Shop Life

A New Franchisee Shares His Startup Story of Building His Dream Shop

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What would your dream shop look like?

It’s not often that a franchise owner gets to work with a blank slate: an empty plot of land that will become service bays, customer areas and lines of cars.

For this issue’s focus on sharp-looking shops, NOLN had the chance to catch up with a brand new franchisee in the middle of his construction project. Jason Nastasi, 34, is pursuing his dream in the Tampa, Fla., area with the construction of his first Express Oil Change and Tire Engineers shop.

From money-saving components in the building to the design choices that make the shop stand out, Nastasi says that he’s building his shop to be a little different and stand out in the local market.

This is the story of Nastasi’s challenges and triumphs in breaking ground on the site, as well as what makes for an effective shop when you’re able to start from scratch.

 

Landing the Franchise

Before he decided to launch a franchise, Nastasi was well acquainted with the auto service industry.

“I started in the business when I was in college,” he says. “I took an internship with Tires Plus.”

That internship turned into a job, and he worked his way up to a marketing coordinator. He worked for Tires Plus off and on until, as he says it, he decided to make money for himself and not others.

Then Nastasi’s boss at Tires Plus, who was the former vice president of marketing, left the company for Express Oil. 

“He was the one who told me about the franchising opportunity,” he says.

Nastasi found business partners in his parents, who were looking to invest during their retirement. They had interviews with Express and found it to be a good fit.

In company promotional materials, Express prides itself on its real estate assistance, site selection and new construction franchise opportunities. That suited the Nastasis well.

 “With Express Oil, you almost have to look at a ground-up site because of the pit,” says Nastasi’s father and co-investor, Victor Nastasi. “Overall, their business model is one where you basically build the facility from the ground up, develop the business.”

Nastasi has the technical knowledge to run a quick lube and tire shop. He made choices for the shop design, equipment and layout to maximize the customer experience. But he also learned that business ownership means he often deals with things that happen outside of the shop.

 

Site Selection

The first land site fell through. Nastasi says that the county board failed to approve the building permit due to concerns about its location within a wellhead protection area.

It was tough to restart the search for a shop site. In coastal, central Florida, the high water table in the area doesn’t agree with digging a quick lube pit.

“We ran into the issue that was a real setback for us,” Victor Nastasi says. “You couple that with we’re in the Tampa Bay market. It’s extremely hard to find suitable locations for a place like this.”

But the Nastasis rebounded and found the current three-quarter acre lot, just off one of the main drags in Oldsmar. Core samples showed that the ground was very suitable for the business.

While the ground conditions seemed favorable, hard rains and groundwater mixed together and, at one point, filled the pit at the construction site. 

“It filled up the pit completely,” Nastasi says. “They had to pump it all out.”

He says that their contractor helped them reach a more long-term solution for the final building, which includes laying down a layer of gravel or pebbles beneath the foundation to allow water to move during another rain event, keeping the lower bay dry.

“What our environmental testing people recommended was take six inches of soil out and replace with pebbles or gravel. And that’s the process we just completed,” Victor Nastasi says. “The next part of the process now is to put basically concrete over that. And that becomes the support for the real slab, where they put the structural rebar in.”

He added that their contractor was a huge help in getting the right environmental knowledge in place to weatherproof the foundation.

 

Crafting a First Impression

Nastasi’s first of two shops are going up on a busy street in Oldsmar, west of Tampa. The first thing customers will notice is the building’s exterior. 

He says that, through a mixture of local building regulations and his own planning, the shop won’t look like a typical blue and grey Express building.

“Our building is essentially a lot of earth tones,” he says. “Probably twice as many windows, and then complete stone facade.”

He says that the windows invite a lot of light to warm up the look of the building. Working with Express, Nastasi said that his goal in design was for the exterior look to be inviting, clean and project value to customers.

Operators looking to build should be wary of local requirements for the look of business properties. That could mean certain design elements, landscaping or materials in addition to the normal setbacks, utilities and other technical items.

For Nastasi, one of those requirements from the city was that the bay doors had to be faced away from the main road. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, Victor Nastasi says. The part of the shop that does face the street is clean, simple and attractive.

“It probably adds to the aesthetic,” he says.

Landscaping was another requirement that Nastasi wasn’t sure about at first. It came at a cost that he hadn’t planned on right away. But once the landscaping came together, he says it goes a long way to create that inviting atmosphere.

