Adventures in Repair Service
As the story goes, Mike Vasheghani needed an oil change 45 years ago. That’s more or less where his interest in quick maintenance began.
“When I was in college, I was going to change the oil in my car, and I didnt know how to do it,” he says.
Vasheghani asked a friend to do it, and that sparked a need to learn it for himself. Moreover, he saw a potential business opportunity in the do-it-for-me space.
Vasheghani is an entrepreneur. He’s operated convenience stores, car washes, and hotels. In 1997, he started his lube shop with a relatively young company, Kwik Industries, which had itself just launched automotive centers five years prior. Vasheghani says he had a great set of meetings with the company founder, Ray Ellis, and they both shared an entrepreneurial spirit.
The first year of operation was strictly quick maintenance. After that, he started adding more repair options. Like many operators, he sought the “one-stop shop” solution.
“I wanted to grow the shop to make better revenue and better service for customers,” he says.
Vasheghani says that his shop, Kwik Kar Lube and Tune of Mesquite, Texas, paid off its debt within five years with the help of a small but steady repair segment.
With growing service intervals and higher competition, lots of operators are asking the question: Could I add repair work to help tickets? There are operators like Vasheghani who have the resources to add a profitable repair component without sacrificing the quick lube model.
Repair work is not for every quick lube. There are plenty of successful shops out there running stripped down, well-oiled car count machines on little more than lube services.
So what’s best for you? Hear from shop owners of all kinds about how repair works—or doesn’t—for them.
What’s your strategy?
The quick lube model benefits from being able to take all comers. Most shops are set up to handle all makes and models, perhaps with the occasional exception for some exotic cars.
In the past, it was easier for a full-service repair shop to handle all makes and models. But the technology in vehicles, which is increasingly OEM-specific, is leading to a wave of specialization. If you’re a quick lube operator looking to jump into repairs, it’s important to set boundaries.
“Something you've got to think about initially is: What is going to be your strategy in taking on repair work?” says Doug Grills, co-owner of a network of AutoStream Car Care locations in Maryland.
Grills says his operation started with the service station model more than two decades ago. They had small shops connected to filling stations before he and his business partner decided to expand into standalone repair shops.
Grills says that the scope of your repair operation will determine other core factors, like your investment in equipment and tools, your labor, and your customer base.
The bottom line is that being a repair generalist requires a lot more investment, particularly when working on newer models.
“Now all of a sudden, when it comes to technology and scanners and things like that, that’s certainly something you’ve got to think about,” Grills says.
Having a specialty can be great for a segment of drivers, but operators would be wise to consider how that complements their quick lube business.
What’s the investment?
Servicing all makes and models in a quick lube shop is much different from doing so in a repair shop. Frank Saalfeld found this out quickly when he hired a mechanic to take on some repair work at his shop, Quick Change Oil in Sidney, Mont.
“Shortly after we opened up, I had a guy approach me who was a mechanic,” he says. “I had people asking about it all the time, so thought I'd try it.”
He says the tool and equipment expenses seemed to be ongoing. Some tools needed to be model-specific. In a small town, he bought tools that might be needed for one job but would sit around for months after that.
“You’ve got to have a special tool to pull a water pump on a Cadillac,” he says. “Well, how many more Cadillacs am I going to work on in the next five years? That’s just one example.”
Some big purchases are necessary. A lift is one, which comes at an expense of cash but also valuable shop space. Diagnostic scan tools are increasingly needed and can increase in complexity and cost for different OEMs.
“If you’re going to start diagnosing check engine lights and more specific problems, a diagnostic tool is going to run you at least $3,000,” says Chris Bruner, who runs a Midas shop in Indianapolis, Ind.
Aaron Stokes is a repair industry veteran who runs AutoFix repair shop and founded Shop Fix Academy. He’s also a columnist for Ratchet+Wrench magazine. Stokes tells NOLN that shops should consider higher labor costs as well. The pay incentive for an experienced mechanic will be higher than that of a lube tech.
Stokes estimates that it wouldn’t be tough to spend $10,000 in additional tool expenses and $3,000 in additional monthly labor expenses, depending on a shop’s volume.
How can you manage customer time?
Customers come to a quick lube shop with an expectation that they’ll be on their way in a short time. They’re not expecting to leave their car for a repair job, and that’s a careful consideration that lube shops need to make when selling those additional services.
