When people say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” they are clearly not referring to this industry. In the quick lube space, details matter. Whether you are changing oil or are changing something around in your shop, even the smallest elements should not be overlooked. Sometimes, they can have the largest impact.
NOLN spoke with two shop owners to learn about the details that make up their shop’s overall success. This includes strategies they have implemented and projects they have completed that have made a sizable difference to their customers and their business.
Appeal to the Senses
Patrick Wilder owns six shops under the All Automotive name in Bradley, Peotone, Manteno, Kankakee, and Momence, Illinois. His shops provide a mix of services that include the quick lube model and full-service repair.
Wilder’s shops pay attention to detail in a way that lends itself well to the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. This becomes apparent before you even walk in the door and continues once you’re inside.
“I've never had a customer ever complain to me and say, ‘Hey, I'm not coming to you because your shop looks too good,’ just throwing that out there,” Wilder says.
His shop in Peotone, Illinois was among several businesses in the downtown area to step up its game with landscaping. The result was an improvement for everyone involved.
“I will say that our company, almost everything that's been landscaped, we did internally, which also kind of goes into team building,” Wilder says. “Everyone is helping, and they take ownership of the landscaping as an employee.”
At his Bradley shop, Wilder paid for materials and enlisted the help of his staff to cultivate the landscaping during slow times at the shop.
“You’re benefiting the neighborhood as a whole,” Wilder says. “If you have nice trees, roses, bushes, parking lots and so on and so forth, the entire neighborhood is benefiting because you don’t have that eyesore that automotive repair is generally associated with.”
Wilder says that people outside of the automotive world may notice as well. In his case, this included a local mayor.
“He’s like, ‘Hey, you’re investing in our town, we’re going to invest in your business,’” Wilder says. “’I’m going to bring you cop cars and I’m going to bring you village vehicles because no one else is really -- in automotive -- investing in the town.’”
Wilder fills his lobbies with music by utilizing speakers. He says this is a small detail that makes a difference for the customer.
“On the oil change side, the anticipation is to be there for maybe 10 to 15 minutes,” Wilder says. “If you’ve got music playing that you enjoy, it obviously makes the experience better, but also you’re not, for a lack of a better way to put it, committing to watching a TV show.”
He says with TV shows, the customer has the potential to become more invested and they could be frustrated to have to leave during the middle. Music has a wider appeal.
“As weird as it sounds, you want them invested but not that invested in being inside of your building,” Wilder says.
Wilder approaches taste in a couple of different ways. In the literal sense, Wilder uses coffee from a local business in his shops.
“If people can link up with a local coffee shop, obviously you’re promoting local small businesses and you’re a small business most likely so there’s some camaraderie there,” Wilder says.
Wilder also incorporates an element of taste through the design features in his waiting areas. This includes real wood baseboards and chair rails that his team put together. They worked on this project during down time. They cleaned the boards, sanded them and applied stain and polyurethane all in-house.
“I’m sure you could cut a check and get a little bit better result, but for me I’d rather have my team do it and then my team is invested in it (and) the customer is invested in it,” Wilder says.
The outcome is a nicer looking space for customers to spend time in, according to Wilder.
“It gives you that more classy look, but it’s also a very durable material so you don’t have to worry about it wearing out,” Wilder says.
During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilder brought airport-style seating into his lobbies for ease of cleaning. But the benefits have gone well beyond that.
“Customers liked them because … they’re more COVID-friendly, they’re a clean look, they’re more modern, (and) they’re not uncomfortable, even in the metal ones,” Wilder says. “They’re cost effective. You can do a whole entire lobby for 500 bucks.”
Additionally, Wilder allows easy access for charging electronics by including outlets in his lobbies that have a plug on top, a plug on bottom, and two USB ports in the middle.
“What we’ve done is we’ve put them in every shop near seating areas so people can plug in their charger,” Wilder says.
Wilder’s lobbies smell good, and that’s no accident. He uses a product from Cintas that dispels fragrance. It can be set to spray at different times throughout the day, which allows Wilder to have control over the intensity.
He notes that a similar effect could be achieved by installing a wall plug-in fragrance from the store, but by using Cintas he doesn’t have to worry as much about its upkeep. The goal is to get rid of what he calls the “funky automotive smell” from areas that the customers spend time in.
