Second in Command
Opening a new location is exciting, regardless of the size of the operation. New shops are also big risks, and if not run properly, they can be as much an anchor on a business as they can be a rocket booster upward.
Chris Avery has been in the business for 30 years and has been running his chain of Snappy Lube shops in North Carolina for the last 20. Over the course of those two decades, he built his network from three stores to 34, with several more slated to break ground this year.
He says the key to an effective expansion, more so than anything else, is having strong mid-level management to guide a shop through its infancy. Finding an effective manager, though, can prove to be easier said than done.
Amid the Great Resignation, it can sometimes seem that the only important quality in a potential employee is their willingness to come into work.
However, in any shop, and especially a new one without an established customer base, a good manager can be solely responsible for its success—and a bad manager could also be its downfall.
Avery says it’s critical to get mid-level management hires right the first time in order to save yourself a tremendous amount of hassle down the road. What, then, can owners and operators do to hire with confidence and mitigate as much potential risk as possible?
Experience Is Key
For most positions in a shop, whether it be a pit tech, front-end customer service representative or someone else, Avery says having basic experience dealing with clients and being a generally pleasant person to be around is sufficient.
For management positions, and specifically if you’re hiring someone to run a shop for you, ample experience in the quick lube business is an absolute must.
“The first thing I looked for was an experienced person in the quick lube business,” Avery says. “It's a really hard, unique business. Even within the automotive space, it's not like other shops that provide full service. We're concentrating on the oil change model, and the manager has to understand that.”
With 34 locations, Avery has hired his fair share of mid-level managers to help run his stores.
The hire that has impressed him the most was his oldest son, who is currently the operations manager for all 34 shops.
Avery says his son began with Snappy Lube when he was 14 years old, washing windshields and helping out where he could.
All these years later, Avery says that passion and desire to work in the family business helped his son earn a management position, and knowing first-hand what has to happen on a shop floor in order for everything to run smoothly is critical in his day-to-day work.
Throughout the years, Avery says his hiring process has looked more or less the same. Whether he’s had three stores or 34, he still wants his managers to have experience in the industry and have a proven ability to lead a team.
He says he’s had an easier time hiring mid-level management with great success because he has more internal candidates from which to choose.
“Now that I have 34 locations, it is a bit easier because I have 175 employees to pull from,” he says. “A lot of my techs, managers and assistant managers are in the position they are because they’ve been willing to move to be promoted within the company.”
When Avery promoted his son to regional manager, he already had exceptional experience with the business and interacting with shop employees. He says his other employees also found having someone from the company and in the ownership family serving as a manager kept the company’s family-owned feel and gave them a “direct line” to the owner if they needed it.
“Some guys have been in the system for a long time. The longevity of managers and employees in general is getting longer also,” Avery says about his shops. “Anyone that gets hired, regardless of the industry, wants to see their pay go up. They want to know they're moving in the right direction for their life and their family.”
Sell your strengths.
Different employees have different qualities they look for in a work environment, and whether you own one shop or dozens, someone will find your shop to be exactly what they’re looking for in a job.
For Avery, who prides himself for running a tight-knit family business with direct communication between the top of the hierarchy and the bottom, he makes sharing that the forefront of his hiring conversations.
“Being locally owned and operated gives us a little bit of a leg up. They're not just a number and they don't get lost in the big sea of employees,” he says. “We still have that hometown feel and not only for our customers, but for our employees as well. When they apply, we let them know what kind of company we are and what we have to offer.
For larger operators with multiple locations, selling a potential candidate on the vast number of opportunities and the financial stability working for a large chain are effective tactics that can make people excited to work for your company.
Every quick lube has something to offer its managers. Make sure you’re selling your strengths.
With 34 shops and over three decades in the business, Avery has had a successful quick lube career by any metric.
He credits his mid-level managers across the state with helping build and maintain a positive and productive culture in each of his shops, which reinforces just how important it is to get those hires right the first time.
“The longevity and the success that all of our managers are having is because we bought into them,” Avery says. “If we feed into them, their energy and talent, they'll feed into us.”
Avery points to his son, who is now well into his career in quick lube, as a prime example of how fostering a love for the industry and providing opportunities for growth can help make good employees even better leaders for your business..
“He really did enjoy and still enjoys the business, and it's not because of his name that he got promoted,” Avery says. “He earned it.”
No matter how many shops your business might have, Avery says getting someone with quick lube experience is a necessity when branching out into a new store.
Beyond that, making sure that a new manager is a fit for your company culture and is actively excited about what your shop brings to its community, whether it’s a small chain or a multi-shop franchise, can help easily build the culture your company is trying to permeate through its shops.
Hiring current employees can cross both of those items off the checklist at the same time, and is a great way to get a new shop up to speed more quickly.
“The biggest success stories for us are some of the managers that have been hired at a young age and where we gave them an opportunity to come in and let us teach them the business and mold them,” Avery says. “Here we are, 10-plus years later, and now they're managing stores. The key for us was to get them in the door early and train them.