Many of those who end up in the automotive field may not initially plan on it, but are nonetheless destined to lead a thriving career in the industry.
Such is the case for Jason Thomas, who studied computer science in college before going on to work at Jiffy Lube. Now, as co-president of the South Bay Lube franchise, Thomas has helped it expand to more than 30 locations across Florida.
As runner-up for the NOLN Operator of the Year award, Thomas sat down to talk about his story of entering the industry and what he’s learned over the years.
From Computers to Cars
Though originally from Anderson, Indiana, Thomas’s family moved to Fort Myers, Florida, when he was a young child. As a teenager, he had an interest in learning how to repair vehicles but was focused on studying computers. Later in life, Thomas went to university in Tampa to study computer science and met the person that would introduce him to what is now his career.
In 1992, he received a call from his former classmate, who worked at a Jiffy Lube location in Clearwater, Florida, and wanted Thomas to work alongside him there. Thomas was then married and living back in Fort Myers, but his wife would soon need to be in the Clearwater area to attend school, making it a perfect opportunity.
“And so I went up there and I'm actually still here. I never went on to pursue what I was interested in. I just, you know, I love the people. I love the challenges. I love the business,” confesses Thomas. “It seems like a very mundane type of business, but you'd be amazed at the people that you meet and the teamwork and the camaraderie.”
Thomas found motivation by becoming business partners with his former classmate and watching their franchise grow from one location all the way to their 34th location now being constructed.
As more locations throughout the state opened, Thomas was energized by meeting new people as he traveled through the state’s west coast. He felt like he was getting to explore and experience something new.
Newer Isn’t Always Better
Now, as vehicles become more high-tech, Thomas does get the experience of working with technology that he once was focused on.
He enjoys finding ways to integrate technology into his work to help things run more efficiently and says that part of working with a company as prominent as Jiffy Lube is that it gives them room to be experimental with different forms of technology.
While the improvement in technology and tools has been exciting, throughout his career Thomas has seen people coming to the shop less and less, confident that newer vehicles mean that they don’t require as much maintenance and feeling less inclined to understand how their vehicles work.
Though automotive oils aim to offer better fuel efficiency, less wear and more longevity, many vehicles are putting more demand on these oils than ever due to factors such as extreme temperatures and fuel economy ratings.
“Most vehicles, today, they're sold under the premise that you'll just bring it back to the dealer, they don't teach you about even how to check the oil,” Thomas says. “I've seen many, and heard of many cases where you buy a vehicle, they don't even pop the hood for you, they don't even show you where to pop the hood. And that's a huge concern.”
It Takes a Village
With customers’ intervals between visits becoming longer and the number of locations to manage growing, it’s important to Thomas that he maintains strong communication with his team to be in touch with what’s happening at every store.
The more experience Thomas gains, the more he has learned the value of listening: both to customers and employees. He wants his team to feel invested in the business by hearing out their experiences and ideas.
“It becomes a living, breathing organization with many people's thoughts and feelings and opinions of how things should be and what directions that we should take,” Thomas explains.
Thomas takes pride in providing a place where people can hone their skills and succeed, whether it is there or serves as a stepping stone to somewhere else. It’s not only somewhere where customers can come to receive reliable, quick service, but where employees can build critical skills, such as management and customer service, that they may not have the opportunity to learn through school.
Driven by People
The relationship between South Bay Lube and its employees is a strong one. Even as the business survived both Hurricane Ian and Irma, not one employee left in the aftermath. As everyone was struggling with loss and destruction, it was also a time when people came together and offered support.
The genuine passion for the industry and what it provides for others is what fuels Thomas to continue down his path. His biggest hope is that he and his business partner can hand down a great business to the next generation that works there.
Thomas was never too focused on building a successful franchise–he just loves meeting people and getting to help them, and doesn’t look to stop any time soon.
“If you really care, and you enjoy working with people and seeing them grow, and it's rewarding to you: you know, success will come,” says Thomas.