“It kind of goes along with that smell, look, touch (and) feel stuff that they talk about in marketing,” Wilder says. “So, if you’ve got vanilla smelling stuff in your lobby it just starts the whole transaction better.”
Champion the Customer Experience
Morris Clement has a background in racing as well as the corporate world. He’s operated his shop Fastlane Lubemasters in Gurnee, Illinois since 1994.
“It’s been a good small independent business,” Clement says. “(It’s) very independent, and I like it that way because I can pick and choose what I want to do that I feel is best for the customers.”
At Clement’s shop, the differentiating factors are how he approaches customer relationships and understands the needs of his community, from the first interaction to the establishment of long-term trust.
THE FIRST IMPRESSION
There is one detail at Fastlane Lubemasters that can’t easily be missed: a 1965 Cobra built by Clement himself. It can be found parked in the shop’s fourth bay or positioned in front or back of the building. The vehicle catches enough eyes to have taken on a life of its own as a marketing tactic for the shop.
“That Cobra draws a ton of people just to look at it, it’s a very exciting car,” Clement says.
Clement built the aluminum and stainless-steel vehicle as a bit of an homage to his racing career. He’s a three-time Sports Car Club of America racing national champion.
He says customers enjoy the Cobra, and they often take photos of it. Clement says customers and their kids have had opportunities to sit in the driver’s seat when it’s parked at the shop.
Needless to say, the Cobra makes for an exciting first impression. But that energy carries on into the shop as well. Clement is meticulous about maintaining a clean environment and takes great pride in the details, like making sure that the floors are mopped.
“We have white porcelain floors, and they’re 30 years old now,” Clement says. “They look as good as they did the day they put them in.”
FORMING A BOND
Something that isn’t a physical component in the shop but is a noteworthy concept nonetheless involves what Clement refers to as “the art of asking questions.”
“When (customers) pull into our bays, we ask them if there’s anything wrong with their car that they need explained to them or (are) there any questions they have about their car,” Clement says. “And then if they don’t, when they come into the lobby then I get a chance to ask them questions.”
He’ll ask them if they’ve come before. If they haven’t, he’ll ask the customer what made them choose Fastlane. For customers that he knows better, he’ll ask about their lives and their car. Clement refers to this as a “mom and pop” approach. Knowing the details of his customers’ lives allows him to bond with them, which creates a comfortable environment for the customers to ask questions.
“I’m very fortunate that I have had 50 years of playing with cars so I really understand just about every question and can help them,” Clement says. “That creates a conversation, and as it creates a conversation it also then creates confidence in who they’re doing business with, and that’s what we want to do.”
FILLING A NEED
Clement has incorporated innovation into his shop as well. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic when business was slow, he came up with the idea to produce hand sanitizer. He registered the Fast-Tizer product with the FDA. Clement says it was a “life saver” for the business.
“I ended up selling as much as I could make, not only to people around here but also Ace Hardware and other institutions,” Clement says. “And the beauty of that was, we ended up being really high-quality hand sanitizer.”
He included the product in promotions as well, giving out a free bottle to customers who got a Mobil 1 oil change.
“People really liked it, and it wasn’t a coupon, it was something they could use,” Clement says. “So that turned out to be an excellent promotion.”
Clement even started selling containers of aloe vera gel as well, as he finds it to be good for people working with their hands like his team does in the shop. Producing these products, even though they are outside of the traditional quick lube realm, created a solution during a difficult time for both his shop and his customers alike.
There are signs hanging in Fastlane Lubemasters that encourage customers to have a look at the work being done on their vehicles. Clement has the entire building insured, and he is open to giving curious customers a peek into the process.
“I encourage people to go downstairs and look,” Clement says. “Come on down and we’ll show you what we’re doing and we’ll show you what we see that you might want to get addressed.”
Clement says that once a customer asks about this, they usually won’t need do it again because they walk away from the experience with confidence in shop’s work. This transparency builds trust, and building the best shop environment possible is important to Clement.
He is proud to run a clean shop with quality service, but for him the details all come down to the customer's experience.
“When you buy something, you want to know (that) the people behind what you’re buying (are) there to support you if you need anything,” Clement says.