The Shop Next Door

April 1, 2024
Shop location involves more than just the physical land.

Where are you right now as you read this story? Are you sitting at home relaxing in your favorite chair? Maybe you’re on a break at your shop. In either scenario, the importance of geographical location plays a role.  

You chose your living space for a reason, and where it’s found on a map probably played into that consideration. The same can be said of your shop. These are your investments. They’re the places where you spend the most time, and the places you want to get the most out of that you can. Presumably, they’re also places that you care deeply about.   

Quick maintenance shops are an interesting case study in terms of location, because business can thrive in both a small town and a big city. There are compelling reasons to run a shop in either situation, so NOLN spoke with a shop manager in the capital city of Oregon and a shop owner in a Texas town to learn how operations at their respective shops differ by the where they’re located and the greater impact these shops have on the people in their communities. 

First Lube Plus 

Location: Salem, Oregon  

City population: 177,723 (according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2020) 

First Lube Plus is owned by Salem First Baptist Church, which is located right across the street from the shop in the city of Salem, Oregon. The shop’s General Manager Glenn Ables describes First Lube Plus as a second-chance employer giving individuals who, for example, are recently out of prison or rehab a workplace to thrive and develop career skills.  

“It’s just our way to give back to the community ... give them a dedicated workplace,” Ables says. “We’re just trying to help them be better for themselves, society, and just get back into the workforce.” 

Ables says in the year-and-a-half he’s been with the shop; he’s had about six to eight employees go through this development. Currently, there are four people in total working at the shop, including Ables. He aims to have about two people in addition to himself in the shop on a typical workday.  

“(There are) definitely days we get swamped when there’s only two of us here,” Ables says. “But it’s just a matter of buckling down and keep moving.”   

But when there is a need on the team, Ables can fill it.   

“Every time I’ve needed an employee, one has shown up on my doorstep looking for work,” Ables says. “I’ve never had to go look for a worker, so that’s been really cool.”  

The opportunities at First Lube Plus have a real-life positive impact on the Salem community—for both the employees and the customers alike. For example, Ables comes from a full-service automotive background with an initial start in the industry as a tire technician. When he became the shop general manager at First Lube Plus, he introduced some additional services to give customers more options and allow the technicians to learn more about the trade.  

“Before I took over, we did oil changes (and) transmission flushes. We had a coolant flush machine that never got touched,” Ables says. “I’ve been able to come in and all my guys now know how to do brakes. We do some simple tune-ups. If it’s something we can do or we want to learn how to do, we’ll typically do it on one of our personal vehicles—that way we can offer it to customers in the future.” 

With a 4.8-star average rating on Google, it’s safe to say that customers are satisfied with these offerings. Ables says it’s one of the top-rated shops in the area. While First Lube Plus is owned by the church, it is also open to the public. Because of this, Ables says the shop sees a mix of customers flow from the church and the Salem community at-large. Shop marketing includes word-of-mouth
and community involvement.

The shop is in the heart of downtown Salem, and according to Ables, some businesses are no longer attracted to that area—but the shop team is dedicated to downtown and all the people who live and spend time there, and that includes extending compassion to everyone.  

“A lot of businesses are pulling out of downtown Salem. Where they’re pulling out, we’re trying to go that much harder into it,” Ables says.  

The church and the shop are fueled by helping others with care for their community. This includes a love for the downtown area and the people of Salem, and perseverance in the face of any challenges.  

“We want to stay downtown, we want to be in the heart of it,” Ables says. “And sometimes it’s hard. We got broken into about a month ago and ... all of my tools were stolen upstairs. So, that definitely makes it harder somedays to run a business with everything going on. But we don’t have any plans on moving. I know we love our location and just trying to be a continuous help of those around us.”   

Circling back to the mission behind the shop, a big takeaway that Ables sees (and he hopes others may see as well considering current industry labor shortages) is the way in which being a second chance employer ultimately benefits everyone involved.  

