John Olson is often traveling. Sometimes that means he is behind the wheel of a customer’s car, trying to diagnose a problem. But frequently, he is doing actual traveling with his wife, Becky, on vacation. Olson – who owns two Multistate Transmission shops, one in Ft. Worth and the other in Haltom City, Texas – has been on quite a few excursions the last several years, as their businesses continue to grow. So maybe it’s no surprise and Olson won the annual Franchisee of the Year Award from Moran Family of Brands in the transmission division, which is voted on by his fellow franchise owners throughout the system.
So what’s he doing right? We talked to him and came away with several interesting nuggets of information that will hopefully be helpful to his peers.
So what’s the secret to your success? “We’ve done better with our marketing,” said Olson. “My wife has been doing our outside sales, where we’ll land accounts with companies like Firestone or Goodyear or DHL. We do a lot of work on fleets, like DHL, and she has been very good about building a strong base in outside sales.”
John, meanwhile, oversees both shops and does the diagnostics in one shop. “I don’t sit at a desk very often,” he said.
Becky does spent much of her time behind a desk, and that may be part of their success – divvying up the work so that they’re each focused on their individual strengths.
But there may be more to it than that. When asked about Olson’s employees, he says that turnover isn’t high, and he still has one employee who came to work for him when he opened his first Multistate Transmission in 1982. Another employee of his has been there for 20 years. Becky, incidentally, joined the company as an employee in 1984 (and then he and Becky married seven years ago, their second marriage for both of them; between the two of them, they have four children… he has two daughters, and she has a son and a daughter).
“I try to treat everyone right and always be respectful of them,” said Olson. “I never criticize anybody in front of everybody else.”
If needed, Olson will take the employee aside, somewhere private and offer whatever constructive criticism he has. But if Olson wants to praise an employee? “If somebody does something right, I let them know in front of everybody,” he said.
That’s engendered a culture of loyalty, according to Olson. He is loyal to his employees, and they’re loyal to him in return. “They always have my back, and not many business owners have that,” he said.
Olson also cited the recent economic upturn in helping his business. Sure, Olson and Becky run a well-oiled machine, but the economy that has been growing for several years now has helped their profits.
“People used to tell me, when I got into this business, that it was a recession-proof. I can tell them, having been through three of them, that that’s not necessarily true.”
Sure, people are more likely to get cars repaired than buy new cars in a down economy but calling a transmission business recession-proof may be going a little too far, according to Olson.
“When the economy isn’t good, people quit spending,” said Olson. “It sometimes doesn’t matter if the cars are stacked in the driveway. If they don’t have the money to fix them, they put it off. But when the economy is good and strong, it’s a psychological thing – people spend those dollars. That’s what I’ve found.”
Olson offered some advice for his fellow franchise owners, especially the newer ones. “This isn’t an absentee business,” he said. “You’ve got to be in your store every day.”
But if you’re new to the world of franchising that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to take an occasional break, or even a lot of vacations eventually. He and Becky have been to about 17 countries in the last five years, including Switzerland, France, Spain, Greece and Turkey. “We just got back from Ireland and Scotland two weeks ago,” he says. For their next big trip, he and Becky plan to take their kids and grandchildren to Glacier National Park.
But if the days of going on vacation and having an ideal work-life balance seem far off, and you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to reach out to others for advice and assistance, said Olson, who has been a member of Moran’s Franchise Advisory Alliance since it’s inception 15 years ago. During that time, he has learned about the importance of asking for and offering advice.
“You should also reach out to the franchise owners,” Olson says. “That’s what I did when I was first starting out – and still do. Everybody’s always seemed to be willing to help me, and many people have helped me many times over the years.”