For 27 years, National Oil & Lube News (NOLN) has recognized fast lube operators for their successful business endeavors and outstanding contributions in their communities and to the automotive aftermarket industry. Since 1989, NOLN has named 31 Operators of the Year — some years the nominees were so good we couldn’t choose just one winner, so we chose two. Over the years, the Operator of the Year award has become a coveted, time-honored tradition. This year we decided it was time to recognize some of the men and women our Operators of the Year always credit with their success, their technicians.
NOLN wasted no time asking fast lube owners, colleagues and industry professionals alike to send us nominations for the first annual, Technician of the Year award. After sifting through many worthy candidates, one man clearly stood out from the rest. Without further adieu, NOLN is pleased to name Bobby Whiteside, ASE certified, master technician at SpeeDee Oil Change & Auto Service in Concord, North Carolina, as the recipient of the inaugural, 2016 Technician of the Year award.
“Bobby has been working at SpeeDee for about a year and a half. We are a fairly new franchise and it’s staggering how the efforts of one person have truly made a difference in the development of our customer base. While Bobby’s experience and knowledge is impressive, it’s just the beginning of who he is,” penned Steve Sarrantonio, owner and operator of SpeeDee Oil Change & Auto Service in Concord, North Carolina, in a letter nominating Whiteside.
Sarrantonio wrote a number of other flattering and impressive things about Whiteside including how he diligently works to mentor and empower other employees while actively pursuing ways to better his own skills. However, what really differentiated Whiteside from the other nominees was how Sarrantonio described Whiteside in and out of the shop.
“Bobby is a family man. He is a dad and I can tell you there’s nothing more important in this entire world to him than [his children] Marie (17) and Nathaniel (12). Bobby earns customers’ trust everyday because of who he is, his experience, knowledge, integrity and positive attitude,” Sarrantonio wrote.
In 2015, Whiteside received the ASE Technician of the Year award alongside 46 other technicians from across the U.S. After being a certified ASE master technician since 1990 — two years after beginning his career in the fast lube business — it’s safe to say it was a well deserved achievement.
While Whiteside has been in the business for a lengthy 28 years, he didn’t always have grease monkey dreams. Instead, like many young men, Whiteside’s head was filled with gridiron goals. That is, until, alongside his dad, Jack Whiteside, he built a racecar to race at the local dirt track. It didn’t take long and the need for speed and tinkering with all things mechanical soon took over.
“I played football in high school and was pretty good. I had some opportunities to go play college ball at a smaller school but my senior year my father helped me build a racecar. That’s when I got really interested in cars. It took over my interests more so than playing football and I ended up attending a technical school called Rutledge College/American Motor Institute,” Whiteside said. “That’s when I started going down the path to become a mechanic. Before I graduated, I had a job at a car dealership. It turned out to be a really good job after graduation. I made really good money. At 21 years old I nailed down about $48,000. I was definitely making more than my buddies who were still in college playing football.”
Whiteside credits much of the man and father he is today to both of his parents. Ever since he can remember his dad instilled in him a spirit of resilience and determination.
“My dad and I are very close. I think the biggest thing I got from him is the mentality to tackle anything. Watching the things he’s done has taught me if someone else did it and figured it out, I can too,” Whiteside said. “Growing up, my dad was a Charlotte police officer. Prior to that he was in construction before serving in the military. My dad has a lot of skills and a hard work ethic. Over the years he’s built 29 houses for other police officers that were getting ready to retire. When I got old enough to go along he took me with him. I learned how to frame, roof and side houses. He taught me a bunch of other skills and those have actually been some of the most helpful things I’ve learned and been able to use throughout my life.”
An eagerness to learn and a willingness to do what it takes is a common thread running through Whiteside’s character and it reflects in the employee and co-worker he is around the shop. In fact, his favorite thing about his job is the team he works on. Now, how many people can say that?
“I may be the senior mechanic but I’m able to mentor the younger guys. Steve is a really good boss and he works hard to get everybody involved in every aspect of the business. I’ll do anything that needs to be done from greeting the customer outside to cashing them out when they leave. Sometimes, if there’s not mechanical work for me to do, I’ll help filling tires or vacuuming floorboards. Whatever I can do to help my team out is what I want to be doing. It’s a team effort to keep track of the numbers like car counts and ticket averages we bring in daily. We all want the place to do as well as it possibly can everyday we are open,” Whiteside said.
No smokescreens or magic tricks here, just good, old-fashioned, honest and quality workmanship. Whiteside said one of the most instrumental keys to his success in this business has been building relationships with customers.
“Build a solid customer clientele by making sure they get great service at a great price and do it fast. People really appreciate that,” Whiteside said.
Rest assured, Whiteside’s tips for success include more than just hard work. He believes it’s important to have some fun too. About four years ago, Whiteside decided to post some music videos of himself playing the guitar on YouTube for his friends and family. He never thought anything more would come of it other than it was fun. However, one day when one particular video started getting lots of views and a Google AdSense alert popped up on his computer, Whiteside decided to check it out.
“Google offered to pay me for putting advertising on my videos. I thought, ‘Heck, yeah!’ In the first month I made $4. I thought, ‘Well that’s $4 I didn’t have before,’ and I continued filming and posting videos. Now, I have around 300 videos and 6,000 subscribers. The content on my channel [called Minthillbilly] ranges from how to work on cars to how to do various home projects. I’ve had over four million views and in 2015 I made several thousand dollars from ad revenue,” Whiteside said.
Sarrantonio told us Whiteside hasn’t completely given up on what started his life on YouTube — making “redneck” music videos.
“Bobby is positive and his positivity is contagious. He comes in everyday with a smile no matter what he may have encountered already that day. If you’re lucky enough to catch him on a slow day you may find him playing the guitar and singing a song he made up on his ride to work. You better believe, he’s even recruited the other guys to join his ‘band’ by making music with buckets and wrenches,” Sarrantonio said.
Of course, we had to ask Whiteside about this and get a link to the video for our readers. To watch the video, visit: bit.ly/1ODer7m
“We have a guitar that stays upstairs in our break room area. One day, I was strumming a Tom Petty song on it and next thing I know, some of the guys are picking up wrenches and playing the drums on whatever they can find,” Whiteside said. “It sounded pretty cool. We had one guy who actually plays the drums and he used one of the big fans we have in the shop as a crash symbol. It was crazy how much that fan sounded like the real deal when he’d go to hit it. It was definitely hillbilly.”
In an age where money talks and competition is fierce, lots of operators are doing their best to adapt their shop culture and business practices in ways that entice good employees to stick around longer. Whiteside said Sarrantonio has a family first approach to his employees and it’s one of the main reasons he loves his job so much.
“Steve definitely works with my schedule. At the point I’m at in my life, my kids are the most important part of my life. So Steve doing that is definitely a big plus for me,” Whiteside said.
Whiteside said he has many professional and personal goals for the New Year but his main ones are getting Marie off to college in the fall, doing more alignments and front-end work in the shop and helping the store hit one million dollars gross income for the year.
“I think we can be a million dollar store. Since Steve has taken over we’ve grown so much. I’d like to think of some new ways to bring in different customers, maybe do some more fleet work, things like that,” Whiteside said.
If you learn anything from Whiteside’s story, let it be this, work like you want to own the company one day and you’ll be guaranteed to find success. That kind of attitude has surely worked out for Whiteside.