The Building Blocks of the Modern Shop
It’s an understatement to say that a lot has changed in the past decade of quick maintenance. Shops face the challenge of providing the same core service while keeping up with the evolving needs of vehicles and customers.
So how do successful business owners navigate the changes? What lessons have they learned, and how are they steering their businesses into the future?
These three—Justin Strickland, Jason Russ, and Scotti Lee—give us their take.
A Triumvirate of Experience
Justin Strickland doesn’t have a traditional business background. His roots are in the pits of an oil change facility, and as a college dropout, he is completely self-educated.
But what Strickland, CEO of Strickland Brothers 10 Minute Oil Change based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, does have is a love of reading and learning, an innate intellect, and a hard-core dose of tenacity.
“When I was a lube tech I’d read a lot in my downtime,” he says. “I started with entry-level books on how to manage money. I’d find books on how to budget, how to save. They were very rudimentary, but I wanted to understand more about finance.”
Once he got through all the financial and accounting material he could get his hands on, Strickland turned to books on real estate.
“Anything that pertained, I’d read over and study, and then move on to the next area,” he says. “And I’ve been doing that for 11 years now.”
His strategy has paid off. Strickland Brothers was founded in 2016 when Strickland and his grandfather started the company with $35,000. To date, there are more than 125 franchised and wholly owned Strickland Brothers locations and a couple hundred more in development.
Another top operation, Virginia-based Jiffy Lube franchise CB Squared Services, is run by general manager Jason Russ who has been in his role for five years. CB Squared currently operates 18 Jiffy Lube service centers throughout Virginia and Maryland.
For Russ and the marketplace that CB Squared serves, expectations are especially high from the largely affluent customer base that calls the territory home.
“There’s definitely zero tolerance for failing to meet any of their expectations,” Russ notes of his customers today. Yet, he knows that his geographic locale and the market conditions that exist there are a blessing in terms of demographics, and he’s used them as a springboard for lock-tight operational improvements and success.
Former NOLN contributor, author, and industry expert Scotti Lee possesses a big-picture view of the industry over time.
Lee also draws from his personal experience as a lube shop owner and operator for 23 years in Delaware. In addition, his perspective is enhanced by the fact that he and two other lube shop founders now own an oil distributing company.
Regardless of where in the country a lube shop or chain rests, Lee understands the universal components that make them fire on all cylinders and serve their communities with success.
One basic tenet he shares: “People won’t come looking for you. You must stand out … location, location, location.”
Keys to Current-Day Success
For Strickland, top-shop success comes down to the numbers.
As he describes of Strickland Brothers’ operations, “First, we must understand what questions to ask in every department. And then you know what you’re looking for—what KPIs [key performance indicators] you need.”
Strickland says those KPIs need to be close at hand, easy to access and review. That allows operators to focus on the strategy.
“The modern world is a heavy-technology lane,” Strickland believes. “We are data-driven. We innovate. I encourage my staff to measure [our KPIs] and quantify them. As humans, we can’t just make a bunch of emotional decisions. I want my staff to make data-driven decisions.”
Essentially, these data-driven decisions will help ensure that Strickland Brothers doesn’t put all its eggs into one basket. As such, several metrics he and his executive team measure and pay special attention to are new unit growth and same-store sales.
“We need to grow them both in parallel,” Strickland says, “because same store sales growth can only go so far. Ignoring same-store sales while adding new units could be catastrophic, but never focusing on new markets could force you to be late getting into position for further expansion. You need both.”
At CB Squared Services, Russ finds that putting technology in the customers’ hands is having a positive impact on his business and its success.
“Upcoming enhancements with the MyJiffyLube app and better connectivity with customers has allowed them to schedule maintenance, to see their vehicle history, track their vehicle performance, and to keep regular with maintenance,” he says.
On the shop side, Russ says Jiffy Lube’s internal point-of-sale system—which is regularly updated and improved upon—is critically important to keeping his shop on top in terms of performance in his area of the country.
“I’m on a sub-committee for technology improvements for our POS system moving forward,” he says, “and for helping to keep our employee-facing technology more up to date.”
