Bye, Bye Burns: Entrepreneur Seeks to Revolutionize Oil Changes
At the heart of nearly every new product and innovation is the idea, “I can do it better.” For Steven Owens, his “Eureka” moment that led to the development of a unique oil-change tool came during a summer job in his hometown of Gaffney, South Carolina, at the local Chevrolet dealership, banging out $19.95 “vacation special” oil changes.
“Doing 89 oil changes over four and a half days made me realize that there had to be a better way of doing oil changes,” Owens said.
He described getting burned by hot oil running down his arms and onto his clothes. Not only was it messy and not much fun, but Owens also realized it wasn’t very efficient.
“I spent a good deal of time simply cleaning up the mess,” Owens said. “I left after I got my first paycheck on Friday, but that experience stayed with me.”
This brief, not-so-great employment experience is one aspect of Owens’ “origin story” that led him in the direction of developing the Last Drop Wrench, a tool with the potential to revolutionize oil changes and, potentially, the quick lube process. His patent-pending specialty tool can speed up the traditional oil change by 25 percent, while also eliminating nasty spills and burns.
The Last Drop Wrench is an all-in-one specialty tool that punctures the oil filter and allows oil to flow through the tool into a drain pan. Constructed from injection-molded plastic and hardened steel, it’s also used to remove the filter.
From Idea to EntrepreneurAre entrepreneurs born, or can you learn the art? For Owens, he said he believes growing up around a garage and a body shop definitely played a role in his entrepreneurial development.
“My dad was a master mechanic. When I wasn’t in school, I was always working on motor bikes, dune buggies — anything with a motor,” Owens said. “We didn’t have a lot of money, so if we wanted something, we had to build it.”
After high school, Owens enrolled at Clemson University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. Ultimately, Owens’ engineering foundation would guide him in developing the prototype for his Last Drop Wrench.
While in his role as an engineer — managing projects and new implementations, as well as people — plus, also being involved in the business-side of the equation, Owens recognized that going back to school for an MBA would help him take his skills and experience to the next level. However, like many people fully immersed in a full-time career along with also having a family, finding time to complete an advanced degree can be tough.
Owens mentioned a conversation he had with an engineering colleague from his undergraduate days about Clemson’s MBA program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MBAe).
“He was enrolled in what Clemson called a ‘part-time or working professionals’ version of their program,” Owens explained. “I attended a meeting later that week. It convinced me the program would work for me, and within days, I was enrolled and ready to begin my MBAe.”
He credits the program at Clemson with forcing him to jump “right in with my ideas.”
The program provided constructive feedback that helped Owens and his classmates recognize whether they had a viable idea. If they didn’t, they then had to figure out what was required to improve it and make the necessary adjustments. Luckily, Owens recognized early in the initial stages of critique that he wouldn’t have to do a major pivot with his initial idea. This gave him the confidence that he could launch a business during the intensive two years of Clemson’s program.
“The 18 people in the program were very supportive. One of the best aspects of this group approach was that we could bounce ideas off one another,” he explained. “This also helped us collaborate with one another.”
This collaborative process — along with Clemson’s requirement that all MBAe grads do a “Shark Tank”-type presentation — helped Owens take his initial idea to a place where he believed he had something special. As he was preparing for his Clemson presentation, Owens ran across an ad for the Specialty Equipment Market Association’s (SEMA) Launch Pad competition.
Owens said he filled out his online application at 11:00 p.m., the night before SEMA’s deadline. While he was sending in his completed paperwork, he was also preparing his presentation required for graduation.
The LaunchSEMA’s Launch Pad has become a sought-after auto competition that offers entrepreneurial innovators and inventors under the age of 40 a platform at its annual show. It’s a place to pitch a business and product idea to a panel of iconic industry judges in a live setting.
SEMA vice president of Councils and Membership, Nathan Ridnouer articulated SEMA’s motivation for these types of competitions: “The SEMA Launch Pad business competition is one of several association programs designed to invest in the future of our industry through raising awareness of the best and brightest young entrepreneurs and providing them with incubator-level businesses tools. Another key initiative is to inspire students to pursue a career path into the specialty automotive aftermarket.”
Owens was selected as one of SEMA’s top 15 Launch Pad candidates in 2018. As a result, SEMA flew him out to Las Vegas where he took part in their Boot Camp.
“The competition was intense. We had two minutes to pitch our idea, and then three minutes to answer questions,” Owens said. “Somehow, I managed to get into the top 10. This was great because it allowed me to have a small kiosk [to showcase the product] at the SEMA convention. I also got to pitch the idea to five industry leaders prior to the convention.”
Through all of this, Owens got needed publicity, as well as important feedback for his Last Drop Wrench.
One wonders when Owens finds time to sleep. In addition to his full-time job, he is CEO and president of Creative Fabrication and Coatings, LLC, the company that is launching the Last Drop Wrench.
Currently, the Last Drop Wrench is in the pipeline of the provisional patent process. Once the official filing is made, Owens’ work will be protected for one year during the test-marketing phase.
Introducing a new product into the auto aftermarket arena is daunting, and Owens will be the first to tell you, it’s not for the faint of heart. But he’s been able to meet each challenge along the way.
“The process is long and costly,” Owens said. “We’ve completed our trademark, and it’s been approved. We are now covered so we can go ahead and start selling while the rest of the process remains in motion.”
Owens’ hope is by June, his efforts at boot-strapping will allow the Last Drop Wrench to be available for initial sales on his company’s website. He’s enthusiastic that everyone from your “shade-tree mechanic” to ASE-certified technicians and quick lube operators will see the efficiency he’s built into his product.
“When you talk about the efficiency gains, business operations managers’ eyes light up,” Owens said. “Last Drop Wrench can speed up the traditional oil change. The less time technicians spend cleaning up messes, cleaning up their hands and cleaning up their tools, the more time they have to process cars through, making more money.”
How to Use the Last Drop Wrench (in Six Easy Steps)
The Last Drop Wrench is an all-in-one tool specifically designed to enhance efficiency in completing oil changes without the usual mess:
- Place correct sized Last Drop Wrench onto the oil filter. (Last Drop Wrench is available in six different sizes to fit most oil filters.)
- Strike the metal puncture tube (with a rubber mallet or hammer) until it punctures the oil filter casing.
- Pull back the puncture/drainage tube by hand.
- Direct oil from the puncture/drainage tube into an approved containment device.
- After oil has been completely drained from the filter, use a one-inch socket/ratchet combination or wrench to remove the oil filter by turning the Last Drop Wrench outer body counter-clockwise in the traditional fashion. The filter will spin off without causing any mess.
- Spin the new filter on by hand and tighten with the Last Drop Wrench in the traditional fashion.