The auto-repair business is certainly a competitive one. With so many cars on the road, the market is a big one, and service centers and repair shops are constantly vying for customers.
For many, that means expensive advertising, flashy signs, loud commercials and other gimmicks.
But for Dave Summers, owner of Morgantown Transmission — a simple shop nestled on Van Voorhis Road, behind Euro Suites — happy clients are all the marketing he needs.
Opened by his father on Jan. 10, 1966, Summers has spent the better part of his life at Morgantown Transmission. First, learning at his father’s side, after school and on weekends.
As he grew older, he said, he expanded his knowledge however he could.
“I learned most of my trade by watching my father,” Summers, an expert at repairing automatic transmissions, said. “I also started going to a lot of technical schools, mostly on weekends, in Pittsburgh, going to training seminars and such, reading magazines and anything you can get your hands on to stay up to date on the latest cars.
“It’s the only thing I’ve ever done. Never had another job my whole working career.”
He’s also never bought an ad, anywhere, ever.
“We’ve never advertised one day, since we’ve been open,” Summers said. “We’ve never done one day of advertising. My father didn’t believe in it. He was old school. He always said if you had to advertise, you were doing something wrong. And I know that goes against most modern ways of thinking, but he came from the old school that you did good work and treated people right and were fair and honest and that’s the way I’ve always tried to carry on, too. And I would say the biggest majority of our customers become friends.”
Though the shop focuses mainly on automatic transmission repair, Summers and his employees — one full-time, two part-time “guys I can use if need be” — also do brake work, put on water pumps and other general repair work.
His son, David, keeps the books.
“It’s just something I’ve always grown up around,” David said of the business. “I saw my grandfather running it from the time I was really little. I don’t really do the work myself, but you pick up a lot and I’ve just been running the accounts ever since. It’s just part of the family — it’s part of the extended family, really. It’s just something we’ve always had, always dealt with.”
Staying within their comfort zone is what both Summers and his son believe has kept them going for more than 50 years, always with a constant flow of loyal customers.
The passing of time has posed a challenge, Summers said, in terms of technology.
“The biggest thing nowadays is cars are changing a lot — a lot of electronics, computer-operated. You definitely have to stay updated on training,” he said. “It’s not like the old days. It’s definitely a lot more technical. At one time, a person was called a mechanic, now most of the time, you’re a technician, because there is a lot of diagnostic work on the cars, a lot of equipment and tools, and you’ve got to stay updated.”
But no matter what changes may happen to the cars themselves, certain things that have made the business a success will always remain the same, Summers said.
“We’ve stayed small,” he said. “But I think a big thing a lot of people like, over some of maybe the larger dealerships, is they can talk to who actually works on their car. It’s more of a one-on-one situation. If a person has a problem, they can come back and talk to you, and I think they like that better than just talking to somebody out front and not really getting the information they need or are looking for.”
Summers recalled a client, traveling from Canada, whose transmission went out while she and her family were traveling through Morgantown. He felt so bad for them, he said, being stuck while on the road, and hurried to hunt down a replacement so they could get back on the road to head home. Same as he’d do for someone who’d been a client for years — it’s just the way things are done, he said.
That visitor, Elaine Travers, also remembered the experience, giving the business a glowing review on Google a handful of months ago.
“We were on vacation travelling [sic] from Maryland to Michigan,” she writes. “ ... By the time we reached WV we knew we were in trouble. I looked up on my phone Transmission Business in Morgantown. We picked randomly Morgantown Transmission. There are not proper words that we can use to say how absolutely wonderful this place is. We pulled in and within 10 minutes found out we needed a new transmission. Dave went above and beyond to find us a transmission. Within 24 hours these two guys had us back on the road to our vacation. They made us their No. 1 priority. We were treated like family. This business has been operating for 49 years and I know why.”
Location: 1214 Van Voorhis Road, Morgantown, WV