Committed to Customers

July 1, 2023
Running a successful shop starts by understanding the customer base.

What is a quick lube shop without its customers? Everyone knows the answer. Customers keep this industry running. This is something every shop has in common, but the makeup of each shop’s customer base can differ greatly.

Elements such as location, demographics and community resources can all play a role in how a shop builds comradery with customers. The way in which these elements differ provides an opportunity for each shop to define itself in the community and get to know customers on a deeper level.

NOLN spoke with three shops about their customer bases and how they cultivate relationships and provide services that make an impact.

Ken Frenchak, general manager of Valvoline Express Care in Grove City, Pennsylvania

The community of Grove City has under 10,000 people, and Ken Frenchak says the size of the surrounding county came out to approximately 110,000 according to the last census.

But Grove City is also a college town thanks to Grove City College, which influences some of the customers that Frenchak sees coming into his Valvoline Express Care shop.

“Our customer base is probably a good at 80% what I'm going to say, middle-aged adults, more predominantly women than men,” Frenchak says. “And 20% would be college students.”

Frenchak says he’s worked with the college and has also had some local college students intern at his shop, which has helped contribute to his shop’s social media presence as a way to connect with younger customers. These efforts are in addition to traditional advertising in newspapers, on the radio and through coupon mailers.

“I've partnered with the college's marketing departments to get ideas from, because that age group is going to be the next group of customers that's coming in,” Frenchak says.

Most of Frenchak’s customer base is from a 10-mile radius to the shop’s location, and about 70% are repeat customers. But situationally, his shop is located close to the interstate. Frenchak says this leads to many travelers coming through his shop as well. Regardless of where the customer is coming from, Frenchak says his approach to building customer comradery remains the same.

“The big thing with all of this, this whole industry, is the experience that you provide the customer,” Frenchak says.

For Frenchak, that starts with a friendly conversation. When interacting with repeat customers, this includes utilizing the notes feature on the shop’s POS System. That’s where the team keeps track of customer details that may come up in conversation, like the size of their family or any pets they have. It’s about starting the conversation with a positive point of connection.

“It’s so much easier to be happy than it is to be grumpy and mean,” Frenchak says. “You have to work to be grumpy and mean.”

Frenchak believes in the importance of relationship building in this industry, and he says a personalized customer approach makes a difference. It can stem from something as simple as using the customer’s name.

“It’s the little things that you do for these people,” Frenchak says. “All the big things fall into place.”

This strategy seems to resonate with Frenchak’s customer base. His shop is the area’s only quick lube provider, but customers will willingly wait in long queues at the shop because they value the experience offered inside, which Frenchak refers to as “the show.”

“I’m someone who doesn’t believe in customer service. What I believe is in customer experience,” Frenchak says.

For Frenchak’s drive-thru setup, he says his team has about 15 to 20 minutes to create that experience and it all starts by treating the employees right. Frenchak says if the staff is happy to be there, that will result in good interactions with the customers. Establishing a strong customer base starts at the top.

“I’m a full believer … in any business, and it doesn’t matter if it’s corporate or an owner/operator situation like I’m in, the business is a reflection of management and ownership,” Frenchak says.

John Brittain, owner of Brittain’s Express Oil & Lube in Elgin, Illinois

In the suburbs of Chicago, John Brittain is the owner of a shop that his dad originally started in 1986. But the generational aspect of Brittain’s Express Oil & Lube doesn’t end there.

“We have a lot of repeat customers,” Brttain says. “I would definitely say that. That’s just based on our reputation and being around for so long. We’ve got multiple generations of customers that come in the shop.”

One of the ways Brittain cultivates those lasting customer relationships is by being engaged with the community. He says being involved with local service organizations makes his shop’s connections strong and helps get his name out there.

“That was big with my dad and he kind of instilled that in me,” Brittain says. “I see can it at work everyday. I feel like it’s definitely a success point.”

For example, Brittain says his shop has worked with local not-for-profits and schools to donate gift certificates and provide sponsorships for fundraising efforts. These efforts allow Brittain to establish genuine connections and give back at the same time. Community involvement serves as relationship builder as well as a marketing tool.

In terms of setup, Brittain describes his two-bay shop as an “old school” or “traditional” quick lube model.

“We’re like: get ‘em done, get ‘em done quick, get ‘em done right, and get them in and out,” Brittain says.

Brittain’s shop model is one that customers can both rely on and appreciate. He says this is reflected in the positive reviews that his shop receives online.

