Shop Life Feature Stories

5 Industry Misconceptions (And How to Fix Them)

Order Reprints
pit tech


What do you think is the top misconception of the industry?


All oils are the same. 

Quick lubes don’t perform quality service. 

It takes little more than a pulse to be a quick lube tech.

For Costa Kapothanasis, owner of Costa Oil 10 Minute Oil Change network of shops, most misconceptions can begin or end during the sales interaction.

“The biggest misconception, I think, is that we are going to try and sell you something that you don't need,” Kapothanasis says. “That has been a headwind that we’ve had to deal with in the industry.”

Fortunately, shop owners are serious about overcoming these misconceptions and have made strides to improve their customer experiences. The solution to the top misconception that Kapothanasis mentioned could be applied to a lot of areas of the business.

“Overcoming it is about creating credibility,” he says. “And credibility comes from knowing what you’re doing.”

Take charge of your shop image and use this guide to know what you’re doing to beat those pesky misconceptions.


Misconception 1: Oil is oil.

This is likely the most common misconception in the quick lube industry. Customers just want oil in their engine, no matter the grade, synthetic or not.

Years ago, the light duty engine oil market had a lot less variety. That’s not the case today, but a customer who only drives one or two vehicles oil might not be aware.

“When you drive in and say, ‘I need a 0W-20 oil.’ Well, I’ve got a blend in that. I have a full synthetic in that. I have different brands,” says Robert Weissberg, who runs a top Midas-SpeeDee shop in Watsonville, Calif.


How to Beat It

Conventional thinking pointed to conventional oil for years. Now, drivers can choose semi-synethetic, full synthetic, or choose between brands. SAE grades look a lot different than they did in years past.

First and foremost, the manufacturer’s recommendation should always be the starting point. That will determine the proper SAE grade and, in some cases, require a special OEM specification, like DEXOS.

Sometimes, the best product for a customer’s car might be an upgraded high mileage oil over a conventional. Other times, a customer might need an explanation for why their new vehicle can’t run conventional.

In either case, the key to beating the misconception is that the tech spends time to give a friendly explanation of the choices or the manufacturer recommendation.

“It’s not one oil across the board. It’s oil type, viscosity, manufacturer,” Weissberg says. “So the education of the customer for the oils they’re choosing has to be there.”

Look to the W in cold weather. 

As an ice breaker with customers, Costa Kapothanasis likes to ask what the W stands for as it appears on an oil’s SAE grade.

In case you’d like a refresher, the W doesn’t mean “weight.” It actually stands for “winter,” and the number represents the cold-weather viscosity of the oil. The lower the number, the better the oil performs during cold starts.

The second number in a typical SAE grade (such as 5W-20) represents the hot temperature performance.

“If you understand what those numbers mean, at a very macro level, that goes a long way with helping that kind of misconception,” he says




Misconception 2: Quick lubes are unsightly.

Quick maintenance used to conjure images of dark, dirty shops that are crawling with unseemly characters.

“Dark, dingy, dirty. High school grease monkeys who have the red shop rag out of their back pocket. That’s kind of the perception.” says Ted Sage, owner of LOF Xpress of Iowa.

Is your shop the kind of place you’d recommend to your friend or your enemy?


How to Beat It

This is an area in which the industry has made incredible strides. Look no further than the ranks of NOLN’s Best Looking Lubes.

The quality of construction and building design is part of the solution, but the more impactful shift has come from operators’ attitudes toward the overall customer experience. The shop must be built nicely, but it should also be meticulously maintained. The staff need to look and act presentable.

It’s the details that can really derail a customer’s experience, which is more than just how the outside of the building looks. Invest in your amenities and then show them off.

“Some of the technology. We have a lot of computer screens that come up to customers’ windows,” Sage says. “Monitors with cameras—upper and lower bay cameras. Using technology to bring forward what we’re doing.”

At LOF Xpress shops, techs are even mic’d up so that customers can hear them going through the service call-and-response. The cumulative result is a more premium experience, Sage says.


Misconception 3: Quick lube service isn’t up to snuff.

To some drivers, a dealership provides the top-level service, while quick lubes are only around to serve jalopies. They can be resistant to bringing their expensive vehicles to a quick lube bay.