Sumun Vasheghani is Vasheghani’s son who also works at the family Kwik Kar shop. Sumun helps with a lot of day-to-day operations, assisting the shop manager as needed, and says that once they identify a repair issue, they want to prepare an estimate for the job as quickly as possible, and that includes the time needed for repair. Then the customer has the option to leave the car now or to come back later to complete the work.
That’s what separates the quick lube from a full-service repair shop—the emphasis on convenience.
“The customer’s priority is first,” Sumun Vasheghani says. “Their time of day coming out here is more valuable than trying to sell them the four- or six-hour job.”
Vasheghani and his sons have learned over the years that they need to be very up-front with customers about repair times and expectations, especially when the customer initially expected a quick maintenance service.
Sumun Vasheghani says that the one-stop-shop is convenient, but it can be an unexpected convenience for the customer.
“If you do want to come back, this is the cost,” he says. “We give them that option to bring it back rather than sell the job on the first day, that first visit.”
How can repair integrate with the quick lube model?
Vasheghani’s Kwik Kar shop has fine-tuned its operation to ensure that the lube side retains its convenient, quick drive-up service. At the same time, those customers are fed into the repair side, as needed, and the staff mechanic provides additional value for lube customers.
That’s at the heart of the “one-stop shop” vision that many operators want in a quick lube-repair operation. But how does it work in practice?
Sumun Vasheghani says that one of the biggest links that draws a quick lube customer to the repair side is a leak.
“The quick lube side is always going to be a fast-paced side,” he says. “Most of the guys are trained so that if a leak comes in, we want to spot that as quickly as possible. The last thing you want is to block a quick lube bay on a Saturday.”
A leak investigation can be sent over to the repair side so that quick lube traffic continues to flow. But it needs to be done with that customer time consideration in mind.
Bruner, who runs the Midas shop, says that the quick lube side at his shop will often refer jobs to the repair side. It’s also good for tech development, too. The proximity between lube and repair can be beneficial to the less experienced techs.
“(Lube techs) will be working right next to one of the repair techs who's working in bay two,” Bruner says. “And if they have any questions or issues, they can ask that tech. He can help the lube tech understand and train or help when they get stuck.”
Do you have the capacity?
The answer to this question might make or break an effort to add repair work. First, it requires space to add a lift and keep a vehicle around a bay for hours or days. Customer vehicles are safer when stored inside overnight.
“In terms of the physical space that you need, how many bays and lifts are you going to dedicate to doing it?” Grills says.
This becomes an economic question. Does your available space and your scope of repair generate enough business to justify the investment? Or would it be more profitable as a quick lube bay? It depends on the shop.
For Saalfeld, repair didn’t work for his small operation in a rural area. With relatively low overhead, he sees few cars (around 30 per week, he says) compared to a big-market shop. With tire sales and a strong customer base, he’s able to provide bonuses and good pay to his people.
Based on the investment needed, repair work just didn’t work for his situation.
“I feel like I do what people want here,” he says. “I’ve found out what my clientele wants and what they expect, and that’s what I do.”
Alternatively, Vasheghani’s Kwik Kar operates in a much different environment on the southeast end of the greater Dallas area. His shop has eight bays, and the lube and inspection sides serve around 65 cars daily. The repair side might see 4 to 8 per day, but it varies.
The shop has worked with the same master mechanic for 14 years now, and the repair side has worked for that shop’s situation.
Two shops, one without repair and one with repair. Both have found a successful mix of services.
So does repair work for quick lube shops?
It can, but it may not. For shops looking to get a little bump on their tickets, it might be best to look first at existing quick maintenance items, as well as oil and additive sales, for areas of improvement.
If you’re ready to go all-in on repair, look first at your physical building. Speedy Lube in Bozeman, Mont., is a great example of a quick lube shop that was set up to incorporate repair work. The repair bay is off to the side and doesn’t impede the line of quick lube customers waiting for service.
Next, consult closely with your industry peers and vendors to determine what the best scope of repair might be for your budget and market. There’s a big investment gap between performing some brake work and tearing down engines.
Finally, make sure that your quick lube operation will continue to be strong. The fundamental parts of the industry—convenience, pull-up service, an inclusive experience—all make the quick lube model successful. A repair side to the operation should serve as a complement to that work and not get in the way.
Look at it from Vasheghani’s perspective, and it’s hard to go wrong.
“You always have to do better than yesterday,” he says. “Next day, you have to do something better. You don't want to do the same thing.”