Kansas City Cottman Transmission Owner Kevin Kuse Tunes Up Business
When the transmission conked out on Kevin Kuse’s 1970 Pontiac Catalina while he was in high school, he headed to Cottman Transmission for the service work. The visit to the auto repair shop left an impression on him that would later lead to a career.
Kuse says, “I was intrigued by what they did.”
After graduating in 1981 from Pittsburgh State University with a degree in automotive technology, Kuse went back to Kansas City Cottman Transmission and Total Auto Care (8401 Wornall Road) and secured a job as an “R and R” man. He removed and replaced transmissions in the shop. In time, he attended management training school and by 1984 he was promoted to manager and shop foreman, where he spent more time on customer service, diagnostics and ordering than repairs.
One day, Kuse asked the franchise owner for a raise and was turned down. So he countered with an offer to buy the repair shop and the owner agreed to sell. The change in ownership was essentially a turnkey operation with bookkeeping and other back office operations already established.
“I was surprised and scared,” Kuse says about his new role at the time. “It’s one thing to get a paycheck. It’s another to be responsible for making sure paychecks come in.”
“Do what you say you’ll do and you’ll have few problems with customers.”
Kuse and his two mechanics, now employees, decided they wouldn’t change an operation that had been working smoothly. The biggest challenge for Kuse was the weight of ownership. “I wake up at 3 a.m. to solve problems,” he says. “You take your work home with you because you’re responsible for yourself and others.”
Kuse took over the shop before the “economy went into the tank,” but business had been steady over the years. He advises, “Do what you say you’ll do and you’ll have few problems with customers.”
In fact, Kuse’s shop won an award last year for zero customer complaints at Cottman’s national convention. Looking back, Kuse says that he was able to buy the Kansas City Cottman Transmission shop because he could guarantee the workmanship for the past 20 years. “I did the work so I wasn’t afraid. I knew I was good to buy the corporation and take over the customers and bank accounts,” he says.
For anyone interested in buying a franchise or existing business, Kuse offers this advice: Buy something you have an interest in that makes you happy to go to work. He adds, “Mechanical problems drive me crazy. I like to figure it out and fix it.” Kuse enjoys owning a business that is part of a nationally known company. “You get to share knowledge ad resources with others at corporate for training and draw on the expertise and lessons of others.”
As a tip for automobile owners, Kuse suggests, “Find the best solution and what it costs. That will save money in the long run. The cheapest price for a repair is not always worth it. Identify the problem and address the budget issues afterward.” Last but not least, he says, “Keep up with manufacturer recommendations. Pay attention to caution lights. If you ignore problems, then they will become worse.”