To Stand the Test of Time: A Salute to Some Special Partners

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If you were a part of the oil change industry 30 years ago, then you have experienced first hand the countless changes the industry has seen. Many of you may recall a time when you were one of only a couple competitors in your area, or maybe you were the only option for customers. Now, it seems there are service shops on nearly every corner. What started with a simple oil change has evolved into so much more. Many shops have changed the face of the industry by offering tire services, inspections and even car wash services. In an ever evolving market, we would like to take a look back. In order to understand where the future is headed, it is often wise to look back and reflect on the past. As you know, we recognize one operator each year as the Operator of the Year, and we would like to share a bit about where a few of them are now compared to the year they won the award. We have also included updates on a few of our valued advertisers who have been advertising continually with us for decades.

Former Operators of the Year:

Dave Jensen, Operator of the Year winner in 2005, operator of Pennzoil 10 Minute Oil Change Centre in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

NOLN: What’s changed since the year you won?

Jensen: The way we do business has definitely changed since 2005, like extended drain intervals on vehicles. There are so many more cabin air filters, and we’ve added tire services.

N: How many locations do you have now vs. then?

J: We still have the one lube location, and we opened up a tire location also.

N: What was/is your favorite part of the business?

J: It’s all about the people I meet. I’m still on the board of directors of AOCA and have been involved with that since 2001, so it’s the people I meet in the industry and the customers I get to help everyday. I’ve made a lot of good connections with people.

N: Do you have any comments about the future of the auto industry?

J: We don’t know what direction the auto industry is going to go in. They keep saying there will be more electric cars coming into the marketplace, which isn’t good for changing oil, so we have to look at different services we can provide maintenance-wise. Tesla and GM are making a big push for electric cars, and we just have to adapt to the changes that are coming with this new technology.

Karn Jilek, Operator of the Year winner in 2010, former operator of JK Lube in Fargo, North Dakota

NOLN: If you are no longer with the same company, what are you doing now?

Jilek: I have actually made several significant changes since I received the Operator of the Year award in 2010. In 2012, I sold my stores to my business partner, John Olstad. I then joined the team at Onsharp as their director of Operations. Onsharp is a web-development and digital marketing agency in Fargo, North Dakota. That position enabled me to leverage my skills and passion for marketing, technology and operations to help the company grow. I loved my time at Onsharp, but recently made another change.

I joined the team at Sound Billing in an operations and finance role. This position again allows me to maximize my skills and passion for marketing, technology, accounting and operations with the added bonus of reconnecting with my former fast lube colleagues in a new way. I’ve never lost my interest in the fast lube industry, so the chance to work in the industry again and do what I love was an opportunity that was too good to pass up!

N: What was your favorite part of the business?

J: My favorite part of the business was the people I worked with, from our store team members to the franchisees and JLI employees. In the time I have been out of the industry, I truly missed the interaction I had with my fellow franchisees. The JLAF volunteers I served with on committees and the board of directors are some of the most intelligent, passionate business people in the country. I learned a tremendous amount from all of them and absolutely missed working with them on a regular basis. That is part of what made the position at Sound Billing so appealing — the opportunity to work with those folks again in a new way. 

N: Is there an interesting event or accomplishment that has changed in your personal life or professional life since you won?

J: The career changes I mentioned above are certainly highlights of the last six years. In addition, I developed the curriculum and taught an Introduction to Franchising course for the College of Business and Public Administration at the University of North Dakota for two semesters. 

Longtime, Continuous Advertisers:

ISI

Steve Barram, CEO

ISI has been advertising with National Oil & Lube News since July 1988.

NOLN: Do you remember why you started advertising with NOLN?

Barram: ISI’s partnership with NOLN extends back to 1988 when we first started advertising in the July issue. We are honored to be included in this feature article and would like to congratulate NOLN on 30 years of being a voice for the fast lube industry.

N: How has NOLN helped your business over the years?

B: Over the years we have seen NOLN analyze and report about emerging trends in the fast lube marketplace. That is one of the ways they earned our trust and how we came to rely on their expertise. The fast lube industry has changed dramatically since ISI started in 1988, and we’ve been fortunate to partner with NOLN to introduce, inform and communicate our products and services to customers.

To say we view our relationship with NOLN as a form of strategic partnership may sound strange.  But ISI grew up relying on NOLN and how it unearthed valuable information for stakeholders in our industry.  ISI learned to devour the pages of NOLN to ensure we kept up with the trends and changes. 

