Photos courtesy of Epika Fleet Services
For as ubiquitous as fast oil changes are these days, quick lube services were almost unheard of in the trucking industry as recently as 30 years ago.
Even as trucking traffic more than doubled from 281.6 billion ton-miles in 1960 to 651 billion in 1980 according to data from the Federal Highway Administration, infrastructure to support and maintain the trucks carrying those loads was lagging. Truckers would often have to wait hours or days at a time for oil changes, keeping them off the roads and costing them both precious time and money.
Enter Mark Clark, founder of Speedco Truck Lube. Clark started Speedco in 1991 with a simple yet revolutionary idea: Bring the speed and convenience of quick lube services to heavy-duty vehicles.
“We were the first ones in the country to do that on a mass scale,” Clark says. “We pretty much changed an entire industry.”
Over nearly 25 years at the helm of Speedco before selling to Bridgestone in the mid 2010s, Clark built Speedco to 51 locations across 26 states. Though those stores would start to offer a large array of services, Clark made sure Speedco was known for its quick and reliable service as well as its impeccable treatment of its customers.
Now at the helm of Epika Fleet Services, which was founded back in 2017 and now has 42 service locations and around 550 employees, Clark is continuing to break new ground in the heavy-duty maintenance industry while still providing high-quality care and service for his clients.
Customer is King
A self-proclaimed life-long member of the oil change community, Clark says a lot has changed about the heavy-duty maintenance industry. When the first two Speedco locations opened, oil changes on semis cost $85. Now, with new oils and new engines, quick lube services can run a truck driver up to $400 or more.
However, as more things change over time, many of the core tenets of customer service that Clark has built his brand on are still very much the same 30 years later.
“He’s got a ‘customer is king’ mentality,” says Craig Barr, director of store operations for LubeZone. “In everything we do, he puts the customer in front of those decisions. How we’re doing our services, what processes we’re using, he makes sure the customer is at the center.”
Barr is a long-time colleague and friend of Clark’s; they met in 2006 when both worked for Speedco. When Clark asked Barr to help run LubeZone, the quick lube branch of Epika Fleet Services, Barr says Clark’s dedication to his customers and teammates made the decision a no-brainer.
“He cares about everybody,” Barr says.
That care and respect Clark has for both his team and his customers has allowed him to help pioneer quick lube services in the heavy-duty maintenance industry. Making sure his teammates feel valued while performing oil changes, alignment checks and other services on massive vehicles helps them stay motivated and focused on providing top-notch service.
“His knowledge is second to none, and his leadership style… he loves his employees, the people that work for him,” Barr says. “He takes care of them and wants them to share in his success. He wants them to grow as he grows.”
That, in turn, helps make owner-operators who are more knowledgeable about what’s going into their vehicle than the average Honda Civic driver feel like they and their livelihoods are being taken care of.
“How you treat your customers and you treat your teammates is the biggest thing in any successful business,” Clark says. “You’ve got to have great customer service and you’ve got to take care of your teammates.”
'Jiffy Lube on Steroids'
As Clark began to pioneer quick lube in the heavy-duty sector back in the early ‘90s, he made sure his crews stayed focused on a simple objective.
“We advertised oil changes in 30 minutes,” Clark says. “Our facilities were built for speed. Customers started coming to us for the speed so they could get back on the road.”
Though the concept of an oil change is the same across both light- and heavy-duty maintenance facilities is essentially the same, the process of getting the oil changed on a semi is a little more cumbersome.
Most semi-trucks take around 11 gallons of oil, and other fluids and services are proportionally larger than those required by passenger vehicles.
“Everything is just on a much larger scale,” Clark says. “We were a Jiffy Lube on steroids.”
A large factor in what allowed Clark and his crews unprecedentedly fast service were the facilities themselves. Each Speedco location had three bays with full pits on each. Each bay was staffed by a lower tech, upper tech and crew chief.
Once the teams got a 30-minute oil change down and could get it done in closer to 20 minutes, Clark’s shops began adding services. Now, at LubeZone locations, Clark’s teams are able to provide oil changes, fluid checks, greasing, federal and state inspections, alignment, air condition services and others within a 30- to 40-minute window.
Clark says that expansion of services comes from the desire to help give his customers the best experience possible, and his 20-plus years of experience with Speedco has helped pave the way for that expansion at Epika.
With knowledge of building design optimal locations, as well as a willingness to help from other people throughout the industry, Clark was able to kickstart Epika--and LubeZone specifically--and quickly build up its reputation, which is critical in the heavy-duty maintenance community.
Since truck drivers are generally much more knowledgeable about their vehicles than the average light-duty quick lube customer, they tend to have preferred brands and products, and they are more keenly aware about what is being done to their vehicles
“Word of mouth in the truck driver community, especially with social media, (is powerful),” Clark says. “Word gets out quickly if you had good or bad service.”
Setting the Gold Standard
Despite some key differences, like size, Clark says the most important aspect of light- and heavy-duty maintenance facilities is the same: customer service. Placing an emphasis on the customer experience is crucial to successfully running a quick lube shop.
“What other services can you offer in your business plan?” Clark says. “(Offer) service that fits in that quick time frame (of an oil change).”
That level of service is only possible with a good team, though. Surrounding yourself with talent and learning to let go of some responsibilities can help boost your shop’s productivity and elevate your leadership.
“When you’re smaller and just starting out, you wear all the hats,” Clark says. “As we grew and got bigger, I learned to delegate and trust my teammates to get their jobs done.”
That trust in his teammates has helped Clark quickly build Epika Fleet Services into a company known for its quality services and high-performing teams. It also allows Clark to start looking for new ways to help serve his customers, such as rolling out mobile oil change services later this year.
All of that, Barr says, helps make Clark the gold standard in the industry and someone that any oil change professional, either light or heavy duty, can look to as an example.
“His care for customers and employees is second to none,” Barr says. “No one is better at presenting customer care in the quick lube industry.”