2017 Operator of the Year: Mark Bochnowski
Lube ‘n Go truly is a family business that feels its employees and customers alike are part of its extended family. With all its locations within a 30-minute drive from its corporate El Paso-based headquarters, it strives to provide a quality service to the community. The company is quick to proudly note the majority of its employees are born and raised in the west Texas city, and as a service-focused business, it also adds they don’t just have customers — they service friends, colleagues and neighbors in the hometown they hold so dear. Much of this personalized service can be credited to Lube ‘n Go’s president Mark Bochnowski.
Mark was born into a pioneering family of the quick lube business. His grandfather, Laurence Bartlett Jr., and his great-uncle, Donald Bartlett, founded the first Lube ‘n Go in December of 1976, only months after Mark was born in May of that same year. Just over a decade later, Mark’s father John took a leadership position in the family business and, along with Mark’s uncle, Laurence Bartlett III, helped grow and expand the brand, opening shops in Austin, Texas, as well as Albuquerque and Las Cruces, New Mexico.
While many family businesses are passed down generation to generation, Mark was not raised to be just the “heir apparent” who would take over when the “old man” decided to put up his feet. Mark had to prove himself, and that he did. He started at the business in 1997, and for the past 20 years, he has helped it grow while ensuring that the quality service of Lube ‘n Go would be maintained.
“It was never assumed that Mark would head the company, and he truly did work his way up through the ranks,” said Jenn Bochnowski, the company’s director of Marketing and Mark’s wife. “He started off as human resources manager, and he has worked very hard to get where he is with the company.”
If anything, it wasn’t even assumed that Mark would work at Lube ‘n Go.
“He came to us and said he was interested in joining,” John Bochnowski said. “He had to present a business plan on what he could bring to the table.”
This included an actual interview where John and Laurence III treated him as if he were just another applicant for the position of HR manager. At the time, Mark was working for Frontier Airlines while attending the University of Texas at El Paso.
“I spent a couple of years in college, as my father thought it was important to get out in the world,” explained Mark in how he came to work in the family business. “I had always been super-interested in people and relationships and how that intertwines with the world of business. After working in the airline industry for a while, I had a calling to work in the family business, but it wasn’t a guarantee. I really did have to interview like anyone else.”
Hometown BrandIn the mid-1990s, Lube ‘n Go expanded to New Mexico. But it wasn’t the right fit for the brand.
“We had 13 shops when I started in 1997, but in the early 2000s we sold the shops in New Mexico and operated nine in Texas,” Mark explained.
While many owners dream of constant expansion to new markets, John and Mark had other ideas. Serving one community really well with superior service was a better business strategy than having shops in distant markets where quality control couldn’t be maintained.
As a result, today, the brand consists of 12 shops, with the most recent one opening this past August. All are within a quick drive of each other. As president of Lube ‘n Go, Mark felt it was important the brand not be overextended geographically. Instead, the company is truly a family business where all the employees are part of Mark’s extended kin.
“The brand is locally recognized, and, more importantly, it is truly trusted in the community,” Mark said. “The team has done a great job of building that trust, and there is a lot of momentum there. We really couldn’t manage the level of high standards we expect from ourselves with shops that were further away; so, this is really the right size for us.
“We wanted to keep our hands around the brand, and I am proud to say that we’ve accomplished that. I can go into all of our shops, and I know the employees at each one. No shop is more than 30 minutes away.”
With 70 employees, this family run business has a more personal touch. This is because Mark believes it is important to listen to every one of his team members.
“I meet with the retail managers every Tuesday morning and visit each location as often as I can,” Mark noted. “We have managers who have been here for 36 years. This is where they met their wives and worked while they put kids through college. That level of dedication and service really trickles down to the ranks of each and every one of our employees, I’m happy to say.”
Service FirstMany shop owners practically have oil in their blood, and that is also what sets Mark apart. He will be the first to admit that he’s not really a car guy — nor did he spend a lot of time getting his hands dirty working on cars growing up. But, El Paso isn’t exactly a city known for mass transit, and with summer temperatures that even Texans consider exceptionally hot, a car is necessary to get around. That is something Mark takes to heart.
Ensuring each and every customer’s vehicle is treated equally and professionally is really important to everyone at Lube ‘n Go, from the corporate office to every one of the team members. This is very much a testament to how Mark was raised, but also shows his absolute dedication to providing a quality service to the community.
