It’s all in the family for two area transmission shops. And that family is growing.
When Milton Swartz decided last year he wanted to sell Milt & Ron’s Transmission, a business he founded nearly six decades ago, he looked to his nephew as a possible successor. But Donald Swartz already was busy with his own repair shop, Airport Transmission.
And there was another reason for the younger Swartz’ hesitation: Milt & Ron’s primarily has specialized in repairing and rebuilding transmissions for older model vehicles; classic and antique cars for whom parts can be difficult to find, hard to work on and, more importantly, whose owners are a bit more protective of their babies.
“I’ve stayed away from that work here,” said the 42-year-old Airport Transmission owner. “I don’t want someone’s precious commodity and baby on my lift to get a scratch or a thumb print.”
It took some convincing, but Uncle Milt was persuasive. And the timing was right, the younger Swartz said. Greece’s Airport Transmission was looking to grow.
Milt & Ron’s, a South Clinton Avenue fixture since its founding in 1959, would provide another revenue stream at a time when Airport Transmission has experienced sales growth of about 8 percent in a three-year period. The younger Swartz purchased Milt & Ron’s earlier this summer for an undisclosed sum.
“We’re expanding and I was able to pick up some of his employees” for the Greece location, Swartz said, adding that his uncle has not yet fully retired. “In the last couple of months we’ve already had a few jobs come through that I may have just turned away because it just gobbles up too much of my time and I don’t have the knowledge, so I’ve gotten him involved.”
And Milt & Ron’s likely has one of the largest inventories of old transmission parts in the region, Swartz added, so the two teams are working to inventory some of those parts. It has been a long process.
“He’s been there every other day helping the guys organize and categorize what’s there,” Swartz said of his uncle. “There’s stuff from the 1940s up to the present day.”
And his uncle knows where every part is located and what vehicles each part can be used in, Swartz said. That knowledge has served the shop well. People bring their vintage cars from all over to have the Milt & Ron’s team service their transmissions.
“He’s not as busy as we are so things can be taken care of with a little more TLC,” Swartz said of his uncle’s shop. “And he’s got the knowledge to fix some of that stuff that we would struggle with.”
That knowledge is priceless, Swartz said.
“All our tech sources we pay for don’t have that knowledge. We belong to a tech service out of California and one out of Florida, but it’s modern stuff. It’s where to plug this in. The red wire, what does that do,” Swartz explained. “As you get into that older stuff and interchangeability, it’s such a specialty.”
Milt & Ron’s is not the first family business Swartz has purchased. His father, Marvin Swartz, founded Airport Transmission with two partners in 1982. He later bought out the partners and brought in his son as co-owner. Swartz said he began purchasing shares in Airport Transmission some 15 years ago.
Marvin Swartz, like his brother Milton, is now semi-retired. And, like his older brother, he still comes into the shop to help out, his son said with a laugh.
Swartz has made some changes since the Milt & Ron’s purchase. The production of the transmission rebuild is being done at Airport Transmission, rather than splitting it between the two facilities. Swartz also moved one of Milt & Ron’s employees to the Greece location to help with rebuilding.
“He came over here, we got some extra machinery, so now I don’t have three guys hovering over one piece of equipment,” Swartz explained, adding that the work being done at Milt & Ron’s now will include removing the transmission and replacing it after it has been rebuilt.
Airport Transmission employs nine individuals, a slight increase from a year ago, and Swartz kept Milt & Ron’s staffers on board, even bringing back an employee who had been laid off in order to accommodate increased business.
“The most important thing we do here is the aftermarket warranties,” Swartz said. “So when you purchase a used car a lot of times the financing will include an extended warranty, especially if you’re over your original equipment warranty.”
Aftermarket warranties account for half the shop’s business, and Airport Transmission has begun doing some engine work. Swartz expects warranty work to pick up at Milt & Ron’s as well. Swartz also expects to capitalize on the fact that people are holding onto their cars longer, thus requiring more repair work.
“People are keeping their cars longer and we are seeing cars with more miles than I could ever imagine people wanting to fix something,” he said. “There’s been some situations where you look over the car and I’ve told the customer, are you sure?”
Growth will continue at the veteran-owned business, Swartz said of the future of Airport Transmission and Milt & Ron’s.
“We’re always looking for growth,” he said. “We’re at our capacity, but there’s always room for growth. We’re going to concentrate on the warranties and concentrate on the dealerships that sell those.”
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