Jerry Holcom: Industry Visionary
During the halftime show at the 1996 Carquest Bowl at Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida, S&S Service Center was named the 1995 Carquest Excellence Award Winner. Owner Jerry Holcom remembers standing on the field with one thought running through his head.
“Who would believe there’s two S&S Service Centers?”
After it finally sank in that it was his shop receiving the award, Holcom says he went back to the hotel and said to his wife, “Somebody thinks we’re the top shop in America.”
After five decades in the industry, Holcom is as humble as ever, and many awards and recognitions later, he still runs a top shop. To those who knew him in the '70s, '80s, and '90s, it would seem nothing has changed, except for maybe the shuffle in Holcom’s step, a result of Parkinson’s disease, which he was diagnosed with in 2012. But that hasn’t slowed Holcom down one bit. As a successful shop owner who is in the shop daily, a co-founder of VISION, and past president of the Midwest Auto Care Alliance (MWACA), he’s every bit the leader and visionary he was when he began. Today, he’s still learning, leading, and looking for ways to better the industry he loves.
Paving His Way
Holcom initially turned down his father’s offer to buy his shop from him in 1972. Holcom explains he “knew what he didn’t know,” meaning he wasn’t prepared at that time to run his father’s business the right way. The industry was a different animal then, and Holcom knew that if he was going to do it, he wanted to do it right and make his father proud.
“I think I got a whole lot of ethics and direction from watching my dad. When he took care of a customer, it really mattered to him. If someone had a problem, he made it right. At his funeral, hundreds of cars were in the funeral procession. That’s the kind of man he was. When I took over, I felt like I wanted to continue in the way that I saw him.”
When his father offered the business to him, Holcom saw himself as a technician. He wasn’t ready to become a manager. So, he set out to become one. While continuing to work in the industry, he gathered information on running the business wherever he could. At the time, management training wasn’t readily available so he read trade magazines and picked up tips from others, including his hero, Mitch Schneider.
“I would tell my wife not to bother me, I’m reading Mitch,” Holcom says, joking about his excitement of picking up new Schneider pieces.
A decade later, in 1982, Holcom and financial partner John LaRose bought S&S Service Centers from George Solomon and Bill Schwindt, the men who purchased the business from his father. Holcom ran the business alongside Reber Herdliska, who he says was a fantastic employee who took ownership of the shop. Initially, Holcom was working in the shop building transmissions, so Herdliska took over many of the management responsibilities.
It took a few more years for Holcom to feel like he was living up to his father’s legacy. In 1989, Holcom won ASE Technician of the Year, and in that moment, he felt like he had made it. The award is still on display on his Wall of Fame.
Holcom’s quest for knowledge hasn’t stopped. He has 883 Automotive Management Institute (AMI) credits and has made it his mission to provide knowledge to others in the industry.
Ahead of the Curve
Even though Holcom didn’t think he was cut out for management, he has a knack for spotting industry trends. Need proof? He bought his first computer in 1983—a Radio Shack Model 3 with dual 5 ¼” floppy drives.
“I don’t know if I knew why, but I was going to make it my next big thing,” Holcom says of his decision to become an early adopter of the computer. “Reber said, ‘Jerry, what are you doing that for? Nobody is ever going to use a computer.’ Turns out, I was right,” Holcom laughs.
Holcom wrote his own program to record daily sales, and he purchased a business check writer program. Reber—and the rest of the staff—saw the light. It took some shops a decade or more to catch on to the trend Holcom was at the forefront of.
It’s not technology alone Holcom sees the need for; his name has become almost synonymous with quality automotive training.
A VISION for the Industry
In 1990, Holcom got serious about training. The only problem?
“Back then, there wasn’t a lot of quality technical and management training available,” Holcom says.
After meeting with and being inspired by Bob O’Connor, an automotive management trainer and the founder of the first Bottom-Line Impact Group, Holcom and Doug Stoll, who owned Susquehanna Auto Clinic and The Auto Clinic at the time, started the second Bottom-Line Impact Group, which is still going strong today.
Noticing a growing interest in quality training on the technical and management side of the industry, Holcom and his group started piecing together vendors to put on a trade show along with the training. In 1991, the ASA MO-KAN Training took place. The next year, Holcom wanted bigger and better. Well, bigger and better came with a hefty price tag of $10,000 to hold the facility for the desired date. At the time, the treasury had roughly $250 in it. Holcom and Stoll dipped into their personal savings and each wrote a check for $5,000, which is the moment Holcom considers the birth of VISION Hi-Tech Training & Expo, the annual training event held in Kansas City, Missouri, which is considered one of the leading training events in the industry today.
Holcom’s path has not been without its trials and tribulations. In 1986, he was dealt a devastating blow when friend and financial partner LaRose died in a car crash.
“I lost a great friend and mentor,” Holcom says of the loss that left him the sole owner of the shop. “It hurt big time. He was the one that insisted we buy out life insurance policies for each other. He never led me wrong and he did right this time by planning for the unexpected. It was a dark spot in my life but at that point, I knew I had to succeed and I had to keep doing better. That’s the one thing that’s been consistent with me, trying to do the best job that I can.”
Holcom has never stopped striving to be the best, even when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and prostate cancer in 2012. After 43 consecutive days of radiation therapy, the cancer went into remission, but Parkinson's is something Holcom lives with every day. But, anyone who knows Holcom knows it hasn’t slowed him.
“[The diagnosis] was 10 years ago, and I still feel fine. I credit a lot of that with coming to work every day. For a guy that’s 10 years in, I feel like I don’t have a problem in the world.”
Holcom is quick to praise others for his triumph over adversity, including his staff for running the shop so seamlessly during his radiation therapy and his wife, Kris, who he says has supported him in whatever he has done.
Holcom is looking for a successor for S&S, but he doesn’t want to leave the industry altogether. He says he’d love to stay involved with MWACA, where he serves as past president, and VISION. He’d love to pursue photography but laughs since his vision is terrible and he’s colorblind. With everything Holcom has accomplished, it’s not out of the question that he could overcome those obstacles and become an amateur photographer. With Holcom, anything and everything is possible.