“Teamwork makes the dream work” is something everyone has heard. Whatever the context is, the sentiment remains the same: When a team works well together, goals are achieved.
Luke Self sees this idea in action every day. He owns Fast Lube in Ripley, Tennessee. His team operates much like a well-oiled machine, if you’ll pardon the pun.
“Let's (say), for instance, your courtesy guy got tied up on a 4-wheel drive truck and spent a lot of time putting air in the tires, the hood technicians … they'll jump in and help vacuum the car (and) clean the windows,” Self says. “Everybody helps. (A) guy gets down in the pit and he gets tied up with a skid plate, somebody's running down to help him out. And you don’t even have to tell them that. They just do it.”
Over at The Ranch Quick Lube in Morgantown, West Virginia, General Manager Kevin Bode oversees a team environment that encourages a productive group effort for the betterment of everyone.
“We kind of have a motto, ‘Let go so others can grow,’” Bode says. “So, we provide opportunity for those that want to grow and hold them accountable for the tasks. They all know that their growth is based on teaching others and managing others to achieve or accomplish our vision.”
Even though Self and Bode are at different shops, employee management is a throughline for both. Proper management is crucial to the integrity of a shop’s structure, and it’s subject to change as necessary.
Take a moment to think about your approach to employee management and how it’s changed over the course of your shop ownership. Is your team working to make the dream work?
Luke Self assumed the role of shop owner in October 2022, but he’s not new to the industry. In fact, he’s dedicated about 20 years to it. Some previous experience includes being a district manager for eight Grease Monkey shops, and before that he helped run a network of four quick lubes based in Rapid City, South Dakota. The move to ownership of Fast Lube in Ripley was a natural one.
“That … just kind of fell into my lap,” Self says. “My kids live in Tennessee, and through different channels somebody gave me a phone call and said it was for sale. I looked into it, looked at the numbers and made an offer and purchased it.”
Self has seven full-time employees at his three-bay shop. He says success at his shop is a team effort, and he’s happy to exemplify what that means.
“I’m more ‘lead by example,’” Self says. “I’m hands-on. I’m in the shop, I work the pit, I’ll take out trash. That, to me, has been the big management style that I’ve been my whole career. I won’t ask anybody to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.”
Self says they have a bonus system that’s based on shop performance, not individual performance. But individual attention is still important.
“I’ve never begrudged any employee for trying to better their life quality or their life circumstance,” Self says. “And that’s what me and my wife are firm believers in is quality of life over work … I've gotten comments from the employees that were with the previous owner of just the little differences that me and my wife have instilled into the business model that they didn’t even know was a possibility.”
Supporting his employees in this way has paid off. One of his favorite parts about managing employees is watching them thrive.
“I love seeing, especially the inexperienced technicians, come in to give it a shot and work their way up to being very knowledgeable and then enjoying coming into work,” Self says. “I’ve always lived by the motto, ‘If you’re not happy at work, you need to go find something else to do.’ You spend too much time at your place of employment to not enjoy yourself.”
This all stems from a solid foundation of training, which has a hands-on component. Self says all employees build their way up.
“Our new employees, they start on courtesy and shadow,” Self says. “And then as they get experience on the courtesy and then using the computer. Depending on where we're at staffing wise, they'll either move downstairs to learn the pit or upstairs and learn how to greet and explain items on a vehicle to a customer.”
It’s important to Self that technicians use language customers can understand – nothing too technical or confusing. Customer service is the number one goal.
“One of our mottos is, ‘We kill them with kindness,’” Self says.
Self is clearly proud of the work being done at his shop, but he acknowledges that there are some challenges with employee management that require adaptive thinking methods. For example, he says getting employees to come in to work when they’re scheduled can sometimes be an issue.
If he notices an employee is consistently missing days or is not showing up on time, he initiates a conversation about the importance of communication and responsibility. It helps hold them accountable and circles back to the quality-of-life prioritization that Self values.
“This day and age you kind of have to give a little leeway, unfortunately,” Self says. “Unlike 10 years ago when you would get a stack of applications of applicants on a weekly basis, you don’t get that anymore.”
