10 things to know about the man behind Maaco

August 22, 2022

Anthony A. Martino is the founder of Maaco, which is celebrating its 50th year in business throughout 2022.

Tony was a serial entrepreneur with a knack for spotting new opportunities long before the competition. Before he passed away in 2008, he built a reputation and a brand known for doing things differently.

“His contemporaries scoffed at his notion of having a chain of shops where the franchisee had no prior experience in this business,” Tony’s son, Mark, has said. “That ‘can-do’ attitude, together with the resolve of ‘will do whatever it takes,’ is the spirit Tony brought to Maaco in 1972, and which continues to live on.”

So, who was Tony Martino? What qualities and experiences defined the man behind Maaco? Here are 10 things you need to know.

He was an entrepreneur about as early in life as he could be.

As a child, Tony returned soda bottles for cash before landing a job cleaning parts and sweeping floors at his uncle’s auto repair shop in Philadelphia’s inner city. It wasn’t long before his uncle spotted in young Tony an aptitude for fixing cars. He was promoted to mechanic. But that was just the beginning.

Tony’s first business was Aamco Transmissions.

In the late 1930s, Oldsmobile launched the first line of cars with automatic transmissions. By the 1950s, they had become mainstream, and Tony decided to focus specifically on automatic transmission repair. People wanted it, and he was good at it. In 1957, he turned his side business into his own shop, Aamco Transmissions.

The name of the business itself was clever: It was a combination of Tony’s initials — AAM — and the shortened form of “company,” and it gave him top billing in the Yellow Pages, the alphabetized listing of businesses that, for decades, served as a key source of lead generation for small businesses.

Maaco came later.

Tony franchised the Aamco concept in 1962. By 1969, he had built the company into the industry leader, and he decided to sell his interest in the company. “Many look at Maaco today, with all our collective success, and forget that Tony could have retired after [selling Aamco] and been set for life,” his son, Mark has said.

Instead, Tony took a break from the automotive industry and pursued other interests (more on that later). But not for long: Tony saw an opportunity in the space between low-cost, low-quality auto painters and expensive dealership work. In 1972, he turned that opportunity into a business. Once again, he leaned on his initials to bring the brand to life.

“About all I had to interest franchisees was my reputation,” Tony once said. “So I turned my initials around and used them again. It seemed to work very well.”

He lost his prime positioning in the Yellow Pages, but he didn’t need it. Tony was on to another winner.

He found another sweet spot in “cosmollision. ”

“Cosmollision” is a combination of “cosmetic” and “collision,” and it refers to a niche Tony found serving drivers who wanted to pay for minor accident repairs out of their own pockets rather than go through insurance. These drivers needed high-quality work at a low cost, and Tony was more than happy to provide both. The trick, he liked to say, is to guarantee a seamless repair so no one will know the car has been in an accident.

 He empowered his people.

Eileen Moran started at Maaco as Tony’s assistant. In time, she became the company’s vice president of advertising.

Tony noticed his advertising dollars weren’t being well-spent. He was seeing ads for other companies, but never for his own. He challenged his in-house advertising department to make the same amount of money work harder for the business. When they all quit in response, he gave the task to Eileen, who took it and ran.

Such an opportunity may never have come her way at another company. But it did at Maaco.

He started a recording studio.

In the years between Aamco and Maaco, Tony indulged in a variety of interests. One of those was music: He launched a recording studio in the Philadelphia area, but he didn’t stay in it for long. ​​”I was 33, had money,” he once said. “But there’s not enough money in the world for a 33-year-old to retire on.”

He also started the Goddard School.

Tony’s success in franchising extends beyond the world of transmissions and auto body work. In 1988, he founded the Goddard School of Early Childhood Development to expand access to quality preschool care across the country. Today, there are more than 560 Goddard School locations in 38 states. And Tony’s memory lives on through the Anthony A. Martino Memorial Scholarship, given to high school students who started their educational journey at a Goddard School.

He was honored by the International Franchise Association – twice.

The first time came in 1990 when Tony was named the association’s Entrepreneur of the Year. The second time came in 2014, six years after Tony had passed away, when he was named to the association’s Hall of Fame.  

He didn’t come up with Maaco’s famous tagline.

“Uh-oh — better get Maaco” made his company a household name, and although Tony didn’t come up with it, he did know it would be a hit. “When I heard it, it knocked me off my chair. I knew it was right,” he once said.

He believed in taking care of his franchisees.

A story in the Franchise Times tells the story of two Maaco franchise owners – a husband and wife – who died suddenly in an auto accident. At the time, their cousin, the franchise consultant Michael Seid, rushed back from a business trip to help. He found the business was already in good hands: Tony had sent in a team of senior people to run the franchise until the family could decide what to do. “That’s why I think Maaco walks on water,” Seid said at the time.

Tony’s legacy is in good hands as the company continues to grow and create opportunities for franchise owners across the U.S. With more than 20 million cars serviced, the company he started back in 1972 remains the #1 body shop in North America.

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