Surrounded by Competition

June 3, 2024
Differentiate your shop from the rest on main street by telling a story and inviting businesses to partner.

Many quick lube shops find themselves to be the only game in town, knowing their clientele doesn't have a lot of options—at least that doesn't mean driving to the next town over. Still, other shops are surrounded by competitors offering the same services, just with employees decked out in uniforms with a different logo on their chests. 

The Backstory

Though today's customers may favor one burger over another, too often the quick lube shops become interchangeable. However, there are several ways you can differentiate your shop to stand out from the competitor just down the road. 

This can include improvements that enhance the shop's appearance and boost curb appeal, while others might involve a greater presence on social media. It can take some effort, but the payoff could be more new customers and a deeper connection with an increasingly loyal clientele. 

Social media can be "an easy thing to do," exclaims Brian Walker, co-owner and CEO of Shop Marketing Pros. Though there are a few steps beyond a simple social media presence. 

The Challenge 

Customers need automotive maintenance a few times a year, and the challenge is to determine how to keep them pulling into your work bay rather than just any shop in town. 

Many shops look the same, which can lead to customers thinking every shop is the same. The common design of a quick lube shop is a beige box with garage door openings, or something pretty close to it. 

Technicians are often in the background and don't stand out to customers. The customers often expect the work to be done and to be on their way. The technicians remain the faceless "mechanics" that do the dirty work. 

The Solutions 

Though speed and price are paramount for many customers, it is possible to draw in clientele by showing the shop's personality. 

"We've seen shops that are in a plain beige building," says Walker. "Most quick lubes are in prime commercial real estate, doing anything that can get their business to stand out to people helps." 

Landscaping, signage, a paint job, and possibly even a mural can give your shop some eye-catching character that people will remember when the check engine light comes on—or hopefully before that point. 

There are more things than just cosmetics to be done. A social media presence goes farther than a minimal website or a basic Yelp listing. A website should offer more than the bare bones information, and accounts on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), and even TikTok can help customers get to know the shop, and possibly become more educated on the basic needs to maintain their cars. 

"When a market is saturated with service providers, that means there's a lot of opportunity," Walker tells NOLN. "Most service providers are going to do the same old, same old." 

One step shops can take with a big impact is to introduce their employees. Highlighting employees can help customers learn more about the shop, but also get employees more involved and invested in their position. This can be done by putting a spotlight on employees in the shop—as well as their interests, hobbies and life outside of the shop—on social media, says Walker. Customers can start to get to know the person behind the wrench. 

"It's about showcasing who you are and the people behind the brand," explains Walker. "Getting people to know they can trust you." 

Walker continues, "If you're not putting yourself out there, showcasing your team, it's hard for people to know they can trust you." 

Once you've spent some time introducing your employees, it might be time to give the shop some personality. This is when you might give the shop a fresh coat of paint, do some landscaping, and make the business inviting and unique compared to other shops in the neighborhood. 

A business can also become a standout in the market by doing community outreach. A quick lube shop can find businesses to partner with, such as a nearby coffee shop to give customers a place to go while waiting, or a carwash down the street. Business can be referred back and forth to develop a loyal clientele. 

Events are another way to become known in the community, and you don't always have to foot the whole bill. 

"You can team up with a business that doesn’t have a location," says Walker. "A catering company has food; a quick lube has a location." 

Walker suggests involving the local chamber of commerce to help promote the event and bring in a crowd that will do more than just bring in their own cars. 

"People who attend chamber of commerce events are naturals with spreading the word," Walker states. 

If the shop has limited space, sponsor the event at a local restaurant or auto insurance agency where there is more space to mingle with local attendees who can become customers. Be creative with ways to reach new customers and let them know your shop is different and worth patronizing. 

The Aftermath 

Giving the customer an opportunity to get to know the shop and its employees in another light establishes what Walker calls the "Know, Like, Trust thing." 

"That is what it's about when you're differentiating," Walker says. "Unless you're differentiating on price, are you the cheapest, closest? That's not really the best way to differentiate." 

Walker and his team featured a client in California who held a customer appreciation event, in a recent company podcast. The interview discussed the planning, preparation, and execution of shop events. The return on such events can be that attendees bring their cars in the next day, and then tell their friends and associates about their positive experiences with your business. 

The waiting area is another spot to stand out. When Walker and his wife owned a shop, they had a partnership with the local bakery and bought the day-old pastries to set out in the waiting area. 

The Takeaway 

"Everybody wants to compete on price, we think that's what the customer cares about," explains Walker. "But they do care about more than just price. For any business, you have to figure out what makes you different. There's a lot of ways to showcase that." 

Whether it's an event, giving your employees a voice, or shop beautification, there are many strategies that can help bring your shop to the forefront. 

"There's probably a million different ways to do it. It comes down to differentiating yourself," says Walker. "You have to be different." 

About the Author

Enid Burns

Enid Burns is a writer and editor living in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and is a freelance contributor to NOLN. She has covered a wide range of topics from video games and consumer electronics to online advertising and business. When living in Manhattan for 20 years she did not own a car, and is often mistaken for that woman who brings her car to the shop and knows nothing. She has learned a great deal from writing for NOLN, but also learns from those shop owners who try to educate her on their services. Enid is a news junkie who spends evenings streaming TV shows and time off on long walks, bike rides, and fiber arts.

Photo 181622976 © Boggy |
Photo 110252172 © Sarinya Pinngam |
Courtesy of SpeeDee Oil Change & Auto Service
Photo 46741793 © Alexandr Demeshko |
Dreamstime Xxl 46741793