ARTICLES

Operator Survey Water Cooler Talk

This time of year is always exciting around the NOLN water cooler. By August, the data has come in from the annual operator survey, and Tammy is inputting the data. The chatter around the water cooler is always about wishing we could get more operators to participate. Don’t get me wrong — I think we get a good sampling of the industry, but as in every survey, it is only as good as the information received. I know back when I was on the street trying to make decisions that would affect our oil change operation, I would refer
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Separating Yourself With Procedures: Now is the Time to Review Them

As you begin a new year with hope that this will be the year you separate yourself from your competitors, it may be time to consider what is unique about your operation. It is easy to allow yourself to become another “us, too.” What is an “us, too” operation? It’s when you run your business just like your competitors. What do you need to do to separate yourself from the pack? As the quick oil and lube industry continues to grow and move toward a more total car care model, it is important from time to time to review
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One Bite at a Time

The screensaver on my desktop computer at my NOLN office is a picture of an elephant walking through the savanna with a giraffe in the background. It is a picture that reminds me of my time in Tsavo West National Park in Kenya, Africa. If I am not careful, I can spend too much time staring at this picture and missing the beauty and the awesomeness of Tsavo. The elephant herds that live in the park are nicknamed the red elephants, mainly because of the red soil that covers the elephants after they roll around on the ground. But
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Counting Your Profits in Other Ways

Years ago, while creating a work schedule for the following two weeks, I had the challenge of scheduling around all the staff’s personal issues. One employee had to pick up his kids after school, another had a doctor’s appointment and another was the best man in his brother’s wedding. That was just the beginning. I had 12 employees, and all but one had some kind of conflict during the next two weeks that would somehow prevent them from working the shifts I needed them to for the shop to run at its full capacity. I came to realize I
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Sticky Situations: A Genuine Ragan Holt Flashback

In the quick oil and lube industry, one of the benefits of getting to spend so much time with one another as a crew is the creativity that comes from spending said time together. Although April fools wasn’t created by the quick oil and lube industry, you had better be on your toes when it comes around every year. Of the many April Fools days I’ve lived through, there’s one several years ago that stands out in my mind: a particular jokester manager finally got the payback he deserved. As in most shops, the uniform company came around once
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Setting Up Your Training Schedule

In my time as a trainer traveling across the country, one of the things I constantly get asked for is a training schedule. People want to have a training schedule or checklist to ensure every employee gets the proper training. However, before we can start to train, we have to start with a policy and procedure guide — complete with job descriptions. Before an employee can be trained, they need to know what the company policy is and how they are supposed to service customers’ vehicles. The vehicle manufacturers have made the process of removing the drain plug and
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Policies, Standards, Procedures and Guidelines

Policies, procedures, standards and guidelines — you have to have them. I believe in them. I have written, rewritten, researched and taught others about them during my career as both an overseer of multiple shops and as a trainer in the industry. It seems most conversations with other operators ultimately revolve around what the policies should be, how the procedures need to work or if there is a standard. All of these traits are paramount to running the shop in an effective way. But with all that being said, I do not like needing to have them. You see,
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Training Never Stops: Those Pesky New Year's Resolutions

In the December issue of NOLN, the “Training Never Stops” article focused on the end-of-year shop, inventory and personnel evaluations. After spending some time mulling over the data, it is time to tweak the goals for 2017. If you have access to prior year reports, you may want to run some of those end-of-year reports and draw a chart to help visualize trends. Once you have your reports, charts and even some outside reference data, such as the various industry surveys, it is time to set some goals for 2017. Setting goals is a fundamental business practice because, after
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The Training Never Stops: Evaluations

Wait a minute! It can’t be December already. I should have been better prepared. After all, I was in my local hardware store the week before Halloween, and the store staff was getting out their holiday decorations then. Anyway, the holidays are upon us, and with that comes a busy time in the shop. Many shops are reporting a banner season, and this is following a good summer. All indicators are pointing toward a healthy economy in the automotive maintenance industry. As a country, we made it through a rocky election season, and hopefully we can come together and
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Training Never Stops: Daily Schedule

I cannot believe it is already November. Where has 2016 gone? November is a peculiar month to me. If you recall, last month we discussed the topic of a customer’s perception. November is one of those months customers assume we are not as busy, but the reality is November, especially the end of November, is a busy time.I remember several years ago when the busiest time of the whole year was the week before Thanksgiving through the week of Christmas. Customers would bring their vehicles in for service because they were taking a holiday vacation, and they would be
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Upsell or Service: Customer Perspective

After the last couple of months of beating up on social media, I will get off my soapbox and back to the matters at hand. Recently, I returned from a management training event where I spent the week with just the managers of an organization. During my presentation, I covered the basic job descriptions for the main positions in shops.When we finished discussing the job description for the technicians, one of the attendees asked, “What is the job description for the manager?”It brought a lot of smiles and comments that the manager’s job description includes being a nurse, psychologist,
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The Training Never Stops: Training Verbal Skills

When my kids were growing up, we always liked to go to northern New Mexico or southern Colorado for our vacation. We usually went in August, because by then the shop had slowed down enough from the summer season I could leave and not be concerned about the shop’s performance. Most years, a portion of our vacation would include fly-fishing.Years ago, while fishing in New Mexico, my boys and I ran into an elderly man coming up the trail to get onto a river we had spent the morning fishing. My younger son was very proud of our day’s
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Building Customer Relationships

