For a quick lube industry to remain quick, efficiency is an ongoing exercise.
That’s how Peter Barram and his colleagues at Integrated Services Inc. determined that the optimum space between the center of each pit is 13 feet, 9 inches.
“Why? Because you can do it with 14 [feet]. You can do it with 15, but all you're doing is adding a couple steps when moving from car to car,” Barram says. “Anything less than that, you're going to get some doors that prohibit movement on the side of the car.”
Barram is the founder of ISI, which makes products like LubeSoft and Modulube. The company’s business model is built on efficiency gains through its software, equipment and tools.
Efficiency is also a top concern if you’re building new quick lubes. Steve Isom is the executive vice president of operations for Texas-based Stonebriar Auto Services, which has plans to open 150 locations over the next several years.
“Saving steps,” Isom says. “Anything to speed up the process.”
And saving steps is no more important than in that lower bay, where the work sets the clock for most other services in a quick lube shop.
What’s the biggest time-suck during an oil change? Barram says it’s the time it takes to drain the oil after the plug is pulled.
“If you can do everything faster than, or at the same time as draining the oil, there’s nothing you can do to make things faster,” he says.
Barram, who worked at Oil Can Henry’s before launching ISI, says that he trains people to put the plug back in as soon as the stream breaks. He says that’s adequate enough to get 99 percent of the oil out of the engine without waiting.
It’s a small detail, but Barram says that it’s important to train a tech to put that oil plug back in at the right time, saving seconds that build up over time.
Within Arm’s Reach
Speaking of inventory, the most efficient means of storage is within reach of the lower bay tech. But that space is at a premium.
“The one thing that has changed over the years is the number of SKUs you need to carry,” Isom says.
All the filters are best stored within reach of the tech. Shops also need to carry a wider variety of oils nowadays, particularly for late models. The answer to fitting it all down there is beneath the tech’s feet.
“Having that where the catwalk is on top of those tanks, to me, is a great use of space,” Isom says. “Giving you more space for inventory.”
But for lots of shop owners, the lower bay layout is set in stone, and it might not be in the budget to expand. There could still be benefits to storing items up top.
Take an oil filter, for example. If the tech above pulls it up on a computer and grabs the item from the shelf, the lower bay tech double checks that it’s the right item when he or she fits it onto the vehicle.
Checking each other’s work is a staple of the industry.
“The other thing about the redundancy: One of the most important things in this industry is you double check your work before you let the car go out,” Barram says.
There can also be redundancy measures in having your techs rotate.
Barram suggests that two rotating lower bay techs should have their hands on every oil change.
“In today's quick lube industry, there are far fewer things to do on a car than 30 years ago,” he says. “Therefore, you shouldn’t park a guy down there.”
The first tech pulls the plug, drains the oil and replaces the plug. Then he or she moves on to another vehicle or goes back up top to help out with other services. A second tech then drops down and won’t be able to resist checking everything.
“The nice thing about that is, if you do it and pull a guy out, you can put a different guy underneath,” Barram says. “He’s going to put the wrench on that oil plug, because he hasn’t done that yet.”
If the rotation can be scheduled so that everyone’s working on something, it could be a good workflow fit and a liability safeguard for a busy shop.
Standing Up Down There
Through nearly 30 years in the quick lube industry, Isom has overseen acquisitions of shops that needed updates to boost efficiency. That includes some oddly sized pits.
“I've seen a store where the lower bay was only four feet deep,” he says.
Four feet might be tough on the back—too short to stand but too deep to sit.
Most shops have lower bays big enough for the techs to stand and move around. But Barram says that the question is worth asking: Is it better to lie down or stand for a shift?
Modern creepers can be downright comfortable. More importantly, Barram says that it puts the tech at a better angle.
The tech looks straight ahead with arms straight outward. Just make sure to get out of the way when draining the oil. When building from scratch, a shallower bay comes at a lower cost.
A lower bay tech who’s standing all shift might get worn down more quickly.
“All the work is above you,” Barram says. “You're constantly straining your neck, reaching above, and it’s tiring after a while.”
But a standing tech is more mobile and able to browse inventory that’s preferably close by. In addition to a shallow model, Barram’s ISI introduced a newer model of its modular Zip Pit this year that’s deep enough for standing.
One position isn’t always better than the other. It likely depends more on the type of operation and the constraints of a particular shop.
What’s not in the efficiency discussion? Barram says that having the entire operation above-ground isn’t going to maximize car counts for a quick lube operation.
“Any kind of a pit versus a lift,” he says.