What used to be a printed form on a clipboard, as Lee remembers from his shop owner days, is now incredibly sophisticated technology resting right on the shop floor. The information available in the shop is supercharged.
“Now there are computers out in the bay, and if you’re not there you’ll fall behind,” he says.
Russ finds that helpful tech gadgets aren’t just for smooth operations. They can also be customer service tools. His shops’ modernized bays with state-of-the-art computers and tablets are something that customers take note of.
“We need to make sure people see that we’re a 21st century business doing 21st century tasks,” Russ says.
Whereas Jiffy Lube customers used to have interactions with techs in the bay area, where it’s potentially hot, cold, and uncomfortable and their kids are sitting there, the company decided on a full-scale remodel several years ago that would improve the customer flow upon their arrival.
“We want the customer journey to match the internal J Team experience,” Russ says of the experience the company has crafted for both internal operations and customer interactions.
“We developed customer service stations and a secluded area in the waiting room for [various business] interactions,” he says. “We have in-store cell phone charging stations, digital menu boards, single-serve new coffee makers and TVs.”
For Strickland, there’s something that trumps acquiring and utilizing the latest technologies in the lube business, and it’s numbers. Any company, he says, can leverage new technologies. It’s what you do with them that counts.
“If you want to invest in technology you should invest there if it means better service times and a better customer experience,” he says. “But you must lean into the data, quantify it, and then prioritize for getting faster, better results.”
Drivers of Repeat Business
As with a car’s body style, good old-fashioned looks matter a great deal if a shop owner expects to draw repeat notice.
“The appearance of the building and your people are right at the top of what makes a lube business successful,” Lee says. “The building should be attractive, and there should be landscaping.”
He also suggests keeping all employees in uniforms, so everyone looks neat and is easily identifiable as shop staff.
Lee also finds that it’s important to make sure the shop team is diverse and representative of the community.
“A lot of women like to see a woman working on their car. And when they do, they’ll come back,” Lee says.
Fitting right in with shop aesthetics and employee appearance is keeping tabs on how customers feel about their interaction with your business. Just as they’ll remember a clean coffee counter and restroom, for example, they’ll most certainly get a certain vibe from their entire customer experience.
And for Strickland, there’s a performance indicator for that.
“My favorite KPI is the net promoter score,” he says, with net promoter score being a customer’s response to a survey question asking how likely they are to recommend a company, product, or service to a family member, friend, or colleague.
“I place an obsessive emphasis on how the customer feels about their service experience,” Strickland says. “So, while we look at volume and ticket average, for me the focal point—the top leading indicator—is that net promoter score.”
Getting and Staying Ahead of the Curve
In his experience, Lee says the top lube shops today have, over time and on an ongoing basis, found other services to expand their offerings. For example, when lube businesses started getting cars in and out in 15 minutes, he says he began looking for ways to keep them “in” just a little longer.
“I started and pushed tire rotation in my shop,” Lee says, looking back. “So we’d look and we’d tell them, ‘Your tires need rotating every 6,000 miles.’ And we’d tell them why their tire pressure is so important—that it will increase your miles per gallon.”
Wiper blades, too, were another product Lee found he had to remind customers about, specifically telling them that every six months they’d need to be replaced.
For Russ, he sees his D.C.-area shop’s expansion of services happening both organically and intentionally.
“With the mix of internal combustion engine vehicles and totally electric … the average ticket will continue to increase,” he notes. “I also see future growth continuing as we invest in current locations and increase our business through acquisition and new builds.”
The bottom line in 2022: Top lube businesses do not sit idle—they expand.
For Strickland, that business expansion has been into other verticals.
“We recently acquired a car wash business,” he says. Strickland leads both brands as the CEO of a newly formed parent company, Accelerated Brands. “Ten years from now, the car wash business and Strickland [Brothers] should be a sizable auto aftermarket company, and I think we’ll have several more verticals at that time,” he adds.
The Always-Winding Road
No matter how much the most successful businesses thrive, innovate, and grow, there is an area of operations they have never truly mastered over time: hiring and employment.
