SHOP STATS: Ernie's Rapid Lube Location: Chehalis, Wash. Operators: Deanna and Glen Schmitt Average Car Count: 25 Staff Size: 10 Shop Size: 2 Bays
Not every shop can say they see multiple generations of customers walk through their doors, but Ernie’s Rapid Lube can.
The shop is run by Glen Schmitt, who says that his father, Ernie, first opened the business in 1983. It was the first quick lube in the county. Nowadays, Schmitt runs the business and strives to honor his father’s legacy.
“He never wanted it to be just a quick lube,”Schmitt says. “People can go anywhere for an oil change, but we wanted to be worth the drive.”
Schmitt says that his father’s experience in the automotive industry included dealership work and owning several gas stations. However, Ernie Schmitt dreamed of a quick, one-stop shop for his customers’ needs.
“Nothing major, just helping with what we could do in one day or overnight,” Schmitt says.
In 1992, the business outgrew its original location and decided to move just an eighth of a mile down the road. That’s where it’s been ever since. The family kept the business going. Ernie and his wife, Deanna, owned the store and regularly employed family members.
“I worked for my dad as a kid, my dad was good about hiring family members. There was always someone in the family working there,” Schmitt says.
Schmitt pursued his own career in real estate appraising after college, but he ultimately ended up back in the family business.
Looking Back on a Legacy
Although the quick lube had always been a family business, Schmitt only took an active leadership role in his father’s business after the Great Recession rocked the nation, and Ernie’s health began to decline. After Ernie had a kidney transplant in 2009, Glen split his time between the business and his real estate work. It might not have been his original plan, but Glen took over operations to honor his father’s lifetime work, and because he knew there was a dedicated customer base.
He balanced the two careers for about four more years before taking over for his father in 2013 as the general manager. Ernie passed in 2018, leaving behind a powerful legacy.
“Ernie was a character,” Schmitt says. “Not a day goes by without a customer’s storytime. People still talk about him. Although he passed away, he’s still here.”
Schmitt remembers that a customer spoke at Ernie’s funeral. He says that when the customer was a young man, he was coming by the shop and mentioned that he was having a hard time financially.
“Dad said, ‘I can help if you need,’” Schmitt says. “And he did. That was Dad. He’d give you the shirt off his back if you needed help.”
Keeping Things Rolling
Helping individual people wasn’t the only way Ernie stayed involved in the community.
“My dad had a real soft spot for sports,” Schmitt says. “If he wasn’t at work, he was involved in sports—going to games, watching games on TV, catching up with friends about the game. He was my coach as a kid, and that meant a lot to me.”
Ernie sponsored local youth sports teams like girl’s fastpitch softball, youth football, and more. Schmitt now carries on that tradition.
“Anytime you can add sponsorship and get your name out there, make connections, that makes it worth it for business purposes. Honestly though, we do it because it’s something my dad loved to do. He had a presence in the community,” Schmitt says, “If he couldn’t coach he would provide funds for causes he cared about. And that’s something I keep up with, for him.”
Weathering the Storm
Like everyone, the COVID-19 pandemic surprised Schmitt and his family (who make up most of the staff at Ernie’s). Although the state declared automotive services as essential, Ernie’s closed for six weeks.
About the closing, Schmitt refers to safety concerns for his employees and customers.
“We could have stayed open financially, but we didn’t know if we had the right cleaning equipment. There wasn’t enough PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) in place for hospitals, much less us,” he says.
After six weeks, Schmitt says his shop had the best 12 months ever. As a result, Ernie’s didn’t have to lay off a single employee.
“We kept the lessons Dad learned along the way,” Schmitt says. “Customer service is No. 1, accuracy before speed. It’s not a pressured environment, customers are the boss. We assume customers don’t know everything about their vehicles but don’t want to feel intimidated. They’re paying us to help them get their money’s worth at their yearly checkup.”
Schmitt feels that the family approach to business certainly helped. The care and effort that goes into the business carries the family name, which means a lot from the top of the organization to the bottom.
“Obviously, I’m surrounded by family all the time,” Schmitt says. “The separation between business and family isn’t very far. My mom, Deanna, is the owner, and I’m the manager. My kids (Kyle and Lindsey) work for me, it’s family all the time. They have an interest in the business to keep it going strong.”
And that, he believes, is exactly what his father would have wanted.