A Whole Different Animal

March 1, 2024
Five tips for the newcomer quick lube owner.

Take a German Shepherd, for instance. When you meet a new one you don’t just run up and stick your hand out. 

Life experience tells you it’s wise to inquire into its temperament first, observe closely, and approach with care. Nobody wants to get their hand bitten. 

Running a quick lube is a little bit like that. But with some wise council you could find yourself a lifelong companion. 

Here are some tips and takeaways from two industry pros to help you succeed. 

No. 1: Understand people 

Jeffrey Crafton is director of Sayle Lube, based in Charleston, Mississippi, and between himself and his team he draws from over 50 years of experience in the industry. He started in the pit at age 17 and was running a store by the time he was 20. 

You may think you’re in the business of cars, he finds of newcomers who want to own a quick lube, but it’s really customers and employees you’ll have to learn to handle. 

“If you’ve always been locked away in an office and then decide to get out in front of people, it probably won’t work out well,” Crafton says. “You have to be able to set the standard for your employees for how to take care of peopleyour customers.” 

Another point Crafton makes is that while nearly anyone can be trained to do the technical part of the job, only certain people will be capable of truly excelling at the art of dealing with customers. 

“You can’t really teach people to deal with people unless they have a good attitude about it and can deal with people,” he notes. 

Does this mean that everyone you hire must be a people person? Not at all, Crafton admits. 

“Put the right people in the right spots. For example, you might have a great assistant manager who was a good technician but you find he’s not really a good manager. You’ve got to put people where they’re a strong fit.” 

No. 2: Understand how a business makes a profit 

Cecil Bullard is the CEO and president of The Institute for Automotive Business Excellence in Ogden, Utah. Before he became a training consultant, he owned a West Coast automotive business that did $2.6 million in sales in 2007 with four techs and two service advisorsand it made Motor Age magazine’s Top 10 Shops list three years in a row. 

Just as new owners can sometimes be people who’ve been locked away in an office prior to opening a quick lube, sometimes they’re people who’ve only ever been buried in the bays. 

“Many come in as technicians and they’ve never run a small business,” as Bullard puts it. “They may call around to six to seven different shops to see what they charge and then decide they want to be the least expensiveand lose money in the process.” 

If an owner understands the business, though, or learns to understand it, they’ll come about their pricing quite a bit differently. 

“If you understand your business you’ll know how many cars you need at this repair order and at this margin,” he gives as an example. 

In addition to understanding the business and how to price services, a new owner will need a head for marketing. 

Bullard boils marketing down to this: “How do I get people into my business?” 

No. 3: Understand the industry importance of “quick” 

It sounds so simple, but new owners must grasp the realization that when someone brings their vehicle to a quick lube, they expect their service … quickly. 

As Crafton says, “We need to be quick in our industry, it’s what sets us apart from the dealership or the general tire shop that does oil changes.” 

And the notion of quickly always includes efficiently, he notes. 

“You need procedures in place that you never waver from,” he stresses. “The moment you do, mistakes happen. And that easy job can cost you a lot of money without the procedures in place.” 

No. 4: Understand who you want to be – by learning from others 

Good management includes an unwavering vision of who you want to be as a business. 

“The includes foundational principles that staff understands, and then they can make better choices (for how to handle things throughout the course of the workday),” Bullard says. 

He adds, “When you’re managing people, you can’t attack them for not doing their job unless you’ve determined who you are and decided how you want to get there. And then your conversations with employeesand even customerswill be different.” 

What are some sound ways to determine vision and culture at your new business in the first place? 

Bullard advises looking through some franchise guides to see what their guiding principles look like. 

Another tip: talk to a good mentor or coach, as well. 

Bullard says that despite years in the industry, he still makes use of a coach. “I don’t know everything,” he states. “And when I can’t see the forest for the trees, I want somebody to say, “Hey, there’s the forest.’” 

Crafton piggybacks on the topic, suggesting, “Utilize all your vendor training. For example, we use Shell oil for our oil supplies, and they’ll give you all the knowledge around the oil you’re selling.” 

Another tip from Crafton, “Our new location, a state-of-the-art multi-care center with a quick lube on one side and a minor mechanical on the other, has Hunter Equipment and we send our guys to their class for alignment.” 

And finally, he suggests reading up. “I read things in NOLN all the time that help me out. And we also attend conventions that we hear about in magazines.” 

No. 5: Understand who’s best to face the public 

“I would prefer someone from the hotel or restaurant industry at my counter when people walk in because sales is about knowledge of peoplenot about an individual’s knowledge base,” Bullard notes. 

“Techs can come in with a lot of baggage and think customers want to know all these details about their cars, when all many want to know is that their cars will be safe and they will have a good experience with you,” he states. 

Someone new to the business who doesn’t know quick maintenance will ask what they need to know, while giving advice to people who’ve already been techs can be more difficult. 

“Years ago I started as a tech,” Bullard shares. “And you’d work for a long time on cars and then you’re going to talk to customers. And you’re bringing your preconceived notions about what it takes to do the job and how long.” 

Crafton weighs in about his personal experience gained from the early days, as well. 

“I’m a people person, and that kept me around in this business. I like to work with the general public. It gives me a sense of satisfaction to see a customer smiling when they leave,” he adds. 

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