The quick lube business is a process-oriented machine. Cars go in; cars go out. There are smiles and friendly chats, but most of the time, the goal is to maintain the same high-quality service experience for each customer.
That’s why it can give techs and managers pause when a customer stops to show how much that level of service meant to them. It’s a reminder of why that high level of service is expected in the first place. Customers come from all over the place from many situations. Sometimes all they need is a happy “hello” and someone to ensure that the part of their day that involves an oil change goes just according to plan.
In that spirit, NOLN collected five stories of inspiration from the automotive aftermarket. They come from different perspectives, job titles, and shop types, but they all represent what a true people-first culture can do for team members and customers.
These stories are also reminders that behind each service, there’s a customer who really appreciates the work you do for them.
A Simple Gesture
Darrell Longwell is a territory manager for Costa Oil 10 Minute Oil Change. His area stretches from Cleveland, Ohio, to western Pennsylvania. He shared a story with NOLN about a simple gesture that meant a lot to one customer.
Longwell says that three years ago, a customer’s car just made it into the shop in Youngstown, Ohio. The vehicle nearly died on the bay. This was at the end of a long day for that shop, so the staff was ready to call it.
But Longwell was patient with the customer. Something seemed to be troubling him.
“I made him as comfortable as possible,” he says. “I offered him water, and I noticed that he was a little distraught.”
The guy’s car was in such bad shape that it needed to be towed. Longwell did what he could to make him comfortable while he waited.
It wasn’t until days later that the guy’s wife came into the shop and explained why the man was so distraught. Their son has just passed away, and the man was on his way to meet with their other son. It was a terrible time for the family, but the patience that Longwell showed in the shop made a big impact.
“The kindness that we showed him went a long way, from what I understand,” he says.
It’s incredible the impact that stellar service can have on customers, whether they’re going through a tough stretch or not. Most of the time, the shop staff doesn’t know. But the impact is just as great.
The Power of Story
When you get down to brass tacks, there’s a common motivating factor behind the team at Strickland Brothers 10 Minute Oil Change.
“The answer is pretty much the same. I always point back to Justin’s story,” says Bill Mayer, vice president of marketing for the company.
He’s referring to the backstory of Justin Strickland, the founder and CEO. Strickland got his start working for some bigger quick lube brands and climbing the managerial ladder. Eventually, he sought to launch his own quick lube business and did so at age 24. He ultimately sold that business and turned later to start Strickland Brothers. It was tough to find funding at first, and Strickland was striking out with banks.
It was a surprise investment from Strickland’s grandfather that got the venture going, and now it’s a growing, multi-state franchise operation.
Now, that backstory is a good one. But what resonated with Mayer is how the values in the story still guide the company today.
“When I met Justin, it was that story that hooked me,” Mayer says. “And when I see the core values at the company and why he’s doing this is for the people in the company—he kind of based it all on that experience of supporting people and believing people.”
Mayer is one to know these things. His professional experience is in market and brand research. He previously worked to represent large brands, and he’s seen what makes a brand resonate with a team and its customers.
When Mayer joined Strickland Brothers in 2022 and heard the story, he felt the impact. A strong company story as a foundation for core values can be the hook to attract great talent on staff and resonate with customers. It reminds them of the hard work that goes into building a business.
“As a marketer coming in, I think this is gold,” he says. “First of all, it’s real. It’s meaningful to people.”
For operators out there who want to share their own stories, Mayer says it can be a helpful exercise to start with company leadership on a whiteboard session. List out some important values related to the company’s origin story. As an owner, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.
“If you have the right leader, that’s a fantastic exercise to see what a brand can be,” Mayer says.
Food For Thought
Field trainers often see great service in action. Mike Bauer, a field trainer for BG Products, shared a story from a situation he oversaw during the course of business. The location wasn’t important, but the good deed stuck with him.
“Unfortunately, I forget where I witnessed it but what transpired goes far beyond just taking care of the customer’s car,” Bauer shared with NOLN.
Bauer was at a dealership service center, and two young women and their mother arrived with a vehicle that had to be towed to the shop. They hadn’t been to that service center before.
It was clear that they were stressed out by their vehicle troubles. Bauer says that while a service advisor spoke with them, they learned that the women hadn’t eaten all day due to this disruption.
“The advisor came out, got his lunch, and brought it to them,” Bauer shares with NOLN. “The expression on the mom’s face was priceless—I could see her eyes well up.”
The service advisor cracked some jokes to make the gesture a bit less awkward. Bauer says he found out later that the customer returned to the service center to bring lunch and dessert for the service advisor as a big “thank you” for the kind gesture.
In Their Own Words
Words by Corrine Hudson, owner, Kwik Kar Marsh of Carrollton, Texas:
As a matter of fact, we just recently helped another young lady who is homeless and was stranded at a public library parking lot. During an event held by Metrocrest Services, a local charity organization that we partner with, one of their representatives approached my husband and I and asked if we could provide any assistance with her car. We towed the young lady’s car to our shop while Metrocrest Services secured her a place to stay.
After diagnosing the situation, it unfortunately turned out that she needed an engine replacement. We ordered and replaced the engine and also fixed several other parts that were wrong with her vehicle. We replaced her brake pads, struts and shocks, her suspension, drive belt, as well as her steering column and also got her new tires! We also changed her oil and did other maintenance items. She is practically getting a new car! We, of course, took care of the bill and as a nice surprise for her, we also replaced one of the rear windows, which was smashed in.
Her story really touched us and we always say that when we can, we help and we are proud that Metrocrest Services thought of us to help them with their mission. This is why we are in business—to help our customers, our employees and our community.
Words by Melanie Meijering, Director of Homeless Resources, Metrocrest Services:
With a vehicle that runs well, she will be able to access mental health help, a job with better wages and the goal is for her to attend some formal training to become completely self-sufficient.
Sometimes, a car is too much for folks to handle as they simply can’t afford it. For her, a working car is a game changer. Not only is it her home, but it is a way out of a situation she has been stuck in for a long time.
I know this act of kindness on your part was a lot, a lot of time from your employees and a lot of money, for that, both of us will be forever grateful. Beyond that, your willingness to be the point person for her in sharing your phone information and texting with her took no money but showed her how much you care. You are now part of her social capital and have become a safe person for her to communicate with. That simple act of kindness meant the world to her and has gently pushed her to try and trust another person, that’s a big deal!
What Really Counts
Jimmy Grant has been in the quick maintenance business for 34 years. He’s seen good service, bad service, and likely a lot of simply passable customer service.
Grant runs East Ridge Fast Lube, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was also the 2012 NOLN Operator of the Year.
While Grant is still a big part of the operation, there’s a new element that’s made those decades of work all worthwhile.
“For me, personally, the greatest thing is getting to work with my son,” he says.
Grant’s son, Chris, has been working for the company for 15 years. He started by checking tire pressure, and just wanted to help out in other ways. Pretty soon he became the expert in all areas of the service process.
It wasn’t planned this way. Grant says that Chris went off to college, earned a degree and had the option to go wherever he chose. But he chose the family automotive service business. While the technical acumen is there, Chris’ true strength is in customer service, Grant says.
“He’s learned mechanical skills,” Grant says. “He can fix about anything now, just very knowledgeable when people call. The phone probably rings 25 times per hour.”
While East Ridge does a lot of mechanical work with Chris’ talents, they still get through nearly 100 oil changes daily, Grant says.
Having Chris work his way up to lead the organization has been a point of great pride for Grant, who says he can sleep well knowing the operation is in good hands.
“I’m happy for him. He’s worked hard to get to that position, and he’ll take it and do well with it,” he says.