2015 Operator of the Year
“It started back in 1987,” said Ron Morrow, owner of 17 Grease Monkey franchises and six quick lube/carwash combination stores in Colorado.
Morrow was referring to his start in the fast lube industry, but quickly it became evident his entrepreneurial spirit was ignited long before then.
“I was born in Dayton, Ohio, but my family moved to Colorado when I was a real little guy,” Morrow said. “In elementary school I had three paper routes. I would deliver papers on two routes before school and one route after school. By the time junior high rolled around, I was involved in the family construction business. I would do everything you typically think of when you think of someone who builds houses. I learned to pour foundations, do carpentry work and for the first 15 years of my adult life, that’s what I did. When my back started giving me trouble, I decided it was time to use my mind to make a living.”
And that’s exactly what Morrow did.
“I graduated from Metro State University with a degree in mathematics and accounting. I put those skills to use and became a stockbroker. I was in the brokerage business for about 10 years until I met two guys who wanted to open a quick lube. I decided to be their investor,” Morrow said.
By investing in the business, Morrow was able to get a good idea of what went into running a fast lube. Eventually, when his two partners decided to move on, Morrow seized the opportunity at hand and bought them out. By 1994 Morrow was officially owner and operator of his first oil change location, but it was just the beginning.
“I liked the original business plan we had put into place for growing stores so, in 1998, I purchased my second store. That’s when things really began to take off,” Morrow said. “I bought my third store in 1999, and by 2005 we had about eight of them. By that time, my son, Ron Jr., had been out of college for about 10 years. I had told him he couldn’t come to work for me until he’d been out in the real world for a while, but in 2005 the business was going through some growing pains, and I decided it was time to bring him on board.”
Turns out, Morrow’s timing was just right. Since Morrow brought Ron Jr. into the fold, they’ve doubled their stores and added six quick lubes with adjacent carwashes. This year they expect to set a new record by earning more than $13 million in sales.
“We are up 5 percent in cars and 10 percent in sales this year,” Morrow said.
Triumphs like those are something that couldn’t be accomplished without Morrow’s team of about 120 employees, and he knows it. This year especially, Morrow has made an intentional effort to develop excellent employee and vendor relationships.
“They are the key to my success,” Morrow said. “I’ve got great employees and great vendors. I have an open-door policy. If my employees want to come to me and talk about whatever it is they have on their mind, they know I’m available to do that.”
Since the early ’90s, Morrow’s business has naturally evolved due to things you’d expect, like industry and technology growth, but he’s also made some very intentional and strategic moves, such as his joint decision with Ron Jr. to enter the carwash business in 2005.
“Around the time I brought my son on board, we were in need of a second source of income to deal with some of the new costs associated with the facilities we’d built. For us, carwashes made a lot of sense. They mixed well with the business we already had, and when they really started to take off in 2008 and 2009, it became apparent we’d made the right decision. I have no regrets,” Morrow reflected. “Back in the early days, it was all about performing oil changes and changing air filters. I think I still hold the record at Grease Monkey for being the only two-bay shop that did over 300 cars in one day. With that said, the business has changed as more competition has come in. We’ve had to adjust our philosophy and perform additional services to be able to adequately take care of our customers. Now, we do things like minor repairs and brakes. My philosophy is if you’re not willing to make changes, you’re doing yourself and your business a disservice.”
As Morrow and I continued to talk, I noticed moments like these continued to happen. They’d trigger my pen to underline something or scrawl out a series of big exclamation marks. This was the kind of wisdom you wanted to soak up and absorb as much of as you can, the kind of astuteness only acquired from years of experience. I asked Morrow what driving and cars meant to him, and his answer went so far beyond the “fast cars and freedom” response that is so often the reply to a question like that.
“Many years ago, my pastor challenged us by saying, ‘When you’re driving you have a lot of opportunities for quiet time.’ Yes, sometimes I listen to sports on talk radio or cruise along to some ’50s, ’60s or Dean Martin tunes, but my favorite times in the car are when I can turn off the radio and focus on what The Lord means to me, what’s going on in my life and what and who I need to pray for,” Morrow said. “It’s revealing when you’re in the car by yourself with no interruptions and you don’t have anything else to do but drive and think.”
Morrow makes it a point to pass words of wisdom like this along to his employees whenever he can. What’s his advice to others in the business? You have to have priorities.
“I have three priorities in my life. It’s God, family and work, in that order. You have to keep them in balance. You can’t let one overtake the other. Keeping a good balance is so important to your own health,” Morrow said.
One of the ways Morrow creates balance in his business is by giving back to the industry. He’s been the president Grease Monkey’s International Franchise Advisory Council since 2005.
In 2013, Morrow was honored by the International Franchise Association with its annual Franchisee of the Year Award for his role in delivering a message to congress about how franchising creates jobs.
“Ron is a strong diplomat for all Grease Monkey franchisees and represents his constituents with a tireless effort. Ron is a class act and truly deserving of this prestigious honor,” commented Ralph Yarusso, Grease Monkey International senior vice president of operations and business development, about the IFA award.
Morrow is also very active in anything pertaining to children or veterans and likes to give back to the community whenever he can.
“We do a lot of fundraising for the children’s hospital like our participation sponsoring youth sports programs. On our own we’ve done a couple fundraisers for wounded warriors with our employees and customers. On Veteran’s Day we have veterans bring us their cars, and we change their oil for free. Typically, between all the stores, we service between 400-500 veterans’ cars doing that. In addition, Grease Monkey has adopted K9 For Warriors as their national charity,” Morrow said.
K9 For Warriors is a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing service dogs to service men and women suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and/or sexual trauma as a result of military service post September 11, 2001.
“A few years back, Grease Monkey challenged the franchise advisory council to come up with a charity we wanted to become part of our organization,” Morrow said. “In July of this year, participating Grease Monkey stores donated one dollar per car serviced to K9 For Warriors. We asked our customers to donate to the charity, too. I’m not certain of the exact number, but between all the Grease Monkey stores who were involved, we donated more than $100,000.”
Another way Morrow ensures balance in his life is by spending time with his five grandkids, Mackenzie, Edie, Keegan, Max and Cooper, his daughter, Brigette and her husband, Steve, Ron Jr. and his wife, Jenny and Morrow’s own lovely wife of 45 years, Shari.
“My wife is my best friend. We do some traveling, I play some golf but I love spending time with my grandkids,” Morrow said.
Morrow feels grateful to work with his brother, Steve Morrow. Steve has been with Morrow from the beginning stages of the company. He is now a regional manager.
Whether it’s the relationships he enjoys with his family or the ones he’s built with his employees, Morrow considers them the thing he is most proud of among all of his industry successes. In 2016, he’s looking forward to enjoying continued growth and the success he’s built on having a reputation of being an operator who can be counted on to do the right thing.
“I think it’s important for us to continue to stay focused on taking care of the customer. We’ve certainly enjoyed some nice growth here, and I think we can maintain it as long as we stay focused on the customer,” Morrow said.
Without further ado we’d like to wholeheartedly congratulate Morrow on being awarded the National Oil & Lube News 2015 Operator of the Year.