Franchising: Is It For You?
Many independent quick lube operators worry franchising means losing control of their business and complicating their exit strategy when it’s time to retire.
But it’s not that way at all, said Matt McKeown, vice president of franchising for Valvoline Instant Oil Change.
Joining a franchise system is like getting access to a toolbox stocked with the right tools for the job, according to McKeown. But he’s not talking about sockets and air hoses here — he’s talking about the tools required to recruit the best talent, control cost of goods, market to new customers and grow the bottom line.
At VIOC, these tools are refined in company-owned stores before they are shared with franchisees.
“What sets us apart is we have 272 company-owned service centers,” McKeown said. “We test all significant new initiatives in our company stores first. Our aim is to share with our franchisees only the programs and campaigns that have already been tested and proven to be successful.”
As a franchisor, VIOC also provides the expertise to go along with those tools.
“We have a team of franchise business consultants (FBCs) who work closely with franchisees to help improve their businesses,” McKeown said. “All of our FBCs have experience as service center managers. In fact, most have been multi-unit managers, so they know first-hand what it takes to run a successful quick lube business.”
A franchisee’s time with their business consultant is supplemented by training programs in the classroom, in store and online.
“Training is fundamental to providing a great customer experience,” McKeown said.
VIOC does expect franchisees to follow its processes and implement its systems, but the VIOC culture is collaborative.
“We value our franchisees’ input. Franchisees are active participants in all of our advisory councils, and they have significant input into the launch of new marketing programs, technology improvements, and operations processes,” McKeown said. “Our franchisees are very independent in general, but they see the benefit in the tools that come with the franchise business model.”
While those franchisees are focused on short-term business results day-to-day, they also have an end game in mind.
“We have many operators who joined VIOC specifically to enhance the value of their business,” McKeown said. “They know if they can improve their results, they’ll be in a better position to sell their business if and when they do decide to retire.”
Access to a Larger Talent Pool
In the quick lube business (as in other business models), an operator often joins a franchise organization because they are looking for a scalable system that will help them grow stores more quickly. As franchisees add new stores, they may find they need to look beyond their own homegrown talent for an operations manager who can run multiple stores. Being part of the larger VIOC system gives franchise owners access to candidates with the right kind of multi-unit management experience.
The Bottom Line
The quick lube business gets more competitive and complex every year, with the proliferation of specialty oils, the acceleration of technology and the explosion of digital marketing tactics. These external forces are pushing operators not just to refine their craft, but to also lean on outside expertise more than ever before.
“We seek operators who are committed to this business for the long term and have a vision to be multi-unit operators,” McKeown said.
In exchange, a new VIOC franchisee can expect to gain access to processes, people, tools and information across all levels of business. The operator also joins a larger community of franchisees with whom they can share ideas and best practices.
VIOC has been franchising since 1988, and has a total of 930 service centers coast-to-coast, 658 of which are owned by franchisees. While most VIOC franchisees own fewer than 10 stores, the three largest franchisees own between 50 and 200 service centers.