It often takes a couple visits before a customer realizes that the mission at The Ranch Quick Lube in Morgantown, W.Va., is a little different.
Getting service at the shop is just like any other Valvoline Express Care. Customers pull up to a bright, spacious bay and wait in the car while the techs do their work.
But looking around the shop a little more closely, a customer might notice signs and information about a nearby boys ranch. There are ads around for a thrift store across town. They’re all related to the quick lube operation.
That’s when a customer might learn about the shop’s differentiator. The business exists to help its nonprofit owner, the Chestnut Mountain Ranch.
“By getting the oil changed, they are, in fact, donating to the boys ranch,” says Kevin Bode, the finance director at Chestnut Mountain Ranch. “Our slogan is, ‘change your oil, change a life.’”
The ranch is a faith-based retreat for boys who are experiencing trouble in life. They live at the ranch’s 225-acre grounds and focus on healing and family reunification.
A few years ago, founder Stephen Finn and Bode were looking for a business venture to support the ranch. As a nonprofit, the ranch typically relies on grants and donations to operate, but running a for-profit business can help bring in funds. The ranch had already set up a thrift store in town to do this.
When a new opportunity presented itself, the Chestnut Mountain Ranch decided to get into the quick lube industry.
“We could better ourselves by providing a portion for ourselves,” Bode says. “Right now, our businesses provide about 20 percent of the revenue to the ranch.”
Chestnut Mountain Ranch
The ranch was founded more than a decade ago by Finn, a retired Georgia police officer who had worked for a few years at a boys ranch there. He eventually moved to West Virginia to start a similar operation of his own.
The ranch has roughly 14 boys living there at a time, as well as family members. It has a school on site and is expanding to accommodate more students, Bode says.
The boys who come to live there have experienced some sort of trouble or difficulty. A child might have parents in prison or is dealing with his parents’ bad divorce. He might just be going through a tough stretch and acting out. Bode says there are lots of reasons why the boys are there.
“Our whole goal is family reunification,” he says. “We work and counsel the boys. We counsel the parents and guardians. And the goal is to reunify the family, put the boy back in his own family setting.”
SHOP STATS: The Ranch Quick Lube Location: Morgantown, W.V. Operator: Steve Finn/Chestnut Mountain Ranch Average Car Count: 50 daily Staff Size: 10 Shop Size: 1,800 sq ft Annual Revenue: $700,000 to $800,000
Around 2016, Bode and his colleagues were looking for another business venture. They’d already been running a retail shop, the Ranch Community Store, for roughly four years.
Bode says Finn had his eye on a struggling quick lube shop in Morgantown as a potential second business.
“Everybody needs an oil change. And we watched an existing business kind of deteriorating,” says Bode, who is also the general manager for the businesses. “We came into contact with the owner who was looking to sell, so we bought the business from him two years ago.”
The ranch owns a holding company that runs the for-profit quick lube shop. All revenue above operational costs for the shop go to the ranch, Bode says. Right away, they gave the whole shop a facelift. Michael Ellis, the shop manager, came on at the start and said the building was taken down to its bare bones.
“We pretty much scrapped out everything that they had here,” Ellis says. “We put in new pumps. We went through and renovated the place.”
It was also a brand new industry to Bode. He says they had no experience running a quick lube business but gained a lot of support by signing on with Valvoline.
The company trained them on the technical work, the verbal callouts and the daily operational strategies. Bode says the company also supported the work of Chestnut Mountain Ranch and sent some representatives to tour the place at one point.
It was a fairly quick turnaround from acquisition to renovation to the new operation, but it paid off for the Ranch Quick Lube.
“When we took the company over, we closed for 30 days, remodeled, updated equipment. And at that time we were doing about 25 cars per day,” Bode says. “Today, we’re running at just about 50 cars per day.”
The quick lube shop doesn’t just make money for the ranch. It’s also a place for the residents to come and learn work skills.
Ellis says that the boys usually start over at the community store. If they’ve proven themselves, they come over to shadow the techs at the quick lube shop.
“We don't let them touch a car unless we’re very certain that they have learned and know what they're doing,” Ellis says.
With supervision, the boys might check tire pressure, pull an air filter or help clean the vehicle during service. Ellis says they sometimes bring them down to the lower bay and show the boys how to drain the oil and change the filter. They learn the basic components and functions of the vehicles.
It’s good training; Ellis says they’ve hired three of the boys who previously completed a job shadow there.
The business also acts as a sort of marketing arm of the ranch. There are promotional materials at the shop and posters for the organization. Ellis says that customers typically know that they’re supporting the ranch when they do business at the quick lube.
“We have a lot of people who come here because of that,” he says. “They come here because they want to help the ranch out. They like the program.”
Bode says that they’ve been able to run a successful operation by sticking to a simple formula of service.
And with the relatively unusual presence of ranch residents shadowing the techs, it’s important to hire the right people for the job. Bode says they offer competitive pay, team lunches and other little things to attract workers who are willing to be mentors.
At the same time, their own training is an ongoing exercise.
“The business requires constant training and mentoring of staff,” he says. “Adherence to the process is critical and directly associated with car count growth. The manager, assistant manager are teachers and trainers as well every day.”
Retention is as tough there as in any operation. Ellis says that roughly half of the techs have been there for more than a year. The city of Morgantown has 30,000 people, though many more arrive annually to attend West Virginia University. To pull in new customers, Ellis says they try to be as accommodating as possible.
Their oil inventory increases as part of this effort. He says that one customer came in with a Ford Focus that required a 5W-50 oil. That might be the only customer that needs it, but he says they added it to their inventory for that person.
Bode says that in addition to oil changes, the shop also does engine, coolant, differential and power steering flushes. They also have some retail items like filters, wipers, batteries and additives.
Their core business is just like any quick lube operation. Bode says they sell speed and customer service. But there’s a little extra incentive for people like Ellis to know where the proceeds go.
“You have the whole goal of funding the ranch,” Ellis says. “It’s cool, because it’s not just in it to make money for a person. We’re in it because we want to help the ranch.”