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Jiffy Lube Franchise Owner Invests in ‘Growing People Through Work’

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Stress is bad for business.

Steve Sanner wants to know what stresses out his employees. And more often than not, he’ll hear concerns that spring from various kinds of money problems.

“Financial wellness is the biggest stressor in people’s lives,” Sanner says. “And it creates the most bad decisions. It convinces you to do things that end up coming back to haunt you.”

It’s a topic that came up repeatedly in an interview with NOLN. If Sanner’s employees are stressed out, they might not be as productive as possible. And if Sanner can do something about it, well, that’s something he’s interested in doing.

The ongoing result is the “Growing People Through Work” program throughout Sanner’s 48-shop Jiffy Lube franchise in Indiana. It’s a suite of support systems that Sanner and his executive team put into place in response to his employees’ stressors. Part loan program, part tuition reimbursement, part finance coaching and more, “Growing People Through Work” has generated some press lately for Sanner. That’s been fun, he says.

But the overall goal has been to put real investment into helping his employees take care of their personal business. In turn, that means that they’re better prepared to take care of his business while they’re on the clock.

“To the level I can help you manage your stress, that’s a win-win for both of us,” he says.


Growing a Brand

Sanner bought into his franchise early in Jiffy Lube’s existence. The quick lube brand was just six years old in 1985, when Sanner and his business partners acquired franchise rights in three states.

“We built or acquired 31 stores in our first three years and had six or seven under construction,” Sanner says.

FRANCHISE: Jiffy Lube of Indiana   OWNER: Steve Sanner SIZE: 48 locations STAFF SIZE: 381 AVERAGE MONTHLY CAR COUNT: <50,000/ month

Sometime during that first year, Sanner got a call from the owner of 10 Minute Oil Change, a regional chain with nine locations. As Sanner tells it, the owner was looking to sell his business to Valvoline, but the negotiations had hit a snag. The owner told Sanner that if he wanted to take over the sale, it would cost $1 million by Friday that week.

Sanner says he ultimately reached an executive at Pennzoil, which had done business with Jiffy Lube (Pennzoil would acquire Jiffy Lube in 1991). He told the executive that they needed a quick $1 million to make this deal.

“He basically said, ‘Will you pay me back?’” Sanner says. “And we said, ‘Yes, we will.’”

A private Pennzoil plane came to them from Houston with a $1 million check. Sanner made the deal and got financing to repay the loan within 75 days. No one signed anything; Sanner hadn’t even met the executive at the time.

“The fact that we paid him back quickly made it a better story,” he says.

Sanner’s franchise grew through the decades, but it was a while before the business was thriving. Into the 2000s, he says that it became time to make new investments in his workforce.


‘Growing People Through Work’

The phrase is borrowed from Jiffy Lube Founder W. James Hindman. Sanner says Hindman said it from time to time, and it also appeared in the businessman’s book.

“So, it was always a phrase we used, but we really started to live it and breathe it on a regular basis in the last six or seven years,” Sanner says.

It began as a home-buying and financial training program for managers. He offered two $5,000, interest-free loans each year. They just kept adding benefits from there.

Suddenly, Jiffy Lube of Indiana employees could get sponsorships for coaching youth sports teams. Or their kids could apply for renewable $1,000 college scholarships. The franchise offers tuition reimbursement for employees who attended automotive or technical schools. ASE certifications get reimbursed as well.

Employees have bought cars at cost from Sanner’s chain of Tuffy repair shops, and they can get deals on repairs as well.

“That’s blown up,” Sanner says. “I think it’s our third-biggest fleet account—our own people.”

All of that led to a more straightforward gift and grant system, which is crowdfunded by the franchise executive team and aimed at rank-and-file employees living paycheck to paycheck.

“They really are living on the edge,” Sanner says. “One bad thing can ruin their financial lives.”

That’s the Jiffy Lube Cares Fund, and Sanner says it’s doled out $270,000 over the years for various needs, usually short-term loans for a few hundred dollars. Repayments can be deducted from paychecks as the employee can handle them.

It reduces employee stress, Sanner says.

“We care, and we’re putting programs together that help, because we want you to make good decisions,” he says “Nothing forces bad decisions more than not having money.”

His Jiffy Lubes began contracting fine artists to paint murals on their buildings, which got the attention of the Americans for the Arts organization. That’s how Sanner learned about how many of his employees were interested in the arts. So, that became a part of “Growing People Through Work” to fund art classes for the workers.

“It keeps taking us in directions we never expected to go,” Sanner says. “And we combined the two. We’re now finding out through the public art initiative that our people are actually very interested in art—a lot of them.”


Investing in People

Sanner’s holdings now include 48 Jiffy Lube locations (he expects to have 50 open by the end of the year), seven Tuffy repair shops and partnerships with four Mighty Auto Parts warehouses. 

He says they’ve just recently began giving the program a more public face and promoting it. He wants customers to understand that because of the nature of the program, they sometimes attract and hire people who have had a hard time and want to improve themselves.

But for the most part, it’s been an internal project that required real business capital.

“We aren't anywhere we need to be in terms of ‘Growing People Through Work,’” Sanner says. “We have a lot more that we need to do. But its an area that we now have the time and the money and the passion to really focus on it.”

They started out slow, first with the home loan program. And they capped the number of loans per year. And for the most part, he says, the program hasn’t needed tweaking—they just keep adding new parts.

“Growing People Through Work” brings up a question of turnover. If his franchise promotes education initiatives and financial gains, won’t that push entry-level employees out the door?

It does sometimes, Sanner says. His chain of shops employs 381 people, and he sees the same turnover that the industry does. But he also says that his business has fostered a certain degree of valuable retention.

“We have an awful lot of people who have been with us 15, 25 years,” he says. “We have hourly people who have been here 30 years.”

On the really tough days at work, Sanner says that those are the employees that hold things together and coach the younger people through it. That’s the scenario in which “Growing People Through Work” helps his bottom line.

One example of that retention is the chief operating officer of Jiffy Lube of Indiana, Lonnie Hinkle. Sanner says that Hinkle started 25 years ago, working part time as a courtesy tech while going to school. Hinkle worked up to assistant manager by the time he was ready to graduate.

Sanner convinced Hinkle to stay with the company by giving him the first company tuition reimbursement. He became a manager and, later, COO.

Sanner says that sometimes Hinkle will hear a complaint that the company puts all the investment into employees only to have many of them leave after a while. Hinkle always has the same line in response:

“What if you don’t train them, and they stay?”

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