“Especially here in the last couple of years, the biggest headwind we face is with employment, recruiting, and retaining the best talent we can find,” Russ admits.
“It’s a never-ending battle. And it’s so important because it all starts with interaction on the front line with the customers,” he adds. “We’re building for the future,” a future that will require excellent and invested employees.
Russ also says CB Squared’s team is doing everything it can to recruit, attract, and retain talent that will help the company have success on all levels heading into the next 10 years. One of the ways it’s doing this is making use of Jiffy Lube’s extensive training program, Jiffy Lube University, for everything from onboarding to manager development.
Despite its enviable corporate resources, though, Russ predicts the employment market will become even tougher for his business and other lube shops and related businesses moving into the future.
Building out its talent pool is an area that Strickland Brothers has worked especially hard to improve in 2022. “We have nearly 800 employees, and that has happened in four years,” Strickland emphasizes.
His strategy has shifted to what he calls a very strategic role in the company.
“There’s human capital in every business and this one is no different,” Strickland notes. “When people say, ‘I’m going to invest,’ they think dollars. But people are a capital and an asset to your business. So we work to invest in technologies, of course, but we also invest heavily into getting the right people in the right places to promote responsible growth.”
Strickland Brothers 10 Minute Oil Change has grown so rapidly, in fact, that the company has added a new job every 2.5 days in the past 18 to 24 months.
“We want the most talented people we can possibly get,” Strickland states. “That how you win, with an all-star team.”
To get hiring down to a science, Strickland went so far as to solicit psychological testing.
“I went through a psychological assessment a year ago so a psychologist could tell me what I suck at,” he states. “It was really about self-awareness and displaying our humility core value. Through this analysis, she was able to point out my blind spots.”
So Strickland began to build out leadership teams based upon those findings, and he did this by giving people the same assessment and then hiring people who are strong in the areas where he is not, as well as in the areas where his team as a whole is lacking.
“I consider them co-workers,” he says of all his employees, “and they complement what I’m not good at.”
Steering a People-Driven Business into the Future
Along with all the technology implementation, real estate leveraging, hiring and training resources, and, of course, scrutinizing data and KPIs, owners of today’s top facilities all agree on the absolute necessity of one simple old-fashioned ingredient that can make or break the success of a lube business. Plainly and simply, it’s friendliness.
Lee says it has been this way since the early days of the lube shop. And he should know, more than two decades ago when there were no lube shops in Delaware, he opened the first. “You must bring friendship in,” he stresses. “You’ll always go back to that. Of course, you need all the tools and technology, but the friendship the place exudes is very, very important.”
Looking back, Lee remembers going out and buying violets in a little potted plant and giving one to everybody who came into his shop. Word of the customer appreciation gesture spread across his local community and his business reaped the benefit.
For Russ, courtesy and efficiency have no price tag—especially in today’s world, where they can be in such short supply.
“It’s not about the money for our customers,” he stresses. “It’s about speed, quality, and friendliness. They’re willing to pay for the value we deliver.”
So Russ works hard to make sure that his team is constantly attuned and ready with strong people skills. As he puts it, “Once you get idle and complacent, problems start.”
For Strickland, the friendliness factor starts right in his own business and is then carried out into interactions with the public.
About Strickland Brothers’ culture, he says, “I know it starts with me. I must show and live this. We all have personal lives … and that can spew over into work life. I’m here when my employees get into a pinch. I think they all feel that.”
For Strickland personally, it’s important to him that he loves his job, as well. As he puts it, “My motivation for coming to work is not money. I’d show up tomorrow if the board took away my salary. I love watching other people’s successes and creating opportunities for them to be successful. They deserve 100 percent of the credit. I realize that Strickland Brothers is not necessarily an easy job.”
And Strickland closes, “Proper communication is important, so we do quarterly reviews and that forces open dialogue. I structure it so we’re transparent and you say if you’re not happy. My goal is that nobody is sitting at home on Sunday night saying, ‘Oh, I gotta go to work tomorrow.’ I try to have an intentional mindset on driving a healthy culture.”