N: What do you predict for the next 30 years?

B: The next 30 years will bring an abundance of technology improvements that will continue to change the industry — along with a variety of cultural and economic challenges. We look forward to partnering with NOLN to help our fast lube customers, partners and associations continue to grow and improve the market.

Thank you NOLN for dedicating yourself to being a valuable and dependable voice for our industry.  Congratulations!

Sage Microsystems

Bob Sampson, president

Sage Microsystems has been advertising with National Oil & Lube News since August 1991.

NOLN: Do you remember why you started advertising with NOLN?

Sampson: When we first started Sage in 1986 and joined the oil change world; we were very happy to find there was only one publication for the industry. That meant only one place where we needed to advertise and one place to go for industry information.

N: How has NOLN helped your business over the years?

S: We have tracked our lead sources over the years, and NOLN has always been the No. 1 way people knew about us. In the beginning, NOLN was 80-90 percent of the lead source. Today, it is still about 50 percent that have heard of us through NOLN. The only reason it is only 50 percent is because there are enough Sage systems installed around the country that the other 50 percent simply say they are already familiar with the Sage QuickTouch system and are just looking for pricing and logistics of getting our system installed.

N: How has the fast lube business changed since you’ve started advertising with us?

S: In the 80s and early 90s, many people changed their own oil. The oil change store was still a new concept. It was exciting because people quickly began to embrace the idea of having a specialty store do it for them quickly and for not a lot more money than it would cost to do it themselves. The industry was flourishing. It was interesting also the customers were largely loyal to specific oil brands. I remember one customer who had just gotten an oil change at another store asking to have that oil [brand] drained out and their oil brand put in. Today, I think the average customer doesn’t have that awareness or loyalty.

N: How has your company changed since you’ve started advertising with us?

S: NOLN advertising certainly helped keep Sage in the known vendor group. Through NOLN advertising and the evolution of the scope of the Sage products, we have grown to over 1800 systems installed. We started our company with three people. We now employ almost 20.

N: What do you like best about the fast lube business?

S: It is a highly templated industry. Our software and products work for every customer we install with very little modification. It is a very straightforward business and is easily replicated. Our first point-of-sale customer was a craft store with over 30,000 SKU’s of items they carried. Shortly after that, we sold and installed our first oil change center. They only had 400 part numbers of data to enter. We knew we were on to something good.

N: What do you predict for the next 30 years?

S: The number of vehicles operating in the US will continue to increase as populations grow. Our customers will continue to service those vehicles. They will need to evolve with the evolution of the technologies the vehicles employ, but whether they are changing oil or servicing batteries, the vehicles will always need service. Since the current oil change industry has extended oil change intervals as the status quo, many centers have already begun to add vehicle maintenance services that go beyond the filters and fluids services the industry was built on.  

Auto Data

Craig Harris, president, and Bill Schad, former owner and founder

AutoData has been advertising with NOLN since January 1992.

NOLN: Do you remember why you started advertising with NOLN?

Schad: NOLN goes directly to the shop and is read by the owners, managers and techs. Its a great way for us to communicate and educate the market to the advantages of our product.

NOLN: How has NOLN helped your business over the years?

Harris: Because NOLN has always been the main source of news and information for the fast lube industry, it was essential in helping to build the Auto Data brand.

NOLN: How has the fast lube business changed since you’ve started advertising with us?

Harris: When we first started advertising in NOLN, the fast lube industry was still very young and was really on the rise. Since then, we have seen the industry peak, at least in numbers. We have also seen the industry adapt to the changes in economics, demographics and driving habits of its customers. I think the industry has done a good job at surviving change and adapting to the needs of its customers by offering different types of services while not sacrificing its quick service mantra.

NOLN: How has your company changed since you’ve started advertising with us?

Harris: Well, Auto Data is even older than NOLN, if you can believe that. We are approaching our 32 anniversary, so needless to say we have experienced a lot of change. From DOS to Windows, quick lube to carwash, license plates to VIN scanning, to ownership of the company, change is constant in this industry and omnipresent in the software business. Software is never finished. As the the business environment changes, so too, must our software.

NOLN: What do you like best about the fast lube business?

Schad: It is truly an entrepreneurial business, and that fits well with our style of business. You are dealing directly with the owners and trying to succeed by helping them succeed.

