Finding the Right Business Partner

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Burning rubber singed the air as brightly colored race cars battled one lap at a time. Competition was in the air. The crowd roared only to be drowned out by droning engines thundering past the chain link barrier. It was Saturday night at the speed track.

On Wednesday, Brad Findlay spent his day in the grandstands differently than the screaming fans did on Saturday night. After he’d fixed guardrails, he listened to the rhythmic swish of a broom and clunked beer cans into a black trash bag. Dutifully, he made sure everything was ready for the drivers, cars and crazed fans that would arrive on race day. Not a bad job for a 16 year old.

Findlay never strayed far from the automotive industry. In the 1990s, he worked in the corporate office of a tire franchise company recruiting franchisees, setting up stores and developing properties. After purchasing and selling his own two franchises, life’s circumstances moved Findlay from California to Utah. He didn’t abandon the industry for long, though. This time, Findlay decided to cash in on opportunities by opening a quick lube.

It would be logical to assume with a professional background in franchising that Findlay decided to franchise Little Cottonwood Qwik Lube, his new store in Sandy, Utah. He didn’t.

“I looked at franchising. One of the good things about it is you have a marketable name supporting you. The downside is there are ongoing royalties, usually based on your sales in addition to initial franchising fees. It can also be harder to grow and enter into the marketplace in an existing area that is already thriving,” Findlay said. “After all my research, I ended up going with Chevron’s branded quick lube program, Havoline xpress lube. With the branded program, I got an attractive quick lube image with the name I needed.”

Dave Schletewitz is the brand manager for consumer products at Chevron Lubricants, he described something even more exciting than an attractive business.

“The Havoline xpress lube program is like a franchise but without the costs and constraints of a franchise agreement. It gives the operator the freedom to run their business the way they want to,” Schletwitz said.

Before putting his John Hancock on the dotted line, Findlay took the time to decide what he needed from the professional partnership. After all, a good partnership should equally benefit everyone involved.

Findlay considered things like the marketplace and ability for future growth. If he wanted to be in a major marketplace, chances were he’d have to buy up an existing franchise and any future growth could be tricky.

“New, really good retail locations are usually protected by territory and existing franchisees,” Findlay said. “You can certainly get in with some of the smaller franchises around, but I wanted a big brand name that already had a loyal customer base. I’m protected with Havoline. They aren’t going to allow another Havoline shop to go in next door to me. It’s a little more flexible than a traditional franchise situation would be.”

There wasn’t a need for Findlay to build a story for his shop, either. Havoline already had one their customers were familiar with and he could adopt.

“What really drew me to Havoline was that it’s a well-known brand. You can drive around town and see Havoline on a lot of businesses that aren’t dedicated lube shops. Having a brand name associated with my store was very important because it is something customers recognize and feel comfortable with,” Findlay said. “I’ve been with them for seven years now and have grown steadily every year. I believe the support I’ve received has been every bit as valuable as the backing I got when I was part of a franchise.”

Chad Simerly is the owner and operator of a carwash and lube center combination store in Warner Robins, Georgia. When Simerly entered the oil change industry in 2001, he looked for a brand name that would compliment a carwash.

Simerly didn’t have preexisting lube bays on site, just a carwash and a vision. Along with the Havoline team, he was able to build and brand his lube business. He ended up with what industry legends argue is the best lube center set up for today’s market.

“When I was looking to build the lube center Havoline provided me with blueprints to help with the design,” Simerly said. “One of the biggest reasons I chose Havoline, and the main thing I think other operators can expect from Chevron, is brand recognition. It’s helped out my oil change tremendously and complements my carwash business well.”

In addition to the easily recognizable and trusted brand name among consumers, the Havoline xpress lube program provides operators with additional resources and perks because of their association with the bigger Chevron brand.

“I have a rep who comes out to the store on a regular basis. If we’re in need of training, they arrange it. Over the years, they’ve provided dinner and we’ve gotten together and had an in-depth training session,” Findlay said. “They provide us with the advertising tools we need, like signs and branded materials. We’re able to take advantage of some awesome marketing opportunities. At no charge, I can draft a promotion or coupon, and they’ll send it with their Chevron fuel credit card statements to the zip code I specify. This way, people in my market who’ve never been to my store will hear about me and hopefully drop in for an oil change.”

The Havoline xpress lube program is committed to providing a network of resources. Whether it is a new or existing business, they’ll provide the story, paint and signage to make the shop a success.

“We provide a professionally developed and tested retail facility image that stands out on the street — day or night,” Schletewitz said. “Operators that were struggling with declining car counts and ticket averages that have rebranded themselves with the Havoline xpress lube program have seen growth. Now a new image alone isn’t going to solve all their problems. Those who’ve executed impactful grand re-opening events, deliver excellent customer service, cleaned up their place (inside and out) along with local marketing efforts have seen the greatest results.”

The key is finding the right partner, brand for you. Each partner and brand represents a unique set of values, and that’s important to know and be aligned with. Havoline xpress lube is part of the Chevron family, and for service professionals that may be looking to be part of something bigger yet retain operational flexibility. Finding the right business partner is an important decision.

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