I hope by now you have been able to use some of the information presented in this column series to make your monthly shop meetings go more smoothly. I have received several comments from friends and operators about the content that I have offered over the past few months. One comment in particular stuck with me.One man said, “I didn’t know I needed to have monthly meetings.” He went on to say, “Since we spend all day together servicing customers’ vehicles, I just assumed my crew was paying attention, and if they had any comments or questions they would
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Generational Training

After several requests for more training advice, I have recently included some bite-sized suggestions that I hope you have found helpful in your monthly shop meetings. In the May column, the topics of honesty and clear communication were discussed. In the June issue of National Oil and Lube News, I was probably too blunt when I suggested, “it is the customer, stupid.”Recently, I was in the great state of New Jersey when I watched the interaction between a technician and a customer that proved the importance of being honest, having clear and concise communication and never forgetting that we
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What Are You Going To Be?

Watching a presidential debate last week, I was reminded of one of the most successful presidential campaigns.  In 1992, James Carville, who was then-Governor Clinton’s campaign manager, came up with a slogan that launched Governor Clinton’s campaign past his competitors. For those of us who were born prior to 1974, we will remember his famous campaign slogan that was plastered on everything Clinton: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Regardless of which side of the aisle your politics were on, it resonated. Carville hit a nerve with the voting public that soon pushed Clinton past his rivals. He even surpassed the
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The Unofficial Start of Summer: Bite-Size Pieces

It is finally May. Although the official start of summer is a month away, we all know summer starts when the kids get out of school, which is typically in May. Of course, there is also the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day. Either way, summer is coming and it is time to get ready for the summer driving season. By most estimates, based on the fact that last year’s holiday season was the largest driving holiday on record, this summer should be good for those in the maintenance and vehicle repair business.Some good advice I got when I
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The Original Boys of Summer Part II

Although March 20th was the official start of spring for most of us, it is really April when we see and feel springtime. For some of our northern friends, April means snow will start melting and it will be time to store the fishing huts that were taken off the lake in March. For baseball fans, April means it is time to get another season under way. By the time most of you receive this, Opening Day will have come and gone, and if you are like me, you start your day looking over the box scores from the
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The Original Boys of Summer: Part One

Finally, spring is almost here. According to the calendar, March 20th is the first day of spring. The spring season always brings new hope, life and hopefully, for our shops, new business.For me, spring also brings my favorite sport back to life. Major League Baseball starts spring training in March. I know the calendar shows the Grapefruit League starts at the end of February but even they would tell you, March. Last year, my wife and I fulfilled a dream and spent a long weekend in the Phoenix, Arizona area watching the Cactus League on the last weekend before
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Employees, Can't Live With Them Can't Live Without Them

It was about this time of year in 1984 that I walked across the highway from where I lived in Abilene, Texas, and applied for my first job in the quick lube business. The place was a two-bay shop with the traditional pits popular in the day. Some long-timers will remember the traditional pits. They always reminded me of what an open gravesite looks like but that is another story for another day. After my hour-long orientation, I climbed down the ladder mounted in the back of the grave and started what has turned into a 30-year career in
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Have You Considered?

Can you believe another year has gone by? According to most end-of-year reports I have seen, 2015 was a year to recover. That means 2016 must be a year to grow, right?During the 2015 APPEX/SEMA show, it became obvious by a number of transactions at the show, shop owners are expecting to grow. Although most shops have invested in more manpower, shops are investing more resources in new technology. This trend in new technology is a new way to perform the same services as always but more efficiently.The new technology in today’s shops is fascinating. Not only is it
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Happy Employees Make Happy Customers

Merry Christmas to all! What a great year we have had in the quick maintenance industry. It seems all facets of our industry have celebrated one record or another this year. When I first started as a quick lube advisor with National Oil and Lube News, Jimmy Grant was the president of the Automotive Oil Change Association (AOCA). Grant said something that has proven itself more than once, especially this year, “This industry is huge, and there are plenty of cars for all of us.”I have been fortunate to work with people from dealerships who have put in quick
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Happy Employees Make Happy Customers

Merry Christmas to all! What a great year we have had in the quick maintenance industry. It seems all facets of our industry have celebrated one record or another this year. When I first started as a quick lube advisor with National Oil and Lube News, Jimmy Grant was the president of the Automotive Oil Change Association (AOCA). Grant said something that has proven itself more than once, especially this year, “This industry is huge, and there are plenty of cars for all of us.”I have been fortunate to work with people from dealerships who have put in quick
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Best Practices

Ah, fall, is there any better time of year? For most of us, summer is fading away, and cooler temperatures are welcoming in each day. Football season is in full swing, and we have already predicted what our favorite teams will achieve this year. In our shops we have completed another busy summer, with most shops reporting a better than normal summer.October, in the quick maintenance industry, is the month to catch our breath, to prepare the shop and train our employees to get ready for winter. If we have a repeat of last winter, we should all be
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The New Normal Operational Training: Culture

So far this year, I have traveled from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast and many places in between. Years ago, a friend of mine told me when he travels he never eats at a restaurant he could eat at when he is at home. If possible, he tries to participate in local traditions and customs. This is good advice, and when possible, I let this be my travel rule, too.As a result of this adventurous spirit, I have discovered some fantastic places and have met some very interesting people along the way. My friends and family have
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