NOLN: What do you predict for the next 30 years?

Harris: We have seen a lot of consolidation over the past few years, and I see that trend continuing. Operationally, our customers will continue to adapt to their customers by offering the services they need for their vehicles. Striking the balance of speedy service focused on customer satisfaction with more time consuming jobs that yield a higher ticket average will be a key to success. Of course vehicle technology will pick up with more and more, and that will bring more challenges. As the car’s own computer systems advance, it will become even more important for your shop management software to help service that vehicle and keep the customer happy and informed.

Schad: The next big challenge for the industry will be self-driving cars. They will be here in three to five years. Not only will they not have a driver, but when they pull into your shop they also may not have any passengers. The owner will have sent the car out on errands to pick up the laundry and, oh yeah, get the oil changed. The car’s system knows all the details — services, parts, lubricants, etc. that are needed. Interaction will be with simple voice commands. You said 30 years right?

Electric cars are coming, but not as fast. The electric grid is at capacity now, and to move our entire transportation system over to it will take quite a while.

NOLN: Do you have a story about NOLN you’d like to share?

Schad: “We once put an ad in the NOLN with a cartoon character that had a Road Runner-style rocket strapped to his back stating our system makes your store run faster. It was pretty silly, and we still laugh about it today.”

Smart Blend Synthetics/Phillips 66 Spectrum Corporation

Steven E. Farr, vice president/LAP

Smart Blend Synthetics/Phillips 66 Spectrum Corporation has been advertising with National Oil & Lube News since February 1997.

NOLN: Do you remember why you started advertising with NOLN?

Farr: Our objective was to expand the Smart Blend Synthetics professional service chemical brand into new high-volume channels to market. We identified the fast lube/quick service channel as an emerging market that would provide high-volume growth opportunities for our innovative automotive service technologies.

N: How has NOLN helped your business over the years?

F: Our business has experienced considerable growth and brand recognition due to our advertising and marketing strategy, which included a strong continuous presence in NOLN. At our core as a technology company, advertising in NOLN provided the platform to advertise our innovative technologies via our Smart Blend Synthetics brand to professional service providers and other manufacturers. This served as a catalyst to grow both our branded and private packaging business. Since we began advertising in NOLN, our product line has expanded to encompass over 200 products to meet the needs and demands of the professional automotive service industry.

N: How has the fast lube business changed since you’ve started advertising with us?

F: The landscape has changed within the fast lube industry considerably through the years. There has been a considerable amount of acquisition and consolidation within the market. Industry trends have driven the expansion of services provided by lube centers to include the servicing or replacement of most perishable items on a vehicle, including brake services and tire rotations. In the early days of lube center operations, services performed were limited to oil changes, filters and wiper blades.

N: How has your company changed since you’ve started advertising with us?

F: Our company has changed and grown drastically. Smart Blend Synthetics began as a manufacturer of professional automatic transmission service products. Within the past 18 years our product offerings have expanded to include professional service chemicals, ATF, power steering fluids, CVT fluids and fuel injector cleaners, etc. In July of 2014, Smart Blend Synthetics was acquired by Phillips 66. Our commitment to quality, innovation, technical support, customer intimacy and safety align nicely with Phillips 66’s approach and business principals. We are honored to be part of the Phillips 66 family, providing energy and improving lives.

N: What do you like best about the fast lube business?

F: Without question the people involved in the industry. This is a great industry that provides valuable convenient automotive services to people within their community. The majority of the corporate and independent owner/operators of lube centers participate in community involvement efforts in some way. It is nice to be involved in an industry where people understand and appreciate the value associated with giving back to their communities.

N: What do you predict for the next 30 years?

F: Since I am not fortunate enough to own a crystal ball, the events of the future can be somewhat difficult to predict. The only constant that can often be predicted is change.

N: Do you have a story about NOLN you’d like to share?

F: I worked with Barbara Tinsley when we started advertising with NOLN. She was great. She always wanted to know how NOLN could be more proactive and assist with introducing us to more potential customers. It was like your mom checking in on you. If there ever was a problem, she did not question to find fault, she just made it right.

 

I think I speak for us all when I say we’ve learned so much over the past three decades. We’ve adapted to and overcome numerous obstacles and technological advances. Those who remain strong are those who welcome change and are always willing to learn. We must stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us to continue our growth and never be content with mediocrity. 

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