At an early age, Jack Schickler learned the importance of keeping equipment well-maintained.
“I grew up on a farm, and I took care of fixing the tractors and trucks,” he says. “If they didn’t work, we didn’t eat.”
He took that knowledge to General Motors Corp., where he developed the GM Techline System, a program that offers service support for auto dealers worldwide.
When GM passed up Schickler’s idea to develop a program to focus technician training on fleet vehicles, he did what anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit would do: He retired at the age of 50 and started a new venture.
Twenty years later, the septuagenarian has started his fourth small business, Pro-Mech Learning Systems LLC, which offers training courses on various makes of diesel engines. The company’s core elements are reminiscent of what Schickler did for GM in the 1980s.
“Basically the same problems are occurring in diesels that happened in gasoline (engines),” Schickler explains. “That is that electronic control systems are very intense and the technicians need support in handling them.”
He says the new company is a duplicate of what he did with Techline, but with better tools for distribution. Pro-Mech offers courses via DVD and traditional hard-copy methods, but Schickler has taken the distribution one step farther by working with BrokenMyth Studios and DNA Systems to offer the courses through the Internet.
While this latest company is still young to talk in terms of revenues, Schickler says he and partner John Cowell expect to be cash-positive by early 2013. The company’s 16 courses are offered to businesses for a subscription fee of $50 per technician per course for a three-month period.
With some 250,000 potential technicians, Pro-Mech quickly could become a multimillion-dollar business, Schickler says. He expects five years from now to be a major employer in Rochester.
“The market is very strong for this,” Schickler says. “For every five techs that retire, there are only three to take their place. That’s why the need is so extreme. That’s why fleets and other customers are desperate to train their techs quickly and on a broad scale, rather than waiting for somebody to go to school.”
His customers include companies with large truck fleets, either independent businesses or dealerships. Working with DeCarolis Truck Rental Inc. and Regional International Corp., Pro-Mech’s courses are designed around actual vehicles.
“There’s nothing theoretical about it. It’s the real stuff,” Schickler says, adding that basic courses can be customized to fit clients’ needs.
Schickler says the Henrietta-based business’s courses offer more detail than what competitors may have.
“We go deeply into the electronics and the emissions controls,” he explains. “Most (competitors’) courses are on videos or CDs dedicated to maybe one component in the engine; I’ll call it a glossy overview. We get right into it very deeply. We go right into the computerized systems very deeply, which is what the technicians need.”
Schickler says he enjoys working with technicians and trucks.
“The more I worked with technicians, the more I found I also loved trucks because, No. 1, they are the heart of the transportation system in the U.S.,” he says. “The people who run them and make them work are the salt of the earth, and they’re extremely important. If a truck is not working, everybody is losing money, fast.”
What can be challenging, Schickler says, is managing cash, and it is an important lesson he passes on to other entrepreneurs.
“What you’re doing is studying the market and adjusting the product at the same time that you are making sure you’ve got cash flow to keep on going,” he explains. “That’s the balance an entrepreneur needs.”
According to Schickler, there is just one word that is important as a small-business owner: cash.
“If you can’t generate the cash or you can’t manage your cash, you’re up against it,” he says.
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