From Past to Present
Ken Frenchak is a Valvoline man through and through. For him, it’s the family business.
Not just the quick lube business, either.
Frenchak has been the general manager of the Valvoline Express Care in Grove City, Penn., for a little over 10 years.
The family business is about the larger Valvoline footprint. Frenchak’s family has been in western Pennsylvania for generations, and it was around 100 years ago when two of his great-grandfathers started working at the Valvoline refinery in East Butler, which is only about 30 miles southeast of Grove City, until it closed in the ‘40s.
“Growing up, we were aware of Valvoline,” Frenchak says. “My grandfather had old Valvoline cans in his garage. A lot of the scrap paper that we wrote on as kids had Valvoline’s logo. It was everywhere.”
Fast forward 40-plus years, and now he’s running his own Valvoline shop, and his love of history–both the company’s and the community’s–continues to inspire his passion to make the shop the best that it can be.
Class is Now in Session
Frenchak didn’t get into his current role as a shop general manager with Valvoline in a way most people would.
He spent most of his career working in turf care equipment sales with a brief stint as a service advisor for a General Motors dealership. A self-described history buff, though, Frenchak was drawn to Valvoline’s ties to both his family and his home county.
“I knew a little bit about the local history and local lore (about Valvoline), but it wasn't a passion yet,” he says.
That passion came around the start of the 2010s, when Valvoline was preparing to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Frenchak says the additional publicity push prompted a more thorough exploration of those long-standing family ties.
“That just kind of put me down a rabbit hole. I started researching old newspaper articles, talking to some old-timers that worked at Valvoline, which led me to one person, to another person, and so on,” he says. “That led me to pictures, signage, old cans and bottles. All kinds of things.”
Through that research and collecting, Frenchak became fully steeped not only in the physical items—he says he could probably open his own Valvoline museum if he wanted to—but the history and knowledge of Valvoline’s 150-year history in the western Pennsylvania area.
During his research, he came in contact with Robb and Tracey Ritenour, who currently own the Grove City location, and in 2011 they offered him the general manager role of the shop.
In his 10-plus years at the location, Frenchak has seen a doubling of average daily car count at the two-bay shop, all in a town of just over 8,000 people.
“I've always been into cars. I changed my own oil, my dad and I used to restore cars. I’d even change oil for people in the neighborhood,” he says. “I never thought that about 40 years later, I'd be part of a group that would be owning one and operating one.”
Frenchak’s passion for history doesn’t stop with his company—he is deeply invested in his town and the surrounding area, and that’s reflected in how he treats his team members and his community.
Quick lube can be a tough industry, particularly for younger employees trying to get into the labor market. Frenchak says he and his management team realize that the work isn’t for everyone and that most of the people he hires won’t be with him for more than a year or so.
“I know it's not a lifetime job. I have 13 employees right now, but there’s only three of us who I call the ‘gray-haired’ men who’ll be here forever,” he says. “For everybody else, this is a stepping stone.”
Because it is just a stepping stone, Frenchak focuses on giving his younger employees experience that not only makes them better workers for him but also sets them up for future success in any field. His shop partners with high schools and post-secondary vocational schools, as well as the local juvenile rehabilitation center, to provide young people an opportunity to learn “the importance of a work ethic and giving them a sense of purpose and personal accomplishment.”
That’s not to say employees don’t learn the ins and outs of the quick lube business–each employee at his shop goes through a 90-day onboarding training program to become a certified lube tech, regardless of what role they fill.
“Leaders need to develop leaders to multiply their success. Always strive to build leaders in your organization. They will become better employees,” Frenchak says. “Ultimately, your job will become easier because you have other leaders to rely on. You become a stronger and more confident leader.”
Frenchak says providing an environment that guarantees a certain number of hours and a consistent paycheck while reinforcing strong work habits sets his employees up for future success, even though they won’t be with him for more than a handful of months.
“From the owner to the general manager, the personality of a business is a reflection of who you are,” Frenchak said in a 2019 news release after winning the Valvoline Express Care Character Award. “That's always been part of my nature, supporting local business, doing whatever I can locally.”
For someone so invested in legacy and history, though, Frenchak doesn’t like to spend much time reveling in his own. Instead, he’s always focused on what he and his team can work on and improve.
“We’re always striving to be the best at oil changes, service, and everything in between,” he says. “We’ve seen continued growth because of consistency.”
Chuck Dick, Frenchak’s Valvoline advisor, said in the 2019 news release that he is always the first operator to jump at a new opportunity and try something different if it means improving how his shop can serve customers.
“We love to float suggestions for improvements by him because he’s willing to take a risk for the possibility of growth,” Dick says. “He applies everything, sees how to work out the kinks, and gives good feedback to corporate about what works and what doesn’t. He’s just an all-around good guy to have on the Valvoline team.”
Frenchak has received several awards from Valvoline, including the previously mentioned national character award in 2019 for his leadership in the shop. The accolades are the last thing on his mind when he tells his story, though; to him, he’s just another guy putting in his time at work before going home every night to his wife and dog.
Despite that humility, Frenchak’s legacy has proven to be a worthy addition to the history of his family and Valvoline in western Pennsylvania.
“I just hope that everything I do betters my people, my employees,” Frenchak says, “and not just the ones that I currently have, but the one’s we’ll have in the future.”