In 1988, Frank Cato, a 54-year-old repair technician, got the entrepreneurial itch and opened a Cottman Transmission Shop in New Orleans, LA. Today, under the ownership and management of his two sons, Rusty and Randy, the business has grown to include three franchises – two in New Orleans proper and one in nearby Gretna, LA – offering transmission and total auto care. The brothers have found operating multiple locations allows them to maximize their tools and tailor both their assets and manpower to the three shops’ varying workloads.
The brothers, both in their forties, have found that expanding beyond transmission work to include general auto repair allows them to better utilize both their tool and manpower capabilities. The company’s sales have grown by two to three percent in each of the last five years in a region that continues to suffer the dual impact of a devastating hurricane and an oil spill.
The Catos also credit the technical and marketing strength of a national franchise organization. The Cottman organization began in 1962 and has grown to include several hundred franchises nationwide.
The Cato brothers feel fortunate to have “come of age” in auto repair at a time when vehicle manufacturers were introducing electronic controls. Under the guidance of their now-retired father, the Catos, as ASE certified techs, familiarized themselves with changing automotive technology while they were in their 20s.
By 2005, with six employees (not counting themselves), six bays and three lifts, the Catos came across an opportunity to buy a second shop at a location that didn’t experience flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina. When the hurricane flooded their first shop on Earhart Boulevard, they moved their operations to the newly-acquired second shop in the La Place neighborhood.
Katrina strikes New Orleans
Repair shops that stayed open during Katrina’s immediate aftermath benefited from the influx of orders from repair centers that closed. The Catos’ first shop was back in operation in about two months.
By that time, the company was on a growth curve, thanks to the expansion beyond transmission work to general auto repair, a move supported by the Cottman franchise organization. This required adding air conditioning equipment to their existing tool arsenal.
“We were doing that (general repair) work anyway,” Randy explains. “We just now advertise it.”
This past year, the Catos opened their third shop in Gretna, LA, a town just across the Mississippi River from New Orleans.
Franchise organization provides resources
As a part of Cottman, the stores offer a warranty and have access to a technical company hotline. The national franchise organization also runs professionally-produced TV commercials and has helped provide a professional-looking website and a social media initiative.
The Catos learned the importance of electronic scan tools in the early Nineties, when these tools were just coming on the market.
They were introduced to computerized diagnostics years ago when they were having trouble identifying a problem with a Chrysler transmission just when the Snap-on tool truck happened to pay a visit. The Snap-on distributor was able to look up the problem with his electronic scanner and identify a solution in less than 20 minutes. That very moment, they bought a Snap-on MT2500 “Brick” scanner.
Ever since, they have put a strong emphasis on having the right tools for computerized diagnostics. The company currently uses three different scan tools, housing one scanner in each of their three locations. The La Place shop has the Snap-on tool, the Gretna shop houses an OTC Genisys scan tool, and the main shop has the Autel MaxiDAS. “They all do different things very well,” Randy says. If the scanner at a particular shop isn’t the best one for a particular problem, they use another shop’s scanner.
According to a 2011 Frost & Sullivan survey