“For a lot of people, a car is the biggest investment they have. If they have a home, it’s the second biggest,” Kapothanasis says.

Others might believe that only an OEM-branded dealer is qualified to do work on their make and model.


How to Beat It

Shops need to let customers know through their marketing that they can service any vehicle with the same quality of oil and parts that a dealership offers. It’s more than boasting all makes and models. It’s about servicing all makes and models to the highest standards.

A lot of it comes down to the engine oil sales. Techs should make clear that they’re offering synthetic oil not as an upsell. It’s because the oil meets the latest API specification and protects engines at a level that meets the needs of the most modern engines.

“Think about what goes into making this motor. It’s got to be millions invested (in development),” Weissberg says. “So when you go to speak with someone regarding whatever it may be, you go by manufacturer specs. Nowadays, the liability issues with that.”

It also takes work to establish trust with customers by avoiding the hard sell. Kapothanasis says that it could be as simple as showing the air filter to customers during every service. By the time they need it, they’ll know it’s because of the condition of the filter, not the need for a sale.

“Don't go into it trying to push something, but present opportunities by knowing what you’re doing,” Kapothanasis says.




Misconception 4: Look elsewhere for a good job.

Tech turnover is something that every operator deals with, and it can be tough to find the right job candidates. How many great techs do shops miss because those people don’t apply in the first place?

Sage says his operation sees average turnover. One of his locations sits in Ames, Iowa, which is home to Iowa State University. Those students can be a big part of his hiring pool, but their employment can often be transitory.

“For us, the challenge is to allow them to stay as long as possible so that they can truly get an accurate picture of what we have to offer,” he says.


How to Beat It

There’s no getting over it. Start with a competitive wage.

“You’ve got to pay them the going rate, and probably more than competitive,” Sage says. “Then they’ll at least check the box. Then it’s how good are training opportunities? What leadership opportunities exist that maybe make it a career for them?”

Getting employees on a career track in the quick lube business is less common, but those employee relationships are very important for success. Whether you’re a big or small operation, successful owners have worked with their budgets to offer benefits that truly help employees. Often, that requires a personal touch on behalf of the operator.

And if you’re wondering how Sage’s shops attract new talent, the answer is right under your nose.

“Quite a few have come in for an oil change and experienced it as a customer. They say, ‘Well, this is interesting or cleaner than I thought or more tech-forward than I thought,’” Sage says.



Pay Trends: A Decade of Difference

Average Tech Wage

2010: $8.36

2020: $13.40

Average Manager Salary

2010: $40,349

2020:  $49,935



Misconception 5: Techs don’t need to know much about cars.

Sure, the oil change process is somewhat interchangeable among makes and models. How hard can it be?

The misconception out there is that technicians are just repeating a process they learned after a couple hours of training. Pull the plug, drain, fill, and replace the plug.


How to Beat It

The different types of oils available, some of which require techs to identify certain engines, is just one reason that techs need a much higher level of education than before.

“The education of that technician now that was on the lube side has to be a lot more invested,” Weissberg says.

First and foremost, this is necessary to provide safe and complete service for customers. But the real benefit to an educated team is when they start to pull in the customer to that knowledge. Kapothanasis says that among his company’s values is that the most educated customer will choose them.

Go above and beyond oil grade training with your people. Maybe a customer is used to hearing a tech confirm their power steering fluid levels, but they get a newer car with electric power steering. That feature isn’t always known right away, and quick lubes are in a great position to provide that kind of education, Kapothanasis says.

This is an opportunity that becomes a benefit to shop credibility and, ultimately, to sales.

“Our customers are very sticky,” Kapothanasis says. “They stay with you until they have a reason to leave. And so when we open a new location, we know that we have a battle to win, which is a credibility battle and a personality battle. We need to be friendlier, more approachable and more confident.”

Recommended Products

2015 Fast Lube Operator Survey

2011 Fast Lube Operator Survey

2012 Fast Lube Operator Survey

Related Articles

Understanding Personalities And How To Apply Them

The New Diesel Engine Oil Standards and Ford’s Reaction to Them

The Good Years: How to Determine When It’s Time to Sell and How to Prepare Your Business for Sale

You must login or register in order to post a comment.