasing it.

“Ownership had always been on my radar and been a goal of mine,” Council says. “But the opportunity presented itself a little earlier than I expected it to.”

He went for it, and the 33-year-old has since made the business a well-known Venice success story. He expects to do $1 million in gross sales in 2016 — a longtime goal he's nearly hit in recent years.

On average, the shop works on 50 cars a week, and 44% of its business comes from repeat customers. “We've developed a really great local following,” says Council.

That's mostly because Council hasn't been afraid to adapt, one of the biggest business lessons the young entrepreneur has learned so far. Other lessons include the value of multiple revenue streams and understanding the timing of when not to take too much risk.

“AAMCO has done a really good job with its branding, and everyone knows that it does transmissions,” he says. “But what a lot of folks don't realize is that transmissions only account for about 40% of our business at this AAMCO center. The rest is brakes, belts, tune-ups, hoses and oil changes.”

While transmissions are a profitable segment of the business, the customer base was shrinking when Council took over the shop. Years ago, many non-AAMCO shops didn't do transmissions and would readily refer people to AAMCO. But when the economy was tough, those shops started to offer the service to retain customer revenues for themselves.

So Council diversified his customer base with other services. “The best-maintained cars need belts, tune-ups, hoses,” he says. “If folks become trusting of us and allow us to maintain their cars, then if their transmission breaks or engine fails, we've already developed a rapport with them and can capture that business from them.”

Another benefit: The recession caused many people to hold onto their cars longer. “They started investing in them, so we saw a pool of customers who generally weren't our customers up until that point,” he says.

In 2014, Council moved and expanded the business just down the road from its original location. It was another instance of opportunity when he wasn't fully ready for it. The plans to widen U.S. 41 in Venice forced the business out of its previous location, one Council admits it had outgrown.

So he bought a nearby property that allowed him to add an additional service bay, create a custom transmission rebuilding area and add tire service. He's also at the point where he'll likely need to hire another full- or part-time employee to join his current five-person team.

“The move was challenging from a financial standpoint, and we're still working through and recovering from that,” says Council, who paid for the purchase with a combination of revenues and loans. “It was without a doubt the biggest and most stressful challenge that I've dealt with. But we're pretty much a one-stop shop now. It's one of those things where you've just got to embrace the change.”

Council hopes to keep growing his Venice shop and possibly add another facility. He almost purchased a Sarasota location about a year ago, but the timing off. “I love the AAMCO
business; it's a good business to be in,” he says. “So multiple center ownership would be a five-year goal.”

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