What do you get when you combine wanting to open a restaurant, Domino’s and a copy of The Wall Street Journal? If you think the answer is a newspaper ad for a pizza joint, you’re wrong. In the 1980s, this trifecta — and a little bit of luck — lead to the rise of Victory Lane Quick Oil Change.
It was 1980 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Derrick and Jane Oxender were thinking about going into the restaurant business. One day while the couple tossed business ideas around — and considered how to fund the project — Derrick Oxender’s father-in-law mentioned reading an article in The Wall Street Journal about a business that just changed oil — and fast.
“There were only a few quick lubes in Michigan at the time, and we thought it might be a good way to earn some fast cash and eventually use it to transition into the restaurant business,” Derrick Oxender said.
Thirty-five years later, Victory Lane is still in the oil change business. The Oxenders jumped into the fast lube industry feet first. They opened their first store and worked tirelessly to build it up.
“The first store took off, and six months later we were able to open store No. 2 in a town just north of Ann Arbor. That store was successful, so only one year after we opened our first store, we opened our third in Plymouth, Michigan,” Derrick Oxender said.
For six years, the Oxenders ran the original three Victory Lane stores, but in 1986, Victory Lane became a franchise.
“Ann Arbor is the home of the pizza chain, Domino’s. Jane and I saw them and thought, ‘Why don’t we start franchising like Domino’s does?’ In 1986, we signed our first franchisee, and we’ve been franchising ever since,” Derrick Oxender said.
In 2012, after 32 years and a lot of success, the Oxenders began to think about retirement but were uncertain of what to do with their family-owned and operated company. Derrick Oxender had built a close working relationship with Victory Lane franchisees, Justin and Lauren Cialella. The Cialellas had been Victory Lane franchisees since 2009 and initially bought four stores.
“Derrick and Justin got to talking, and it just seemed like the natural transition that we would be the ones to buy the Oxenders out, take over the corporation and continue to grow and run it,” Lauren Cialella said. “It took a while to complete the process, but we finally closed in June 2014. Since then, Justin and I are running Victory Lane. We’re focusing on strategic growth for the future.”
Currently, Victory Lane has 33 locations in six different states, including 12 company stores. The Cialellas are looking to grow both the franchise and corporate stores from Michigan into the Midwest and Mid Atlantic — with the exception of Texas and Florida. Being selective about the markets they grow in isn’t the norm for all franchises, but Victory Lane stands by its commitment to keep its grassroots beginnings alive even as it grows.
Victory Lane’s business model focuses on operating the corporation as a national franchise with a local focus, making Victory Lane different from other corporate franchise chains. They’re a company for people who want to be their own boss and run their own business.
“We’re a company designed for people who don’t just want to invest their money, but also want to be a part of something bigger. We want people who want to work and grow their own enterprise,” Lauren Cialella said. “We understand this is the livelihood of our franchisees and their families, so we provide a full franchise support team that works in our corporate headquarters. Our initial training program brings prospective franchisees in to work at a corporate location and receive training on the bay floor and in the classroom. This way they see the administrative operations required to run a business and the store setting. We try to give people a well-rounded view of what it means to be an owner of a Victory Lane. Afterward, training is constantly available and updated. We use a nationally recognized computer point-of-sale system that provides a lot of data and metrics. We show people how to use data analysis to grow and drive their business.”
Ultimately, the Victory Lane team wants their franchisees to be successful. One way they help ensure success is to keep the costs of doing business low without sacrificing the quality of oil, filters or parts.
“We’re not locked into any specific brands. We bid each year on high-quality oil — OEM-certified, of course — and filters. This way we keep the quality up but prices as low as possible,” Derrick Oxender said.
The Victory Lane team brings more than 75 years of intellectual horsepower to the table to help their franchisees become profitable business owners. Having different perspectives aids in making them a dynamic company — something that’s increasingly important in today’s competitive marketplace.
“Lauren has a marketing background, one of our guys was the general manager for one of their largest quick lubes in Saudi Arabia for more than three years. Derrick still works with us as our executive vice president of sales, and our director of corporate stores, Tim Price, has more than 20 years of experience. I worked for more than 17 years at a Fortune 500 company before working at Victory Lane. We bring a lot of business knowledge to the table, and it’s a definite advantage for our franchisees,” Justin Cialella said. “Years ago, the business model was simple, and you didn’t need a lot of sophisticated hand holding to figure it out. Today, it’s much different. Input costs are high, vehicles are more complex, labor is complex and customers’ expectations are higher in terms of the service level they expect. When you put everything together, you’re going to need a strong franchisor to get your business through.”
Self-proclaimed gearheads and motor oil mavericks, rejoice. Victory Lane may be your place. If you don’t have an automotive background, don’t worry. It’s a company for former military, factory line workers, executives and professional football players — all of which have been franchisees at one time or another. People from all walks of life can be successful Victory Lane owners and operators if they have a few select characteristics.
“Today’s franchisee is someone who has proven business skills,” Justin Cialella said. “Folks don’t need a lot of industry knowledge, but I think they need to be passionate and have a desire to work in the automotive space. We primarily look at the diversity of a person’s background and make sure they understand the complexities of running a business in 2015.”
If you’re interested in the restaurant business, you might want to consider the oil change business instead. It worked out well for the Oxenders. If you think you can champion multiple fast lube locations and have an interest in the Midwest or Mid-Atlantic regions of the country, the Cialellas hope you’ll consider joining the Victory Lane franchise family.