Rob Kress learned the secret of customer service at his first job out of high school, working as a porter at an auto repair shop. In addition to cleaning, he drove customers back home or to work while their cars were being serviced, and he saw firsthand how much people appreciated that extra service. He also learned that he loved working in the car business, but he knew, even at a young age, that he wanted to eventually have his own business so he could “do it my way.”
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At age 23, Rob got a job at a transmission repair shop, where he took courses and became the shop manager. Two years later, he bought the shop, which was part of national chain Cottman Transmission and Total Auto Care. For the next 25 years, he’s been in the transmission repair business, owning a series of Cottman shops in Michigan, as he moved roughly 59 miles north of his native Lincoln Park to the Grand Blank neighborhood south of Flint, where the Cottman center he’s owned for nine years is located.
Rob, a fully-licensed mechanic, is proud that his business has grown largely by referral. “We work very hard to get the job done right the first time and keep customers satisfied,” he said.
“It’s a sign that we’ve succeeded when a customer recommends us to a friend. It’s the best form of advertising.”
He gets a sense of satisfaction when he fixes a car that’s not running right, he added. “We feel good when we can solve a customer’s problem.”
For Rob, however, customer service is about doing more than fixing what needs repair. “It’s about the little extras we do – things the customer doesn’t even ask for – that keep our customers happy,” he said. “We try to do something to make the car nicer than when it came into the shop. It’s fun to see the look of surprise and pleasure when the customer gets his car back.”
The “little extras” the Cottman man does range from cleaning yellowed headlight lenses to re-bolting a plastic bumper that’s come loose, or washing the car or fixing a small scratch or ding.
“When we fix a transmission, the car runs well, but it’s not something the customer can actually see,” Rob said. “We like to do something that’s visible, so the owner can notice it.”
Something that customers can notice is the newly-painted exterior of the Cottman shop at 5171 Saginaw Road. Rob is proud of the spruced-up waiting room, with a sports motif that features pictures and mementoes of area teams, including the pros like the Tigers and Lions, as well as the University of Michigan. Sports are always on the big screen TV, and fresh coffee is always brewing.
Rob, 50, said his shop is a family business, working alongside his wife and his 20-year old son.
His daughter comes in from time to time to give extra help in the office.
He attributes his success to what he learned sweeping floors at his first job. “People appreciate it when you go above and beyond to give them good service.”
For more information, visit www.cottmanofflint.com.
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