“I’ll be the first to tell you that I didn’t get my hands dirty until I was a part of this company,” Mark said candidly. “Even when I came on board, I worked in the office, not the shop floor. But when I started, I knew expectations were very high, and I strived to live up to those expectations. My father and uncle were very clear that just because I was part of the family didn’t mean I would have an easy time. I took that to heart and made sure I knew all aspects of the business.”
Today, Mark is the type of company president who could easily do almost any job at the company. From the HR position he first held, Mark moved to a general manager role and took the time to learn all of the ins and outs of the business just like any other shop employee. This included getting in the pits and getting his hands dirty.
“That was very important, as I felt it was a way to earn the respect of the employees, but also because I wanted to understand that side of the business,” Mark added. “We’re not a family of car guys; my father came out of the banking world. We didn’t have an automotive drive, but we have always believed strongly in service. I really like to think that is what made us different.”
Even now, the corporate culture of this family-operated business is about instilling in the employees to be sincere and honest with the customers.
Lube ‘n Go has been a No. 1 provider of vehicle inspections in El Paso County, a fact that the company takes great pride in — and the brand recently celebrated one million miles with a very loyal customer.
Team LeaderToday, while Mark’s father, John, still handles the financial side of the business, Mark handles the operations side. While serving the customer is his No. 1 goal, it goes hand-in-hand with building a future for his employees.
To this end, Mark instituted a new employee-training program, cutting edge in the industry, which was set up to ensure that all new hires are on-boarded and integrated into the Lube ‘n Go culture and day-to-day operations as soon as they walk onto the shop floor. In addition, Mark launched the Lube ‘n Go Ambassador Program to aid motivated employees in preparation for management-level positions at the company. This ensures the prime management candidates are ready and happy to service the customers from the highest level.
“We work to make sure our employees all understand the family and the brand, and this extends to understanding why service is so important to the community,” Mark said. “At the same time — while this is clearly my path in life — I know a lot of employees won’t make this their life. If an employee is here for a long career, that is great, but at the same time, we want to provide an opportunity for those young guys to grow professionally and personally, so they can grow in any career that life hands them. I want our employees to succeed here or at their next job.”
This dedication to the employees has earned him much respect.
“He is my son, but even if he wasn’t, Mark has shown he brings a lot to the company,” John said. “He is very employee friendly, yet holds the team to a high standard, and they appreciate him for it. He is on the cutting-edge of what is happening in the industry, too, and I can honestly say he has been a big part in bringing the company to the level it is at today.”
Family ManGrowing a business — especially a successful family business — can take its toll on the personal side of life, but for Mark, it has been what drives him to succeed even more.
“He just enjoys everything about his career,” wife Jenn told NOLN. “At the same time, family is so important to him, and he is so proud of the company and his family.”
Mark recently sent his eldest daughter off to college, while his younger daughter is now a sophomore in high school. While Lube ‘n Go may not become a fourth-generation family-owned and operated business, Mark’s dedication to work and family has ensured his daughters will have a solid future in whatever they do.
“They helped out in the office over summers and breaks,” Jenn said. “They know what the company has meant to the whole family.”
Outside of the office, Mark is dedicated to the El Paso community and has given back to the city that he said has given the business so much. Today, Mark serves as the president of the Coronado High School Golf Booster Club and participates in many charitable organization fundraisers including those at the University of Texas at El Paso, the Ronald McDonald House of El Paso, the Child Crisis Center of El Paso and the March of Dimes.
In addition, Mark works with local schools as well as the military installment at Ft. Bliss through sponsorships and fundraising. Lube ‘n Go is also an active member of AOCA and the industry’s leading independent owner/operator group through NCM 20.
In his spare time — what little there is after work and charities — Mark can be found on the golf course. He holds the position of treasurer on the board of directors at the Coronado Country Club and sits on several committees.
“Mark loves to play golf, especially with his father,” Jenn said. “He also takes part in barbeque smoking competitions — and I have to say he’s really good at it!”
At the end of the day, Mark is a man who strives to work hard and give back as much as he can. If the future allows, he hopes to travel more with Jenn and see the world — with his golf clubs, of course.
“I would love to travel to Europe and play golf on some of the legendary courses where the game was born,” Mark said. “It is something my career will hopefully provide us. This has been a dream job, as I get to work with family. Sometimes it is hard, and it has had its share of unique challenges. But I love El Paso, and I really feel we’ve made an impact on the community both through our business and our ability to give back.
“It makes me proud that Lube ‘n Go has become so respected here. They have chosen us for 41 years, and I will continue to do what I can to say thank you.”