“I would say most of them are: they’re fast, they’re friendly, (and) they’re efficient. I would say that kind of sums us up,” Brittain says.

Brittain says having these reviews as well as an up-to-date website have proven to be beneficial in gaining new customers as well retain returning ones because it increases his shop’s search engine optimization. Word-of-mouth from his established customer base is something that gets Brittain a good amount of new business too.

“I get numerous people who are first time customers that always say, ‘Oh so-and-so said you gotta go there,’” Brittain says.

Another component of Brittain’s shop is the fact that there are bilingual team members. Brittain says the Elgin area has a large Hispanic population, and the inclusion of bilingual communication adds another layer of customer care and compassion. Brittain says having these services makes a positive impact, and it helps further his shop’s ability to establish quality relationships.

Overall, he believes one of the biggest things you can bring to any customer interaction is simple.

“You will be very successful just by being nice and polite and friendly,” Brittain says.

Beyond knowing his customer base, Brittain says it is also important to stay informed on the industry as a whole. For Brittain, the education element of the quick lube industry is an extension of customer service.

“As a shop owner I think it’s kind of your duty … you need to (be) knowledgeable on everything going on in the industry and up to date with it and knowing what’s best for their car and letting the customer make an informed decision on what they would like to do,” Brittain says.

Kevin Robinson, owner of Pit Lane Oil Change in Richmond, Kentucky

Pit Lane Oil Change has a farm across from it and a golf course next door. On the surface, Kevin Robinson says this may not seem like the most ideal spot for a quick lube because there are not many vehicles in its viewshed.

“It’s a beautiful spot,” Robinson says. “Everybody agrees it’s a great location, but from a business aspect it’s not. So you have to have a product and a service to draw people here.”

For Robinson, that product is AMSOIL. He says the ability to offer a spectrum of products from AMSOIL lets him service the variety of customers that he sees come through his bays. He says these customers can range from people with newer cars and higher incomes to individuals with a lower budget to spend on their vehicle maintenance.

Robinson says his shop is “heavily involved with the community,” which helps understand the needs of the community members even more. He says his shop has sponsored holes for golf events and participates in local car shows. But getting to know his customers is about interacting on the most basic level as well.

“We just talk to our customers when they’re actually in here,” Robinson says. “We’re not just silent to them and trying to sell them stuff. We actually communicate and converse with them, especially being in a small town such as Richmond, Kentucky.”

His team also cleans customer windshields, mirrors, and headlights at the shop. Robinson says people often comment that they’ve never gotten their windshields cleaned at an oil change place before. It adds a little something extra onto the experience.

When kids come into the shop, Robinson says they are always offered a free Capri-Sun juice box. In addition to simply being a nice gesture, he says this serves as something to remember the shop by.

“The parents, moms and dads, just really like the fact that we’re thoughtful of their kids too,” Robinson says.

Providing a child with that juice box can create a repeat customer out of not only the parents but potentially the whole family once the child reaches driving age.

“Trying to plant a seed early for later fruit is always a good idea,” Robinson says.

Robinson says that word-of-mouth marketing is one of the strongest tactics out there, and his shop strives to be a place of which the community speaks highly. That can even be seen in the design choices of the shop.

For example, the bathrooms are a point of pride. Robinson says his customers appreciate having a bathroom that is clean and isn’t shared with the employees.

“We just went ahead and put our best foot forward with the bathrooms so we wouldn't have to remodel them over again,” Robinson says. “We have porcelain from floor to ceiling, porcelain on the floors, vanity sinks, mirrors, and all of the trimmings and extras to go with it.”

Details like these are something that customers notice, and Robinson knows that the effort is worth it.

“It’s important to build a base because you’re only seeing these people one, two (or) three times a year and that’s it, especially with these better oils since they last a little bit longer,” Robinson says. “You’ve only got a small window of opportunity to win them over and then keep them. They can easily go elsewhere.” 

About the Author

Hanna Bubser | Editor

Hanna Bubser is the editor of National Oil and Lube News and has been writing about the automotive aftermarket since 2022. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. As a teenager, she drove a green 1996 Jeep Cherokee that was previously used as a forest service vehicle. Currently, she drives a 2019 Subaru Impreza. She's an avid bumper sticker collector and loves adorning her vehicle with brightly-colored conversation starters. 

Courtesy of Jordan Hill
Teryl Jackson Photography
Courtesy of Glenn Ables
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