Top 12 Factors of Fast Lube Success: Part I

July 1, 2015
I’ve been connected with the fast lube industry in some way for 37 years. It’s time to pass this spot on to someone younger and more in-tune with current dynamics. As a final write, I would like to pass on to you what I consider the 12 most important factors to successfully operate a fast lube. With due humility, I confess most are not my original thoughts, but all were incorporated in some way and had successful results.1.     Communicate.Attend conventions and visit with every operator you can. Most of the great ideas I’ve picked up over the years have

I’ve been connected with the fast lube industry in some way for 37 years. It’s time to pass this spot on to someone younger and more in-tune with current dynamics. As a final write, I would like to pass on to you what I consider the 12 most important factors to successfully operate a fast lube. With due humility, I confess most are not my original thoughts, but all were incorporated in some way and had successful results.

1.     Communicate.

Attend conventions and visit with every operator you can. Most of the great ideas I’ve picked up over the years have come from asking other people two questions, “What was the best thing you ever did?” and “What mistakes do you recommend I avoid?”

If you attend the annual convention and ask 10 other attendees those two questions, you will leave with 10 of the best ideas and 10 pitfalls to avoid every year. The deductible costs for attending may be the best investment you ever make.

Learning from your own experiences can be expensive. Take advantage of what others have already learned. Information —knowing what to do and what not to do — is half the route to success. The other half is putting information into your daily routine — taking action to make the favorable things happen.

2.     Keep the customer in the car for true drive-through convenience.

Having a waiting room for fast lube services undermines the basic concept of it all. The quick lube industry’s edge over other forms of competition providing lubrication services is because we do the job in minimal time for maximum convenience. With the customer in the car, confidence is generated because they are in a position to see and hear the competent and thorough service being performed.

Being in the middle of the action affords ample opportunity to establish relationship. Rendering compliments, admiring grandchildren, serving a drink and giving the customer top-drawer treatment with the highest level of courtesy and respect goes much smoother.

Convenience, confidence and ego gratification are the three pillars of exceptional customer service, and they are more easily applied at the workstation than in a waiting room.

Of course, a waiting area is necessary sometimes because of extreme weather conditions, length of an additional service or unforeseen delays. But as a normal process, keep ’em in the car.

3.     Understand perception.

Perception is the practice of judging something we don’t know based on past experiences or things we do know. Understanding perception in a fast lube is critical because we want the customer to have confidence in what we do and recognize our competency and professionalism. We want them to know we use quality products and actually deliver what we advertise.

The catch is, the customer has absolutely no direct sensory input to convey the message. They can’t see what is flowing through hoses. They don’t know what is in an oil filter. They don’t know if you lubed all the fittings. They don’t know how much training your techs have received. They have absolutely no direct way of judging the quality of the products you’re using or the competency of your team. They determine it all by perception.

Favorable perceptions must be created and not left to chance. The signage, dialogue, menus, demeanor, conversational skills, appearance, checklists and the attitude of the crew are all tools to convey the message of quality and competency. The sequenced service procedure from the time of arrival to departure should be thoroughly rehearsed and utilize a specific script designed to convey the message.

Every detail of the process should be examined to ensure the customer is made aware of every service detail you perform and the quality of the products you install. The maintenance and appearance of your facility and your crew is probably the most significant factor in customer perception. Good landscaping, cleanliness and lack of clutter are extremely important. Sharp uniforms and a well-groomed crew express caring, training and ability.

Will the customers judge the quality of your oil filter by whether or not your greeter shaved this morning? Will they judge your team’s level of competency based on the cleanliness of the restroom? Yes! That’s the way we think, and that’s why it is essential to understand perception for successful fast lube operations.

4.     Good leaders become so by serving others.

As a fast lube owner or manager, have an attitude of service. Those who serve their employees by giving them the proper tools, training and work environment fare better than those who simply “boss.”

Customers should be perceived as opportunities to serve rather than sheep to be sheared. When a fast lube’s goal of generating profit trumps the attitude of doing what is best for the customer, the end is nigh.

Individuals tend to emulate their supervisors. When each team member thinks outside him or herself and cares for the other team members, customers and the business, a successful operation is almost guaranteed.

