Edmonds transmission specialist expands to full-service menu

Working the front service counter at Village Transmission & Auto Clinic are (from l.) Dave Earp, co-owner and general manager; Dan Earp, service advisor; and Service Advisor Curt McGregor.

ASE-certified Master Technician and Co-Owner Jerry Earp works on customer’s vehicle at Village Transmission & Auto Clinic.

Village Transmission & Auto Clinic has a 10,000-square-foot building with several vehicle entrances to service bays.

Edmonds, Wash.—Village Transmission & Auto Clinic, once a transmission-only repair facility, has expanded into full-service repair over the past 10 years and recently into used-vehicle sales, said Co-Owner and General Manager Dave Earp.

Founded by William Earp in 1964, his three sons now own and operate the business, each handling specific duties, said Dave Earp, the youngest of the sons.

While the senior Earp retired five years ago, he still is in contact with the repair firm, helps review financial reports and the tracking of numbers, Dave Earp said.

Always in the Edmonds area, the shop had two former locations before the existing 10,000-square-foot, 13-bay shop was built in 1990, Earp said.

There are 10 employees, including five technicians, two of which are ASE-certified master technicians. In addition, there is a full machine shop, a parts department, and a newly purchased alignment rack.

The decision to expand into full-service repair was a good move, Earp said, but it did not come without challenges. “With better OE-quality transmissions that last longer, the decision to service both transmissions and other repair and maintenance work was the right one. We felt there was little future for a transmission-only repair shop,” he said.

June repair and service sales, Earp said, were $113,000, with eight transmission jobs basically handled by Transmission Specialist Jerry Earp representing $36,000. “So you can see, on average, transmission work represents about 20 to 30 percent of overall sales today,” Earp said.  

While all three Earp brothers, including Dan, who is a 10-year transmission R&R specialist and now service advisor with 30 years of experience, and Jerry, an ASE-certified master technician and drivetrain specialist, were originally techs with extensive repair experience, other techs and a service advisor were hired to allow for expansion.

Two of those who have come on board at Village Auto Clinic over the past five years, Earp said, are Mike Skipworth, an ASE-certified master technician and state emissions specialist, and Jim Hall, a former shop owner and automotive instructor.

“Both brought us unique skills and experience and helped us balance new and old,” he said. “Mike is our drivability specialist, and Jim handles a variety of special projects, including our high-performance and restoration jobs.”

Six laptop computers are in place in the shop and employees use programs and information sources such as AllData, Mitchell, Identifix, iATN, ATRA, and others, including NAPA Tracs, for technical and service data, as well as shop management processes, Earp said.

While each technician has his own diagnostic tools, there is also a house Modis scan tool for European cars, an Interro scanner used as a lab scope and gas analyzer, as well as some older tools and equipment that Hall uses when working on 1960s project cars or high-performance vehicles, Earp said.

Other changes that occurred at the business about five years ago included becoming a NAPA AutoCare Center, serviced by the nearby Shoreline NAPA store; being recognized as a AAA-Approved Auto Repair Facility; and having state emissions specialists on staff, among others.

“We were doing the right things,” Earp said. “We enjoyed the quality of NAPA parts and their good service, and we were part of the business development group. We were also very pleased with the AAA program and business volume was up, but our business was struggling.”

To that end, Earp said they joined a Bottom-Line Impact Group (BLIG) through RLO Training three years ago. “It has helped our business greatly because we did not know where we were with numbers. We also get extensive service advisor training through RLO, as well as other classes such as Technician Time Management,” he said, adding that his father is very encouraging of the firm’s participation in the BLIG.

In addition, Village has implemented a major marketing program with Mudlick Mail that has increased the shop’s monthly car count from 147 to 250, Earp said. “It’s been amazing, and now we’re working diligently to retain new customers using Demandforce program.

“And we’ve had a $500 average repair order, so we were getting the most out of every car in the shop.”

Training for the staff at Village is vital for all employees, Earp said. “Two of us attended ATE (Automotive Training Expo) in March, and we regularly attend RLO and NAPA classes, and I am involved in BLIG. We pay for all training and ASE tests, and raises are often based on the number of ASE certifications,” he said. “We consider ongoing training as one of the benefits of working for Village.”

Technicians at the repair shop regularly attend ATRA (Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Association) classes, Earp said, as technology in that segment continues to expand. “There are a growing number of transmissions today as opposed to 10 years ago, and they are fully electronic and technology continues to change.”

Other new technologies of interest to Village, Earp said, are hybrid service and repair, as well as diesel engine work. “We are getting trained in these areas, and as time passes, we will include electric vehicle service as needed.”

As members of ASA of Washington, ATRA, and the local chamber of commerce, Village is also an active participant in drag racing, Earp said. “We will be out at Pacific Raceways again with our roadster that is driven by Dan’s son, Kyle. He was a top-five driver in his rookie year.”

Three months ago, Earp said, the business expanded with a new venture, Village Auto Sales, located about one mile from the shop.

“We were always selling vehicles, but to avoid having too many used cars in the shop parking lot, we established Village Auto Sales and we do all the service and repair work at the shop,” he said. “Our goal is to sell about 15 vehicles a month, and we’re half way there now with two employees running the auto sales.”

As for the future, Earp said that the transmission service and repair segment of their business will most likely remain stable, and the goal would be to increase the car count to 300 with one additional technician.

“We don’t need to do transmissions to keep the business going, but it’s part of what we do,” he said. “We would like to move toward more service and maintenance and perhaps change the term ‘diagnostics’ to ‘series of tests’ to better reflect what we can do for our customers.”