Working in a shop is what Joe Benza has known since he was a teenager, having grown up as the son of a shop owner in North Carolina. After helping run the business later as an adult with his father, they built a successful business with multiple locations and eventually sold for a great offer.
But Benza hasn’t had enough. He’s decided to jump back in, opening his own shop five years after selling his and his father’s business.
“I just kind of realized over time that with the entrepreneurial spirit that I think I was born with, I wanted to get back into just starting over again, with a little bit more experience,” he says.
Thus began Carolina Quick Lube, Benza’s current shop, which offers quick lube services, as well as brake repair and state inspections, similar to the shop he and his dad ran, Fast Lube Plus.
It’s in the Family
Benza has decades-worth of experience that he has brought with him to his new business. His father started the first Fast Lube Plus in 1999–also a ground-up location like Carolina Quick Lube–after he and their family moved from New York to North Carolina in 1995. Benza started working in the shop at 15 and throughout college.
While a student in college, Benza recalls having dinner at his family’s home one evening during a holiday get-together. He was in a time of his life when he was unsure what he wanted to do with his degree, and his father discussed the possibility with him of Fast Lube Plus expanding to other locations.
“And he said, you know, ‘this is a scalable business model, we don't have to just have one location, we could have multiple locations we could grow,’” he recounts.
Though Benza’s peers were working towards working for corporate companies, the idea of working in a small family business along with the ideas of growth and expansion from his father appealed to him. It was then he knew what he wanted to pursue.
Benza’s father was passionate about cars and had been working with them his entire life. A father-son business partnership could undoubtedly bring problems, but not for the Benzas.
“You know, working with family doesn't always work out,” Benza says. “But we worked well together and it was a lot of fun for us.”
At home, he was a father, but at work, he was the boss. It was an interesting relationship that Benza says other people his age didn’t have with their parents. His father has always been someone he’s admired, and even now in his retirement, his son still relies on him for insight.
“You know, he was the guy that started it all. He's been my sounding board and I've learned a lot from him–and he's not just my dad. He's my friend, he's a former colleague,” Benza says.
After leaving college, Benza became the store manager for the original Fast Lube Plus, and it wasn’t long before he and his father started expanding.
A Plan in Action
By 2018, the business had grown to six locations. They had already been approached by many larger companies with offers to buy them out, but they weren’t interested in selling. They had plans to expand to 16 or 26 locations. Eventually, though, the pair received an offer that was too good to turn down from FullSpeed Automotive.
“So at his age, he said, you know, ‘this works for me if it works for you.’ And I said, yeah, I think this is a good exit strategy for both of us. And that's just really how that kind of fell into our lap,” he explains.
Finalizing the sale was a long process that was completed without the help of a broker, but it was a smooth process. After working through the kinks, Benza says both parties were satisfied with the end result.
Following the sale, Benza took an executive position with FullSpeed Automotive. Going from working in a business he owned with his father to a larger company was an eye-opener for him, and there was a definite learning curve on how things operated there. He was used to handling issues himself–from HR to marketing and to operations–and wasn’t used to having to work with other people in different areas to solve an issue.
“We had all these different departments and people that you had to reach out to. And in the beginning, it was a little overwhelming, but it was exciting because it was new to me,” he remembers.
Fast Lube Plus wasn’t altered and still operated the same after the FullSpeed Automotive acquisition. Following Benza’s recent resignation from FullSpeed Automotive, the same 18 employees that worked at the shop before the acquisition were still there, years after.
You Got My Back, I Got Yours
That sort of dedication from a work crew is rare, which is something Benza is now having to face as he operates his new business, especially with a recent shortage of technicians. He considers it the biggest problem for shops, but his experience in running a team has helped him know how to tackle the problem.
After the pandemic, many workers went into early retirement, and many positions opened up. It’s been difficult to find and retain talent, as many consider a position at a fast lube shop as a gateway to other careers that can provide equal or higher pay for less grueling work, especially when working conditions become uncomfortable due to factors such as the weather.
“…You know, it's manual labor, and for what the typical technician is paid, they can enjoy climate-controlled [work, and] a lot less manual labor doing a lot of other roles in other business models.”
Benza believes that there will continue to be customers coming in for oil changes, but it will be a challenge to captivate people into sticking with a career in quick lube to provide them with that service.
Part of what motivates Benza is providing a workplace that people want to be in. Workers that are respected, valued, and taken care of by their employer are less likely to look for work elsewhere. The first day Carolina Quick Lube opened for business, Benza told his crew: “You come first.”
“I'd love to see them be able to grow in their careers to where they could all leave and maybe go build their own store of their own if they wanted to. But maybe I take care of them well enough to where they just want to stay, you know, and keep working for me,” he says.
Not only does it ensure a dependable workforce, but Benza can also rest easy knowing if he takes care of his technicians, they’ll take care of the customer. He’s made an effort to cultivate a stress-free environment where employees can enjoy the work they do.
Looking to the Future
As for the future of Carolina Quick Lube, he’s open to considering opportunities for expansion that come his way, but Benza is mostly satisfied with where he is now and is enjoying hitting the reset button of just having one shop.
His current goals are to retain his crew of seven technicians, as well as seeing stickers from his shop on returning customers’ windshields rather than competitors.
“I'm kind of a day-by-day guy. I don't have a specific goal for the month or the year or the next two to three years, I just take it day by day and look at what's in front of me, and try and figure out how I can fine-tune the operation.”