From Industry Veterans to Lube Shop Startup

May 1, 2023
What happens when three partners decided to launch a new quick lube brand.

Shop Name: Great Bear 15 Minute Oil Change    

Location:  Bechtelsville, Pa.  

Operators: Frank Muller, David Guzman, Jeremy Garber   

Average Car Count: 24   

Staff Size: 10   

Shop Size: 3 Bays (2 quick lube) 

It isn't uncommon for industry veterans to go into business for themselves. That was certainly the case for David Guzman, Frank Muller, and Jeremy Garber, who decided it was time to become the bosses. Muller, who had been in the car wash business for 25 years, joined with Garber and Guzman, who respectively had 25 and 20 years in the business working with Jiffy Lube, and started their own three-bay shop in eastern Pennsylvania, southeast of Allentown and a bit northwest of Philadelphia in the small community of Bechtelsville.

Starting a brand-new shop without having the backing of a big chain was certainly a scary proposition at times, but they also knew the process that they planned to put together would work. Moreover, they took an approach that could almost be described as a bit "against the grain." They also did it without cutting labor or service. Instead, it was about building a loyal customer base by making sure the clientele was out the door as quickly as possible.

The Perfect Location

It is often said that if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. For these partners, not only do they love what they do, but they truly love where they do it. Guzman, who has some rental properties in the region, tells NOLN that Bechtelsville was simply the perfect place for a shop.

The three partners opted for the name Great Bear 15 Minute Oil Change, both to take the name of the local school and community mascot. In fact, the town is now famous in the region for the local businesses that have custom-ceramic bears in front of local businesses.

It was only fitting that earlier this year the shop added its own bear to greet customers. Named Zoom, he is outfitted in a tropical motif that includes Bermuda shorts and sunglasses, all of which is meant to remind customers that the time between oil changes and services should be an adventure.

For Super Bowl Sunday in February, Zoom was fittingly even decked out in a Philadelphia Eagles t-shirt to show his support for the home team. Zoom might have been disappointed by the eventual outcome, but like the employees in the shop, he'll be greeting clients with a smile.

Fresh Start, New Building

The shop, which opened in August 2021, was purpose-built from the ground up. The partners knew they wanted a clean shop that would grab attention with its drive-through bays, while those efforts were made to speed up the service.

Garber, who had been on the first Jiffy Lube All-Star team from the Quakertown store that had placed third in the Washington, D.C. finals, had seriously considered efficiency. That included two bays with connecting pits for oil changes while the third bay was dedicated to ancillary sales.

It might not seem like a major consideration, but those bays were the result of a very thought-out process. Guzman, who has a minority stake in another store with multiple pits that are not connected, studied carefully to see what worked as well as what didn't. He and Garber found that those pits weren't the most efficient way for the lower bay tech to get around. When it came time to meet with the construction company, they then ensured a way would be found to have the pits connect.

Obviously, a basement is the best design, Guzman explains, but for a shop that is trying to keep costs down, the connected bays were found to be the way to go. The original design had the bays connecting in the middle with ground lifts on both. When it was determined the floor would not support it, they came up with a solution by connecting them in the back.

Launching a Business During the Pandemic

Great Bear 15 Minute Oil Change actually faced one of its greatest challenges before the doors even opened. Plans were already in place for the shop to open when the Covid-19 pandemic upended the country. That was followed by supply chain bottlenecks in late 2020 and early 2021.

Instead of giving up, the partners pressed on.

"Funny thing was we were building during the pandemic so all the cost kept on going up but we were committed so there was no turning back," says Guzman.

That was also not the end of the challenges that the shop—and really the industry as a whole—has continued to face. Much of 2021 saw record inflation and that was followed by the efforts of the United States Federal Reserve to raise interest rates to slow the economy. Neither is what a newly open shop likes to deal with, and while the town and shop may have a fondness for bears, a "bear market" and the recession that comes with it certainly wouldn't be welcome.

"The high inflation has definitely hurt the bottom line," says Guzman. "We waited as long as we could before we raised pricing."

As a new shop, it meant there was no existing customer base, and Great Bear 15 Minute Oil Change had to claw its way to market. This included at times "over-hiring" so that there would be enough workers to give the customer that great service,

"Just like every market, we have a lot of competition, but I was taught to never worry about that," says Guzman. "I tell my crew we worry about what happens in our four walls, if we give the customer a great service they will not look to go anywhere else. We must always remind ourselves that we are in the customer service biz that just happens to do oil changes."

A True Service Center

In addition to the full-service oil change, the shop also handles cabin filter and air filter replacements, along with coolant and differential fluid exchanges, as well as tire rotation and transmission services. In just two years in operation, Great Bear 15 Minute Oil Change has seen significant growth.

"The business keeps on growing; every month seems to be a record month for us. We don't do a lot of advertising or coupons, mainly just post on social media and being involved with the community," Guzman continues.

This includes nearly daily posts on Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms, all of which is handled by a web development and digital marketing firm that helped the team use the latest analytics to find its target audience. This has included not only details about the business, but automotive facts and trivia, as well as events in the community. By outsourcing these efforts and carefully targeting different demographics, the shop is able to maintain its "Main Street" connection with its customers in the digital age of smartphones and social media.

The shop also featured a lobby area that is both comfortable and minimalistic. The result is meant to feel more like a lounge, complete with a coffee bar and espresso machine, that is inviting for the customer. A decision was also made early on not to have the lobby area filled with any point-of-sale clutter.

Instead of TV programming—which today can never satisfy everyone while the wrong news channel might even alienate someone—a decision was made instead to offer Autonet TV. It has maintenance and repair videos that can explain various services to the customer.

"I believe you work more on educating the customers at the 'greet' and making sure the workers in the bay are efficient," says Guzman. "If this happens labor will fall in line."

Planning For the Future

Now that the business is up and running, the current plan calls for an expansion that will include additional locations—a sort of "bear cub" or two.

"Our future plans would be to build two more Great Bear 15 Minute Oil Change facilities, the other owner Frank owns a car wash in Richboro, Pennsylvania, so that may be the next location," said Guzman. "The main thing about our quick lube is we want the customer to feel like they are coming into a friend's house when they come here. We want to give an excellent customer experience."

River Underwood Photography
Millicent Garland
Lavana Howard, vanna d. photography