Define your operation’s brand in five words. The simple answer might come quickly, but if you’re getting the urge to add more and more words, then you’re on the right track.
More than any other idea, the brand encapsulates the entirety of the service process. Customers notice your logo in an ad or on the street. They pull up to the bay and meet a tech wearing the brand’s uniform. The oil change services might feature an oil related to the shop’s brand.
The successful brands are the ones that come to the customer’s mind whenever their oil change interval hits.
Dig deeper and find that a brand is also defined by an owner’s leadership. More than the design and colors of the logo, the brand is how your operation’s culture and standards make impressions on customers. Brand is your operation’s look, but just as important is how that fits into the overall experience.
Operators most often think about brands outwardly—how the business presents itself to the world. But the entirety of what a brand represents might be more accurately shown in that reflected version.
Ryan Callaghan, CEO of Oilstop Drive Thru Oil Change, encapsulated that idea.
“We would say that a brand is how people would describe your business,” he says. “However your guests—or even your staff—describe your business, that’s your brand.”
This month, hear from three brands about what makes them successful. You’ll find that having a fancy logo is just the beginning.
Brand: Oilstop Drive Thru Oil Change
Locations: Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon
With 28 locations in four states, Oilstop is a successful brand that has stood the test of time. Founder Larry Dahl opened his first car wash in 1978, and he added oil change service six years later.
One of the most obvious hurdles that Oilstop has overcome is maintaining a successful brand through growth. Callaghan says this can be a challenge, but there’s an obvious upside.
“The danger in any expansion is that you have dilution,” he says. “No one leader at Oilstop has the ability to be at every store at every time. But the flipside to that is there’s also momentum.”
Momentum will give way unless there’s a consistency. As far as a quick lube brand is concerned, consistency is the name of the game. Callaghan says that this shows customers that they’re not just having a good experience because one tech was helpful. It’s because the brand promotes good experiences as part of its culture.
“When people start to have that same experience with a different technician who treats them the same as the last technician, it’s like, ‘Wow, maybe this is bigger than one particular person,’” Callaghan says.
Of course, the primary way that customers experience the company culture is during service. But there are visual cues that allow shops with excellent culture to show off a bit.
At Oilstop, one of those cues is a Mission Control Board. It’s likely already a part of most shops, but Oilstop locations set it out in the open, where customers can see it.
The board shows daily tech assignments and weekly training topics. They show the manager’s name. Callaghan says that it’s primarily for the team, but the residual effect on the customer is that it allows the shop to show its intention.
“Things like that add clarity and professionalism to the store,” he says. “So people know it’s not haphazard, accidental what’s happening. It’s a well-thought-out service process.”
What does your choice of oil say about your quick lube brand?
For DuraMAX, that question helped the company find its niche. The oil company is a relative newcomer compared to some bigger brands that have a century or more of brand history.
Bob Johnson, brand manager and business development manager for DuraMAX, says that they found that fewer drivers are seeking out a specific oil when they look for a quick lube. The solution was to turn their attention to the quick lube operator as the customer—not the driver.
“Our approach is let's not spend a lot of resources and money on trying to advertise to the end user,” he says. “What we have chosen is to focus on the installer.”
That approach has worked for the oil brand, which now has dozens of DuraMAX-branded quick lubes, as well as hundreds of shops that carry its products. The different ways that those shops utilize DuraMAX oil is a great example of how oil plays into shop branding industrywide.
What’s in a Name?
For a shop owner, there are three basic ways to utilize your oil brand. Depending on which one you have, success lies in how you’re branding around that decision.
The first option is a fully fledged oil branded shop. A Valvoline Instant Oil Change is one of the biggest examples in the industry.
Whether tied to a franchise deal or not, this could be a great option for a new operator who wants to rely on that name recognition to gain quick attention in a crowded market. There’s a better chance that customers have had experiences with the brand before.
“Lots of times, a new ground-up lube center, they need that credibility because they don't have the equity built into that specific name and location,” Johnson says.
The second setup is just the opposite. A quick lube with a strong brand identity might not have any oil company in its signage and marketing at all. This is an option for long-standing local shops, new operators seeking to build their own name, and some big national chains, like Take 5.
“If you’ve got great market equity built up, you’ve been there for a period of time and you’ve really built your business on your brand,” Johnson says.
The third option is a bit of a hybrid, and Johnson sees a trend toward this approach.
It’s the independently branded shop that features a certain kind of oil in its signage or marketing. This approach helps attract some name recognition for the oil product but leaves shops open to building their own name in the market.
“I certainly see a trend toward more of tying it and building a personal brand,” Johnson says.
The choice to model your quick lube depends on an honest assessment of your strengths, your financial situation, and your market.
Brands: Kwik Kar Lube and Tune and America’s Oil Change and Auto Repair
Locations: Dallas-Fort Worth area
Jordan Mosely has done it both—he took over a franchised chain of a well-known quick lube brand, and he also built his own brand of shops.His seven locations include four Kwik Kar shops and three America’s Oil Change and Auto Repair, which he started five years ago.
Like Kwik Kar, Mosely launched his America’s brand with quick lube and auto repair components in mind. He likes that model for his business, but the branding required a bit of a tweak to maximize its messaging.
The initial logo read “America’s Automotive.” It makes sense that it would succinctly capture the scope of the work his shops do. But after a while, he realized that it needed a slight change.
“What we found was we’re kind of a mixture of lube center and automotive repair, and customers didn’t associate ‘automotive’ with quick lube,” Mosely says. “So we redesigned that logo a bit to let customers know we’re fast and friendly.”
This is because the quick lube is the most common point of contact with customers, and he wanted to make sure he wasn’t missing out on those customers first. The solution was to be more explicit about having quick lube service.
This comes with a lesson. If a customer sees your brand for just a moment, what message does your brand convey in that short span of time?
When starting the America’s Oil Change brand, Mosely sought opportunities for events at the shop and community outreach to get the company’s name out there. That wasn’t necessary when he took over the Kwik Kar shops, which had already been established in the market.
Now that both brands are established in their areas, the America’s brand might have a slight advantage in one area: local appeal.
Home-grown, small business branding can be a strong attractant to customers who want to shop local. The challenge for franchised shops is to convey to customers that your business is locally owned or operated, even though the brand name isn’t.
This can be a challenge if customers had a bad experience with another franchise within the same brand.
To emphasize his local ownership, Mosely includes photos of his family on all Kwik Kar mailers. It can be a simple way to put a local face to the business.
“Just to let the customers know that this is not a huge national brand chain,” he says. “It’s a local family that needs your support. On all of our pieces, I try to add in that it’s locally owned and operated.”