The attitude of serving others begins at the top. When a leader promotes and focuses on the role of the business as serving others your driveways will fill and bottom lines will prosper.

5.     Showmanship.

As a customer, this is the factor I find most lacking. The beauty of showmanship is it often costs you nothing. There is an old saying, “There is more profit in the sizzle than the steak.” It’s just as true for a fast lube as it is for a restaurant. Showmanship has to do with how the service is delivered. It’s “razzle-dazzle” to impress the customer — hearing them say, “Wow!” as they exit.

Showmanship is the exaggeration of favorable perceptions. For example, expressions of courtesy and respect such as, “Sir,” “Thank you” and “Please” are expected in business relationships. Showmanship is exaggerating it.

Train your crew to use the words “Sir,” “Ma’am,” “Thank you,” “Please” or the customer’s name. Challenge them to use the words more and more until a customer complains. (They never will.)

Savvy operators hire actors who have the right appearance and can play the role. They can teach them to change oil. The service itself should not just be taught, it should be choreographed and rehearsed over and over with specific dialogue until thoughts, movements and spoken words become automatic without conscience thought. When one thinks of the service as a performance, showmanship results.

A fast lube operator is the writer, producer and director of the show. The script, the stage, the plot and all the action should be well thought out. Each detail should be structured to elicit and amplify favorable perceptions by the customer

Here is just one comparison of a single step in the process. Which of the following two scenarios best conveys the perception the oil was changed and high-quality products were installed?

The first: I come out of the waiting room and approach a cashier. She says, “Here’s a computer print out. That will be $35.94. Your car is parked over there.” This was my exact experience getting a recent oil change at a dealership.

The second: I’m seated in the driver’s seat and have observed the lower tech drain the oil via a strategically placed mirror, and I’ve seen the upper tech dispense the oil from an outlet clearly labeled “Castrol 5W-30.” They are now going through a quality control checklist. The upper tech calls out, “Oil change, 4.75 quarts of Castrol 5W-30 was installed.” I observe the lower tech holding a torque wrench on the drain plug as he responds, “Drain plug is back in and tight, properly torqued to 16 foot pounds.”

The fast lube business is a personal service business similar to restaurants and resorts. Auto repair shops sell oil changes. Fast lubes sell convenience, confidence and ego gratification. There is a significant difference in the delivery, and showmanship is the key. Exploit the differences, and your driveways will stay full.

6.     Checklists.

Checklists are vital tools to encourage professionalism, enhance showmanship, improve efficiency, inform customers of services performed and reduce comebacks.

All high-tech professions employ checklists. The airline captain with 20,000 hours in the air still responds to the right seater’s challenge/response checklist. Such routine things as putting the gear down or lowering the flaps are always performed with a checklist. Every evolution at the Kennedy Space Center uses a checklist. Surgeons, coaches, police officers and every other profession where omissions of procedure can be big trouble use a checklist. An old military proverb is, “Two idiots using a checklist will make fewer mistakes than a genius without one. The use of checklists radiates professionalism because all those with critical functions use them. I like to think that lube techs working on my car think in the same way.

Checklists are an efficient means to tell the customer all the little things have been done along with the oil and filter change. All the things you have added to increase value can be solidified in the customer’s mind as they hear the checklist.

Have the hood locks and hinges been lubricated and inspected? Are all four tires in good shape? Are they set to the right PSI? Does the spare have good tread, no cracks and the correct PSI?

Opening and closing checklists can be effective means of ensuring everything is set and in place for the first customer at opening and that everything is properly secured at closing. With all the good things checklists can accomplish, it seems only common sense to incorporate them into the job sequence and your daily routine.

Editors note: To read Part II of Haggard’s “Top 12 Factors of Fast Lube Success,” make sure to check out the July 2015 issue of NOLN.

JOE HAGGARD writes from a customer’s point of view and is a retired fast lube consultant. He welcomes comments at 352.861.1985 or via email: [email protected]

Illustration 222605849 © Ernest Akayeu |
River Underwood Photography
Photo 159601790 © Andrii Yalanskyi |
Photo 90925830 | Auto Mechanic Team © Vadimgozhda |
Radiant Reflections Photography