Shortly before Christmas, Achilles Thomas unfolded a fortune cookie message that he still keeps in his wallet. The prophetic words: "You will do well to expand your business."
Although the president of Monster Transmission and Performance in Brooksville knows there's no real way of knowing what lies ahead, he is optimistic about the future of his business.
In Hernando County's tough economic climate, Monster Transmission is a laudable success story. Since its launch nine years ago, the company's staff has grown from four family members to 23 full-time employees by firmly establishing itself in a niche market that primarily revolves around older high-performance muscle cars built by Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.
Globally known through its affiliation with popular TV car enthusiast shows such as Two Guys Garage and Car Warriors, the company has thrived because few others are willing to go after the same market. In fact, said Thomas, about 70 percent of Monster's customers work on their own vehicles. Few, he said, are willing to trust their rare machinery to just any transmission shop.
"I think we've built a reputation for offering a quality product and good customer service," Thomas said. "When you do that and do it well, customers remember you for it. And that's how you want to build your business."
A graduate from Keiser University in Tampa with a degree in business and marketing, Thomas admits everything he learned about the transmission rebuilding business came from his father, Curt, who owned an auto repair business in South Florida.
After moving to Spring Hill in 2002, the Thomas family set up a modest 1,000-square-foot shop in a nondescript strip plaza located at Linden and Spring Hill drives. Advertising themselves primarily as specialty shop for drag-racing enthusiasts, business was slow to arrive.
"We ran the business on a credit card while we waited for customers to find us," Thomas recalled.
Thinking that their customer base might well be located beyond Hernando County's borders Thomas geared up his marketing skills and went to work contacting car clubs and hot rod enthusiasts around the state.
By 2008, the company had outgrown its original home and moved to a former structural steel manufacturing facility on Oliver Street next door the Hernando County Fairgrounds. With 23,000-square-feet of space, the company had room to expand its in-house services. In addition to adding a full line of repair and rebuild kits for do-it-yourselfers the company also expanded a testing and development department.
Despite its relatively low profile, Monster Transmission can boast being one Brooksville's largest private employers. But for Dennis Wilfong, Brooksville's ambassador of commerce and employment, the company's numerous philanthropic endeavors also makes it a model of the type of businesses the city wants to attract.
"Having them here has been a huge asset to our community," Wilfong said. "Not only do they provide good jobs, they are very community-oriented. A lot of people are happy to have them here."
Thomas, who is a member of the Brooksville Rotary, said that community outreach is paramount in building a successful business. Each October the company hosts a family event at the fairgrounds that includes a classic car and bike show, kids' activities, a petting zoo and monster truck rides. Proceeds from the event are distributed among several area charities.
Thomas said he has been working with Brooksville Chick-fil-A owner John Mitten on sponsoring a monthly charity cruise-in at the Brooksville restaurant's parking lot on Cortez Boulevard. The first one is Jan. 26, and will benefit Joseph's House, a Brooksville food bank and homeless outreach center.
"Being involved in charity events is more than just about raising money, it's also about building awareness of the cause," Thomas said. "These are values that are worth sharing with the community."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.