In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s automotive service stations were on the decline across the country. This was in spite of the ever-increasing American appetite for automobiles and the open road, for interstates and summer trips. The demand for auto service was at an all-time high, and the market was ripe for new oil and lube businesses. Sensing opportunity, two high school friends, Gary Copp and Kevin Bennett, who were both 26 at the time, founded the first SpeeDee Oil Change in December of 1980 in Metairie, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans
Though neither was much into automobiles, the two saw an opening in the market and sought to meet drivers’ needs.
“The people who were in it before, they were mechanically-oriented, ‘grease monkeys,’” Copp said in a New Orleans Business article. “They didn’t know anything about marketing the business. We changed that.”
At the time, most oil change and service shops had the word lube somewhere in their name, Copp and Bennett sought to differentiate their business by not only refusing to use the word lube, but also by advertising nine-minute oil changes when the competition was doing 10. The friends’ initial goal was to expand and saturate the quick lube market in New Orleans. On SpeeDee’s expansion strategy Copp commented, “Our market research was mainly in my head, from growing up here and knowing where the action was and where the growth was. The whole name of the game is market penetration, with the best locations you can pay for.”
Success came quickly as sales grew from $100,000 their first year in business to $2.5 million in 1984, by which time the company had been renamed SpeeDee Oil Change and Tune-Up, to $5 million in 1985. By 1986 there were 11 SpeeDee shops spread out across New Orleans. Though it hadn’t been in the original plan, Copp and Bennett decided to further expand the business by offering franchise opportunities, which they first did in 1982. When asked about the $20,000 franchise fee Copp stated, “The franchise fee gets them started. They’re buying all of our mistakes so that they don’t make them.” The strategy worked, and SpeeDee was named one of “America’s 500 fastest growing private companies” by Inc. Magazine in 1984, on the strength of the company’s explosive profit growth in its first few years in business.
From there, SpeeDee grew quickly as franchise owners took the company into new markets, including 79 franchise sales in California alone. SpeeDee remained determined to set itself apart from other oil and lube chains with a commitment to a fast and pleasant customer experience. Though SpeeDee wasn’t the cheapest oil change in town, they were determined to be the quickest, and with clean and comfortable lobbies (with free hot coffee), a clear view to the service bays and non-grease covered employees, the customer base continued to expand. Keeping those clients coming back after their first visit was also critical to the company’s success. As Copp explained, “The name of the game is to get people in again and again and again. We want a lifetime customer because it’s very expensive to get them in the first time.”
The SpeeDee business model was built around getting a high volume of cars in and out as quickly as possible. Some franchise owners, such as Ed Mikkelson of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who owned 11 SpeeDee stores in the state, went after large corporate accounts to bolster sales. His big-fish clients ranged from a police department motor pool all the way up to Louisiana Power and Light’s fleet of 300 vehicles. These corporate accounts would eventually make up 20 percent of Mikkelson’s sales. Speaking to Success, Mikkelson stated, “You’ve got to network, and you’ve got to have more than one store to succeed.”
With 80 shops nationwide, SpeeDee had become the nation’s sixth largest oil and lube company by 1989. By the end of 1991, SpeeDee began looking to expand overseas with forays into Brazil, Mexico and Taiwan.
By the mid 1990s, SpeeDee shops had added complete brake service and expanded to become full-service auto repair centers. The company continued to use direct mail and innovative TV advertising, much of it specifically directed toward women. This strategy was based on Copp’s view that automotive service stations were viewed negatively by many women and successfully overcoming that barrier would lead to an expanded market share. The company’s sponsorship of Ricky Craven’s NASCAR team became the basis for a nationwide marketing campaign in 1994. The number of stores, and company revenue, continued to steadily increase throughout the ‘90s, though not quite at the same pace as they had in the ‘80s.
In 2007, the company boasted retail sales of around $78 million from 116 U.S. locations as well as 65 shops in Mexico. The following year, SpeeDee was acquired by the Midas International Corporation for $20.8 million. At the time, Midas stores derived a substantial portion of their revenue from brake service and tire sales, while SpeeDee, on the other hand, remained focused on the fast lube business. After Midas’ acquisition of SpeeDee, co-branded stores were rolled out that same year. The new Midas SpeeDee shops now offered drivers all three of the most frequently purchased auto maintenance items: tires, brake service and oil changes. Customers of Midas SpeeDee shops could now get Midas’ lifetime brake and warranty program, as well as Midas’ national fleet program.
It was Midas’ turn to be acquired, when TBC Corporation bought the company for about $173 million in 2012. TBC, based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, is a well-known player in the automotive service industry with brands like Tire Kingdom, Merchants Tire and Automotive, NTB and more. By becoming a TBC subsidiary, SpeeDee became a part of one of the nation’s largest automotive tire retailers and tire and automotive service franchisers. SpeeDee Oil Change & Tune-Up was renamed yet again to SpeeDee Oil Change & Auto Service in 2013 to better reflect the company’s much expanded service offerings.
Today, more than 30 years after being founded by a pair of high school friends, SpeeDee Oil Change & Auto Service has more than 100 locations across the United States in the Gulf Coast, Texas, Mid-Atlantic, California and New England regions. The company’s commitment to quality customer service, wide range of products and services and progressive marketing strategies have built a solid foundation for years of steady growth. SpeeDee as a company had one of its best years in 2015, and has expanded its online presence with a new website and expanded social media presence for each individual store. As the oil and lube industry continues to expand, SpeeDee’s place as one of its most innovative companies remains secure.