From Fast Food to Fast Lube
What does a fast food restaurant have in common with a fast lube? Not much, and while the differences between the two are glaringly obvious, operating a popular fast food franchise and spending time in the food service industry is exactly where Ricky Brooks, current CEO of Alabama-based Express Oil Change and Service Center, began his career. “In 1976, I was, at age 23, the youngest franchisee that Sonic Drive-In restaurants had ever had to that point,” Brooks said. “I operated those restaurants for five or six years. I did well, sold them and then went into the financial services industry for 15 years.”
From 1981 to 1996, a time period he calls relevant to his entry into the fast lube business, Brooks worked on investments and insurance for many high-net-worth clients. In the middle of this crucial 15-year period that he collaborated with a client who would help alter the course of his career. “In 1987, I was approached to raise the capital for an individual looking to build and develop three Express Oil Change franchises,” Brooks said. “There were probably 11 or 12 stores in the chain. When I did the due diligence on Express Oil Change, I really liked the concept. It had the same type of volume and margins as the restaurant business that I’d been involved with and it was a very good business model.”
After Brooks completed the due diligence, the developer decided that he could no longer move forward with his investment in the three Express Oil Change franchises. Although Brooks had just been introduced to the industry, he decided to jump in with both feet. “For personal reasons, he decided he couldn’t do it, so I purchased the lot from him that he had already bought and went into the Express Oil Change business,” Brooks said.
For Brooks, the attraction to the fast lube business was directly related to the experience he gained as a restaurant franchisee and the sharp contrasts between the two industries. Brooks got into the fast lube business for a couple of key reasons. One of these reasons is the significantly better hours of operation. “We’re open six days a week, closed on Sundays, and we’re open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily,” Brooks said. “In the restaurant business, you must have a maximum number of people working a minimum number of hours. In the fast lube business, we build an elite team of all full-time career employees, and the hours of operation are more conducive to a quality family life for everyone involved.”
Armed with solid reasons, and both franchise and financial knowledge, Brooks went into business with his partner, Joe Watson. Brooks was directly responsible for obtaining investments, acquiring the real estate and overseeing the building of the facilities for the project. “I was supposed to get everything done, and my partner would operate them,” Brooks said. “Originally, I only anticipated doing two or three in Birmingham.”