Building From Within

March 1, 2023
This year's Best Workplaces Award winners show the results of culture-building. 

It’s not often that you see a technician graduate up to CEO in the same operation, but that’s what Nestor Gutierrez did at Rancho Express Lube. 

Gutierrez put in a lot of hard work to get to that spot, but the formula is relatively straightforward: He took lessons from managers that he had and applied the best practices in his own role as a manager and owner. 

“I know what it’s like,” he said in this month’s story. “I like treating my people right and I want them to achieve their goals and dreams, just like [how] mine have become true.” 

Gutierrez shares this outlook with another one of this month’s featured shop owners. That’s Steve Sarrantonio, who runs some wildly successful SpeeDee locations with his wife, Kris. Sarrantonio spent years in the quick maintenance business before opening his own franchise, and he says that his leadership style comes largely from the lessons learned under previous managers. 

Both of these operators are winners of the Best Workplaces Awards in 2023. Sorry to spill the beans at this point in the magazine, but I hope you’re still interested enough to read the stories.  

Most of our page space in this magazine is spent talking about strategies that help ease the customer, whether it’s in the perks you offer, the marketing you choose, or the customer service skills you display. The Best Workplaces Award is an opportunity to showcase the ways in which operators do right by their own colleagues. Our editorial team looks for operators who know the value of their staff members and try to offer perks, training, and compensation that matches that value. 

In almost every Best Workplaces interview I’ve had, operators view the strategy as an investment. Payroll is a major expense, of course, but that’s what it takes to get people in the door. And if your shop has a healthy in-house culture, that’s what it takes to get them to stay. When employees stick around, they develop the skill of experience, which is worth a lot in the long run. When employees stick around for the long run, you’ve got an excellent bench of potential shop leaders to succeed a manager or grow into a new location. 

Another story in this month’s magazine came from an experience I had as a quick lube customer a few years ago. I was in a long lunchtime queue, and it was not the most action-packed experience. But the shop I was at (I won’t name names!) had enough staff on hand that someone came out, greeted me, and performed some light bulb checks while in line. 

I thought about that strategy, because not all shops are able to do this. It made a big difference for me, even though the wait time didn’t change. The greeting was just a small acknowledgment that I was not an afterthought for the shop. It made the line feel a bit more productive, and it got me into the mindset to engage with the staff rather than slip off into distractions on my phone. 

That’s a long way of saying that this month’s case study talks about one operator’s approach to the queue. I’m sure there are many ways to do it, but I encourage all shops to do something other than just let drivers sit there. 

I have one final announcement for March. In the middle of the month, we are launching the nomination forms for the 2023 NOLN Operator of the Year. It’s one of the biggest issues of the year, and we are truly grateful for all of the nominations. I encourage you to nominate a deserving colleague—or yourself, which is just fine by me. 

Thank you and have a great month. 

Lavana Howard, vanna d. photography
Photo 112175298 © Weerapat Wattanapichayakul |
Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez