Three generations have operated the El Paso, Texas-based Lube 'n Go franchise since it was founded in December of 1976. While many family businesses are passed down from generation to generation, Mark Bochnowski had not been raised to be just the heir apparent who would take over when company leadership decided it was time to hang it up.
Bochnowski had to prove himself, and that’s what he did. He started at the business in 1997, when he approached his father, John Bochnowski, with a business plan on where he'd like to see the company go. Instead of expanding—which the company had done in the 1990s by opening shops in New Mexico—John and Mark took the company in a different direction, which involved serving one community with superior services.
Those efforts paid off as Lube 'n Go's shops had become the top provider of vehicle inspections in El Paso County. The company was proud of that status, and Bochnowski secured NOLN’s Operator of the Year award in 2017.
When it was decided last year that expansion to a new market wasn't the right move, Bochnowski found himself at a crossroads. He still wanted to see the company grow, and that is when he and his father made a huge decision.
They decided to sell Lube 'n Go to California-based Oil Changers. The deal, which was announced in October 2021, added 14 locations to Oil Changers' portfolio, as well as a key move into a new state.
It was good for the Lube 'n Go customers and employees alike, and it wasn't the end of the line for Bochnowski, either, who stepped into the new role of vice president of business development for Oil Changers. In that role, he’s still able to contribute to the industry that he’s helped build.
The Decision to Sell
Making it through a pandemic, facing higher operating costs and seeing uncertainty might be enough to convince many a business owner that it was time to sell and retire to the beach—or, in the Bochnowskis’ case, to the golf course.
Yet, that wasn't the motivation for Mark or his father.
"The pandemic really didn't have any role in our decision," Bochnowski says. "My dad and I talked about it, and we wanted to grow the business, but not by the past expansion we had tried. We wanted to do what was best for our employees."
They considered many options, including bringing in partners or seeking outside investors. But in the end the decision was made to merge with Oil Changers, and to join their established team.
"This wasn't a merger we needed, and our business had really never been better," Mark is quick to point out. "But we really wanted to do what was right for our employees and our customers. This was really the right move to make."
Focusing on the Customer
Even before Mark joined the company a quarter century ago, Lube 'n Go was always like an extended family. That had been true since its earliest days.
"This business was founded in 1976 by my grandfather, and my father joined in 1987 while I joined in 1997," Bochnowski tells NOLN. "It has been a great journey for us."
Throughout the past 25 years, it was always important to put the customer first, said Mark, and now as he grows into his new role he is ready to take on new challenges. He's also seen the evolution of cars, which have become ever-more high-tech—and the employees have always proven to be adaptable.
"The telematics and the robust computer systems have presented challenges, but we have a great partnership with AOCA (Automotive Oil Change Association), and NOLN has been a wonderful resource," Bochnowski says. "We will continue to adapt with the telematics and even the EV market."
Facing the Challenges Head On
There is no denying that the past two years have been demanding for any business owner, but Lube 'n Go's team adapted quickly.
"Our biggest challenge during the pandemic was continuing to adapt to ever-changing restrictions and official guidance to keep everyone safe and protected," says Jenn Bochnowski, Mark's wife and retail brand manager for Oil Changers.
"It was paramount for us to keep our team members and guests safe while still being able to provide service with the utmost care and compassion during uncertain times," she says. "We worked diligently to manage the safety of everyone involved and made it through together."
Last year's near record-high inflation and issues with the supply chain also caused more than a few headaches, but the Bochnowski family has proven to be up to the task. As part of their mission to always put the customer first, Mark says that he knows how important the car is to his customers.
"During the current times of increased inflation coupled with high demand and limited supply of new vehicles, we see consumers doing all they can to keep their vehicles in the best performing condition," Bochnowski says. "Generally, in times like this, people are more aware and timely in taking care of their vehicles. It's an investment they've made to get to where they need to be, which is most important during the economic environment we're experiencing."
Advice to Others
Deciding to sell a business may not always be easy, but Mark suggests that operators always need to have a strong succession plan, no matter what you’re expecting.
"I would say there is never a wrong reason to sell or to have a reasonable exit strategy," he says. "What is important is to have the discussion with yourself and your partners. You need to ask, ‘What do the next five years or the next 10 years look like?’"
Too often, many business owners don't think about a succession plan, and while many may like being their own boss, there are plenty of times when selling to a larger entity can make good business sense.
"I would encourage people to ask what they expect to get from the exit. Is it a nice payday or finding a partner to continue the brand, or to have a bigger partner continue the business," Bochnowski says. "For my father and me, that was very important to consider. That was what really mattered to us. We wanted to make sure our team members, who worked with the company all these years, would have a chance to grow."
For Lube 'n Go, the merger with Oil Changers will allow the team to grow and flourish.
"They had many of the same core values, and that was really important to us," he adds.
Instead of being his own boss, Bochnowski is still in the family business, as his team includes his brother, his sister, and his wife. His father opted to retire and likely can be found often on the aforementioned golf course. But for the rest of the Bochnowski family, it is really business as usual under a different brand.
"It has been a great transition, and I know there will be ebbs and flows, but I can say it is a great change," Bochnowski says. "It won't come without some challenges, and we're still adapting to a new organization with new team members."
With that, he’s looking forward to continued success in the years ahead.