“One of the coolest things I’ve found with being a second chance employer is, it’s well worth it. These guys ... they come to work every day,” Ables says. “They’ll come to work on their days off. They do everything in their power because they just need that second chance. So, I try to tell people constantly, if you can ... give these guys a chance.”   


Valvoline Express Care Ennis  

Location: Ennis, Texas 

City population: 21,210 (according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2020) 

Ennis, Texas is more than just a town to Brenda Rider; it’s her home base. She’s lived there her whole life. She raised her family there as well—and to top it all off she’s the owner and operator of the local Valvoline Express Care. 

“I truly believe (that) without being an active hands-on owner, physically being here on a day-to-day basis and managing this store, it would not be as successful as it has been,” Rider says. “This means the interactions with my customers ... and my staff have given them (a) personal connection, (and that’s) why they tend to visit our store over and over.”   

Rider describes Ennis as having a small-town atmosphere. But at the same time, it’s a community that is growing. This blend has benefitted her shop.  

"Being in a small community, the growth in Ennis over the last five years has definitely contributed to my business,” Rider says. “I do believe being a Valvoline Express Care operator has also helped in the growth as well. " 

Her shop has three bays and a menu focused on preventative maintenance options. Staying focused on these kinds of service offerings has worked well for the needs of Rider’s customer base and has been bringing in business for years.  

"My location offers a wide variety of automotive services at this time,” Rider says. “A few of those are oil changes, fuel filters, differential services, air filters, wipers, state inspections, and preventative maintenance. This business model has been very successful at my location without doing any automotive repair for 37 years."   

Rider and her full-time staff of six (with five employees on staff each day the shop is open) keep the operation running Monday through Saturday. Rider explains this staffing structure stays the same all year long because it works—and it accounts for when a staff member has the day off. She says the team is proud to provide quality service with every interaction.  

“The crew prides themselves on taking care of the customer and satisfying that customer so they will come back,” Rider says.  

Rider sees customers new and old come through her shop. Throughout the calendar year, she says business stays relatively consistent with steady car counts. She notes that other more highly populated areas may have more shops available, but she finds great value in the connections she’s able to make by being a reliable local service option for Ennis community members.  

"The difference in a small community compared to Dallas, you may have 10 lube centers in a two-mile radius," Rider says.  "I'm local and it is small, therefore you get to know the customers on a personal level. I feel this makes the customer feel comfortable and at ease when visiting my location." 

As for advertising to customers, this is accomplished on a local level by sponsoring festivals including events put on by the community’s Chamber of Commerce and being a preferred vendor for the school district employees. Rider says the shop also runs marketing campaigns that are offered through Valvoline, such as reminder coupons.  

"I am always searching for the opportunity to grow my business,” Rider says. “This means exploring different marketing strategies.” 

In addition to those who come in for regular routine service, the shop also has fleet customers, with accounts ranging from car leasing companies to official vehicles for the city of Ennis and beyond. This is a way Rider’s shop directly serves and impacts the community.  

“We also have a lot of fleet customers who visit the shop,” Rider says. “They consist of many of the small businesses (in Ennis) ... they continue to support me with their work vehicles as well as their own personal vehicles.”   

Rider has a clear dedication to both the quick maintenance industry and the town of Ennis—and the importance of an active and present shop owner is something she prioritizes. It’s crucial to her that her employees and customers know she cares. For a small-town shop, Rider says it’s the personal relationships that lead to success—and that’s what keeps the customers coming back.  

“We give the customer the personal touch when they visit our shop, and I think that’s truly important to a lot of people,” Rider says. “They are treated with respect and honesty.”

Illustration 158628704 © Woodhouse84 |
Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez
Rebecca Sampson, Enchantment Photography
The Right Combination TJ Brough promotes the work of the Lube Quick and Reliance Automotive team through marketing tactics that combine ideas old and new.