“They’re requiring us to have a really beautiful landscape,” Nastasi says. “At first, it was like another cost. But it’s not a place you're afraid to send your daughter or your family.”

 

Stepping Inside

Techs will greet cars as they pull up to a bay, Nastasi says. Quick lube customers will remain in the car during service. But for any other service, or at the customer’s preference, the customer waiting area design was made with both business and service in mind.

The first room customers will enter isn’t actually the waiting room, but rather it’s the service writer’s office, where they will go over repairs, car information, invoices and anything else. It provides a level of privacy, he says.

“It gives a bridge, so when we need to talk to the customer about repairs, we’re not talking about service issues where other customers can hear,” he says.

The waiting room sits on the other side of a glass wall. Once in the waiting room, more glass offers a view into the bays, so customers can see work being done. Nastasi says that those features that provide transparency are important for customer service.

The waiting room itself is meant to feel like someone’s home. He says he didn’t set out to fill it with vehicle diagrams, ads and automotive knick-knacks. 

“We‘re looking for more of a spa-type interior,” he says. “It will have some automotive, but it’s predominantly going to be a warm welcoming area. Like you walk into somebody’s front foyer.”

 

Maximizing the Bay Area

Expecting to start with a smaller staff, Nastasi says he wants to maximize his service bays for efficiency and ease of use. He chose the equipment to make work more effective for his techs, which in turn helps the customer experience.

“My big focus is on ergonomics. How can we make this suitable for our guys? I can't come out the gate with 12 people working in the store,” he says.

A lot of that comes from equipment investments. Nastasi says he plants to put high-value equipment in his shop with the expectation that it will help increase productivity and speed. On the tire side of the business, it’s the brand new balancer, changers and lifts.

There can be cost savings, too. While the compressed air system for motor oil is traditional stainless steel, the rest of the shop is outfitted with aluminum piping for compressed air systems. That presented a cost savings for installation, he says.

Lighting was another practical area to find savings, according to Victor Nastasi. They went with LED lights throughout.

“Without a doubt, when you look at the equivalent lighting versus halogens or LEDs, it’s a tremendous savings,” Victor Nastasi says.

For all the equipment investments meant to help out the techs, there are also investments to be made that aid customer service.

 

Boost the Ticket Average

Nastasi says that he’s in a great position with his shop, because he’s able to offer quick lube, tire and mechanical repair services at one location.

But when customers come in for just one of those services, he wants to create opportunities to introduce them to other offerings.

“One of the biggest challenges in this quick lube service model is converting an oil change customer to a service customer,” he says.

The natural choice for Nastasi’s shop is to point customers toward tire sales or service. So he invested in equipment that can help. His quick lube bays will be outfitted with the Hunter Quick Tread Edge, which customers drive onto inside the bay. Sensors read the tread wear and produce a model image that shows how uneven the wear might be.

Nastasi says that it’s one thing to tell the customer about tread wear, or use the old penny visual aid. It’s more effective to have that data from the Hunter system.

“If I show you a printed model of your tire, and the whole inside shoulder is worn completely off, now you have a visual aid,” he says.

From there, he might suggest a rotation or balance— or new tires.

But another key to this system is that it leads into Nastasi’s sales philosophy. He says that his techs will be trained to give the customer information and let them make decisions on service.

“If we see something or we have a recommendation, we want to show the customer,” he says. “Show and tell and education for us are the forefront. I don't want my guys to sell anything. I want them to talk and educate the customer.”

 

Community Impact

Any successful shop owner will say that being a part of the local community is one key to finding and retaining customers. 

Nastasi takes this seriously. Every shop that he builds is going to include a monument to a local public safety official.

“Were actually dedicating our buildings to a local first responder,” Nastasi says. “Either someone that lives in the community or someone who served that community and ultimately paid the price to do it.”

He’s working with local officials and families to find the right person to receive the dedication, but the end result will be a placard and bench area below a tall flagpole.

Customers will also get information about that first responder with their service materials.

He says that customers will also respond to his efforts to purchase U.S.-made materials and equipment. That’s part of being a community partner, he adds.

“We are purposely making conscious efforts to buy local,” Nastasi says. “We want our money that we’re spending to stay here.”

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