Cross-training is another tactic he implements. It’s something he’s been doing throughout his career. At Ripley Fast Lube, he trains employees for multiple tasks, so they aren’t doing the same thing every day.
“When you cross-train like that, it seems to give them a sense of accomplishment during the day,” Self says. “Everyone on my team always asks throughout the day, ‘Where are we at? What’s our number?’ That gets them involved instead of just being mundane, ‘Alright the next car.’”
There’s an importance to staff knowing the ins and outs of various roles at the shop, says Self. Knowing the pit to knowing what a serpentine belt is gives technicians an edge.
“Especially when you’re a multiple store operation, you’ve got to be able to give incentive because you’re promoting from within,” Self says. “Right now, I’m just a single store owner, I’ve got one shop, but I still do the cross-training because of that. You never know what’s going to come down the road.”
From in-depth cross-training to general support and understanding, Self’s approach to employee management works well for the team at Fast Lube. He has a genuine care for his employees and cares for how they’re managed.
“Talking to them versus talking at them helps with the management of people,” Self says.
Kevin Bode describes The Ranch Quick Lube as a “for-profit that generates funds for a non-profit.” The Valvoline Express Care location helps generate income for Chestnut Mountain Ranch, which is a school for boys in crisis in West Virginia and is the “parent company” of The Ranch.
Aside from that distinguishing factor, The Ranch operates much like any other quick lube. This means Bode (who is also the director of business for Chestnut Mountain Ranch) understands the importance of good employee management in this line of work.
“First and foremost, we believe that in order to grow business you need to grow people,” Bode says. “Without the people, you really don’t have a business.”
In addition to The Ranch, Bode oversees another Valvoline Express Care in Morgantown that’s under the same Chestnut Mountain Ranch umbrella. Between the two locations, there are approximately 23 employees. He’s the general manager, and there is also a manager at each shop, a supervisor at each shop and shift leaders.
About 25% of Bode’s employees are part-time. Full time employees get the opportunity to receive full benefits after a 90-day probation period including dental, vision and healthcare coverage as well as 401K matching and life insurance.
“We realized, probably in the past two years, that we need to be proactive in our human resources and not reactive,” Bode says.
Bode says 70% of shop employees are fresh faces in the industry and another 15% have experience as technicians. After that, the pool that’s left are people that they’ve hired from vocational technical training programs.
One area of change in employee management that Bode has observed revolves around where resources are being dedicated.
“It’s fair to say that before the pandemic maybe we spent 25% of our time on personnel issues and concerns and now it’s probably about 65% of our time” Bode says.
In-house, leadership staff conduct shop training. As the employee completes the training, they have written tests to complete.
“About a year ago we implemented our own training system where we have a checklist of all the items, we want that new employee to learn over 90 days because sometimes they get moved around and have different trainers, and we were not always hitting all the marks we need to hit,” Bode says. “So, we have a physical checklist that they go through.”
Bode says it's important for those in leadership roles at shops to be able to “zoom out” and see the entirety of the shop. This may involve taking your hands off vehicles and becoming more concerned with the overall shop’s needs – from basement to bay. This perspective allows for all corners of the business to be seen.
“It’s focusing more time, giving more resources to the personnel side of the business than we did before because employees and prospects have options,” Bode says. “They have a lot of options, and you need to do your best to stand out.”
For Bode, standing out also involves prioritizing employee wellness. Focusing on consistent communication, employee assessments and conversations about work and personal life attribute to a supportive work environment. Bode says they’ll even do staff bonding events to further this outreach.
“It’s more frequent and effective and direct communication versus if I don’t hear anything, I assume the employee is happy,” Bode says. “That’s probably the biggest thing that’s changed.”
A team that’s supported performs well, and that’s evidenced by the action of building one another up, which Bode bears witness to.
“When they're not just concerned about themselves, but they're concerned about the growth and success of others below them. Things really take off and obviously watching that gel and formulate as a productive management team, that's really where the reward is,” Bode says.
Ultimately, this dynamic not only serves the work environment, but also connects to the overall mission of good customer service.
“Every shop … they realize that customer retention is huge, and you want to give a good customer experience and in order to do that you have to have effective and well-functioning employees,” Bode says. “So, the only way to do that is to pour your resources into them so that your outcome is what you want.”