Know Your Competition 

Feb. 28, 2023
Use what they're doing right but don't merely copy. 

Business experts know that competition is a good thing. It gives the consumer a choice, but also ensures that businesses must truly strive to do their best to stand out in the marketplace. Almost any quick lube operator is going to have some competition, from dealerships to small "mom and pop" repair shops to other quick lube operations.  

These shouldn't be looked at just as rivals—friendly or otherwise—but as a potential source of insight, and an opportunity to learn how to run your shop better. Unless the competitor down the street has an empty lot and a going out of business sign on the front door, there is something you can learn from them. Even if they are going out of business, there is an opportunity to learn what they did wrong and to avoid their mistakes and missteps.  

The first thing to understand is that America is built on competition.  

"We're always looking to reinvent the mouse trap, but perhaps someone has already discovered how to do it better," explains Joe Marconi, executive council member and industry consultant at Elite Worldwide, Inc. 

Marconi tells NOLN that we can look at the basics, such as how fast a rival shop gets customers in and out, how they advertise to draw in new business and even how their shop looks from the street. It would be unwise not to check out the competition. 

"Whether it is Coca-Cola looking at Pepsi-Cola, or Ford looking at General Motors, companies do pay attention to what their rivals are doing," says Marconi. "You should see what your competition is doing, and pay attention to it. But, the key to this is to be careful not become just like the competition." 

Coca-Cola famously did that in the 1980s when they launched "New Coke," which was closer in taste to Pepsi-Cola, and almost lost their top position in the process. Mirroring the competition isn't going to help you stand out. 

Visual Recon of Quick Lube Rivals 

It doesn't take a major reconnaissance effort to determine what the operator down the street is doing, as even a quick visit can help you determine if they run a tight ship. 

"I look at everything," said John Wall, owner of Checkered Flag Express Marysville in Marysville, Ohio.      

He tells NOLN that then he goes through his checklist to see how the competition stacks up. 

"Is the shop clean and inviting? How do you wait on you service (in car or a waiting room)? When they have no cars, are their people outside smoking? Is the restroom clean? Turnaround time is important too," Wall continues. "I try to follow their advertising and social media. I definitely keep track of their pricing." 

In some cases, this information may not require a covert operation. 

"I had no qualms of calling up the shop and talking to the owner or manager when I was running my shop," says Marconi. "I would ask how do they bring in customers, and what services they offered." 

In some cases, knowing the competition can mean referring customers you can't serve, and perhaps getting those referrals down the line.  

Different Types of Competition  

Another consideration is that there are different types of competitors in the market today. The way a dealership does things is going to be vastly different from the small family-owned repair shop. This isn't to say that lessons can't be learned from them. 

"Dealerships are slow, and have you wait in a waiting room," says Wall. "Walmart takes your car and has you wait or better yet, shop. We are a quick lube and I especially compare our setup to other quick lubes. I also look at tire shops too. They take your car and have to lift it. So again, it's slower." 

At the same time, it is wise to consider what dealers can do that you likely can't. 

"You can learn from dealership, but you can't be anywhere close to what they can do," suggests Marconi. "The Lexus dealer can loan out 20 cars, and the BMW can wash every car they service. But it is important to understand that the dealers represent these brands, not the community."     

In fact, that is often where the local mom and pop is able to stand out. They're the local guys that know every customer's name. Quick lube operators can thrive by being more like the local repair shop than the dealer—but perhaps with a better waiting room. 

"Being the local guy has a lot of advantages," says Marconi. "That is a tremendous plus in the market to be a local brand that everyone in town knows. Local shops can also capitalize on being part of the community." 

Learn But Stand Out 

It all comes back to knowing what the competition is doing right, what they might be doing wrong and then to determine how to stand out, not emulate. Again, it is much like how Coca-Cola made a misstep in trying to fix what really wasn't broken in the first place. 

Likewise, it is important to remember that McDonald's may be the top fast food franchise in the world, but it isn't because it has the best hamburgers. 

"They never say they have the best burgers," says Marconi. "They are about offering a quick service at a reasonable price that feeds you and gets you out the door." 

Brands have tried to copy it, and emulate it. It could be argued that Taco Bell is basically a McDonald's clone that serves tacos, while Chipotle now stands out because it is about making custom burritos.      

"This about bringing something different to the table," Marconi continues. "You have to do something more than the guy down the street. Once you simply copy them, you will lose credibility and customers aren't going to come back." 

Thus if you see a shop with a line of cars, and you're struggling to get people to pull in, it likely isn't because of the guy in the gorilla suit twirling a sign outside of the shop across the street.  

"To attract more customers when the competition is doing better, you need to recognize and 'fill in the blanks' what you are missing," says Marconi. 

Wall adds that it could be simple things as well, such as their "Pricing and customer service skills. What do they sell, such as types of oil?" 

Once you hit upon what they're doing right, make it your own. 

"As I said, it is important to study the competition and what they bring to the table," Marconi says. "But in the end it is about the customer experience that will make you stand out." 

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