SpeeDee Oil Change and Auto Service of Charlotte/Charleston
Headquarters: Charlotte, N.C.
Car count: 195 (network-wide)
Avg employee tenure: 3 years
A good many factors must come together in order to run a top-performing shop network. It takes the right people, a healthy market, and the right leader to make it in the quick maintenance business.
Those factors came together for Steve and Kris Sarrantonio, owners of SpeeDee Oil Change and Auto Service of Charlotte/Charleston. Today, their network of five stores in the Carolinas includes some leading locations in the FullSpeed system.
It took a lot of work to get there, and Steve Sarrantonio knows how he led his staff to that point. While he was growing a quick lube business, he also grew a culture of teamwork that extended to the top of the organizational chart. Through experience, Sarrantonio knew how his leadership would affect his staff.
“Slowly but surely, you got people who would follow you,” he says. “When I started in Jiffy Lube when I was 19, I was a lube tech. I started in the pit. I understood what it was to work in the pit when I was 100 degrees outside, and the cars are coming in hot and you burn your arm. I've been there.”
What’s special about this franchise is that Sarrantonio’s team mentality shows in the way the company supports staff. And as the franchise saw revenues grow, the Sarrantonios boosted the benefits and programs that would help build retention for long-term stability.
“You make that investment. That’s how I see it,” he says. “I don’t see that as an expense, even though it’s on the P and L. It’s a benefit that you have to offer them because you have to invest in it.”
This network is a great example of how building a Best Workplace can provide returns and growth for shop owners.
Sarrantonio started in the quick lube business in college. He spent years with Jiffy Lube and then worked for a Valvoline Instant Oil Change franchisee. He learned many of his leadership lessons from strong mentors in those days.
“Probably 80 percent of how I treat my people is from previous owners who I’ve worked for,” he says.
He learned the importance of a team atmosphere, giving everyone a role and a stake in the success of the company. The Sarrantonios took those lessons with them about 10 years ago when they decided to purchase their first store in Concord, North Carolina.
One of the first big adjustments was to learn the repair side of the business. Much of Sarrantonio’s experience was in quick maintenance, but he found that there are different expectations on the repair side, both from customers and staff.
“I knew how to run the quick lube side very well,” Sarrantonio says. “And when I went to purchase SpeeDee, it was a little bit of an adjustment for me as an owner.”
Sarrantonio was in the shop every day, working the pit, the lobby, or cleaning areas of the building. His wife, Kris, worked a separate full-time job and came in on the weekends to help customers. It was a grind, but Sarrantonio says that he knew they were in the salad days.
The shop network grew steadily. After a couple years, they bought a second location. A couple years later, they acquired two more. The most recent location was added a couple years ago. The franchise network includes some of the highest-performing units in SpeeDee.
“The second store I purchased, it’s a great store,” Sarrantonio says. “We got it past $2M this year, and this year it will be No. 1 in FullSpeed Automotive among all the SpeeDees.”
Providing for the Team
Payroll and benefits are expensive. There’s no way around that.
At the start, Sarrantonio wasn’t able to provide much in that department. But he had a manager who wanted to follow him to the new franchise, and he turned out to be a key asset.
“I was thankful that I was able to pay him $10 an hour. I did a very small bonus plan. Didn't offer any health or dental, life insurance,” he says. “Now he runs all three stores up in the Charlotte area.”
As revenues grew over the years, the Sarrantonios added better benefits when possible. When they acquired a third location, they inherited a staff that had a healthcare plan as part of their compensation. That’s when they started to take a hard look at what it takes to build a long-term team.
“You started to realize that it matters to a lot of people,” Sarrantonio says. “And I found now that we get much better quality employees over the last five years since we started offering those benefits."
Healthcare is a significant monthly expense, says Kris Sarrantonio, who oversees the bookkeeping. But when plan premiums go up each year, she says that the company picks up the added cost. These days, she says that employees pay about 30 percent of the healthcare plan cost, while the company handles the rest.
Sarrantonio sees a return on that investment, both on the books and in the quality of work he sees in the shops.
“In-house you can see it, even with ourselves and other employees,” he says. “I guess once you get to a certain income in your stores, you have to bite the bullet and do it. Your growth of sales will come, you just have to offer it.”
Now a decade into franchise ownership, the Sarrantonios have built a solid culture within their network, and the employee support goes well beyond the paycheck and healthcare.
There are holiday parties and group outings, which often include prizes and giveaways to help build team culture. The company pays for uniforms, inspection training, and a couple company vehicles for leadership.
In multiple cases, the company helped make a big difference in employee confidence.
“I’ve had, I think now three employees, whose dental work we paid for,” Sarrantonio says. “And the confidence switch that went off, it was money well spent.”
And the Sarrantonios have been adaptable with other perks provided to employees. One change in recent years has been to make more employees salaried. Sarrantonio says simply that more employees are interested in that payroll setup, and in turn they feel more secure with the same pay coming in with each check.
Their shops had around six salaried employees a few years ago. Now it’s up to 20.
Another change happened to recruitment practices, and the inclusion of a referral bonus helped improve hiring. Sarrantonio says that some of the best new recruits have come through referrals.
“If you didn’t adjust the way you hire and the way you recruit your people, you’d probably change your hours due to the fact that you can’t get staff,” he says.
Years ago, when Sarrantonio was putting together a business plan to purchase his first shop, he put a random goal out there. He wrote that he wanted to reach five locations.
“I remember in it I said I had a goal of having five stores one day,” he says. “And I didn’t even plan it. I just said I’d like to have up to five stores in a small market.”
After growing the franchise for more than 10 years, Sarrantonio has five successful locations and strong operational leadership in place to handle day-to-day duties. Sarrantonio is often advising company leadership, helping out with tough decisions, and coaching other potential FullSpeed franchisees.
But anytime Sarrantonio sets foot in one of his stores, his fundamental leadership style carries through—meeting eye to eye, speaking from experience, and recognizing the value in each staff member.
“I had more empathy for the positions and the situations that I put them in, because I was once in that position,” he says. “I didn’t come in with a pocket full of money and bought stores.”
Through the growth and adaptations, Sarrantonio says this leadership style is what carried the business through challenges. And the Sarrantonio operation isn’t done growing just yet.