Over the years, many a shop owner, operator, or manager has described running a quick lube shop not as being an automotive business, but rather a service business. It isn't really about the cars; it is about making sure the customer is happy when they leave. Arguably no one knows that better than Joshua and Jonathan Keeton, who are now with the Oil Changers team. And the truth is that neither really knew much about cars—or at least automotive service—when they entered the industry 17 years ago.
What they did know was service, as they had previously been employed with Burger King, and since making the move from one service industry to another, they've successfully navigated their way from being techs on the floor to "key operations guys" for former NOLN Operator of the Year Kevin Davis, who first saw their potential while he was an operator of 19 Fast Change Lube & Oil locations before becoming part of the Oil Changers brand.
"Car Guys" At Heart
The brothers are quick to tell how they appreciated classic muscle cars and enjoyed the occasional car show, but yet had no automotive knowledge before their journey began in the industry.
"Actually, during my interview, I made sure to tell the hiring manager that I didn't even know how to read a dipstick. That's something that's not easy to say when you're trying to get a job at a quick lube," says Joshua, who was the first to seek out the quick lube industry as a career. "But being a car enthusiast isn't what made me apply. It was the culture."
It came after he had been a customer at Fast Change Lube & Oil for several years and always enjoyed the atmosphere during the service.
"The technicians were professional, friendly, and simply looked happy to be there," Joshua tells NOLN. "I always thought, 'I want to be a part of this.' It wasn't long after, just a few months actually, that Jonathan joined the team at another location."
Brother Jonathan was drawn in for the same reasons that attracted Joshua, and he needed little encouragement.
"I remember when Josh first started working for Fast Change, he always spoke of his time there with enthusiasm and seemed genuinely happy working there—I wanted that," says Jonathan. "I was working somewhere that I never spoke about with excitement or enthusiasm and never looked forward to the next shift. A career in the automotive industry was a path I never thought I would take but I'm happy I did."
Knowledge is Power
The Keeton brothers' lack of initial automotive experience actually provided them with insight that is often missing in the quick lube industry, especially by old pros who have been around cars since they were kids. That was being able to understand that the customers often don't know what a dipstick is, and even those who do, probably haven't touched the one in their car—or maybe never opened the hood.
This fact gave Joshua and Jonathan some added insight into how so many customers may feel when they're asked questions that might seem fairly basic to those are the shop floor day after day.
"In our position, the customer's experience is always our main concern," Jonathan continues. "We're always taught to 'place yourself in the customer's shoes.' Our perspective has helped us use that to our advantage when training our team members to take the opportunity to educate our customers instead of making them feel uncomfortable."
It’s About Serving People
The brothers tell NOLN that they brought a lot over from the fast-food industry, which they say isn't really that dissimilar from quick lube—and not that both can be a bit greasy at times.
"Both are speed of service oriented. Not only do they want to serve the customer quickly, but they also make sure everything is done exactly the same way; no matter what location you visit. Sound familiar," ponders Joshua.
"When you go through your favorite fast-food drive-thru, your expectation is to receive your meal the way you ordered it very quickly," adds Jonathan. "They achieve this by following processes and procedures they have in place to ensure your food has been prepared properly and at a fast pace."
The similarities are certainly there, and the brothers were quick to say that in the quick lube industry, there is very much the same goal. Customers are rushed, may not always be or at least seem grateful, and a mistake isn't going to make them happy.
"Whether we're making Whoppers or changing oil, we rely on our team members to follow a very exact set of operating procedures over and over again throughout their career, day-in day-out, without forgetting to put the straw in the bag—or in our case a reminder sticker or resetting the maintenance light," says Joshua.
One notable difference between fast food to quick lube was that the latter offered career growth that might not have come so easily by starting on the grill line. This fact was noted that both Keeton brothers are still in the industry after two decades, and yet they're in very different roles than when they started.
The brothers' dedication to the job allowed them to climb the corporation ladder, which took them off the shop floor and beyond. They both started as lower bay lube techs and quickly worked through the ranks of store managers within the first year.
They explain that they were very competitive while they also were very passionate about being the best at what they did. That included running great stores and creating great teams, many of whom went on to become managers of their own shops
It wasn't long before Kevin Davis asked them to begin writing their own processes and best practices so that we could share them with others. Later, they would be turned into standard operating procedures that would be implemented company wide.
"We then were given the opportunity to take our skill sets and share our best practices with lower-performing stores within the organization," says Jonathan. "We had great success with helping those low-performing locations begin to consistently achieve their KPI goals. This eventually helped us move into district manager positions and then directors of operations."
Even today, when it comes to hiring the brothers say when reviewing candidates for hiring, they do tend to lean more towards those with fast food experience.
"They're already primed for success within the quick lube industry because of their experience with working at a fast pace with a team consistently following routine policies and procedures," Jonathan explains. "It's very similar to what we do, just replace hamburgers with cars."
Ready For the Future
It is also true that the quick lube industry is already facing great change with automobiles, which are not the same today as they were in 1983 or even 2003. The industry has to change as the cars are changing, and in some ways, being outsiders back in the day could allow the Keeton brothers to better adapt. In fact, throughout their entire nearly two-decade-long careers, change has been the only constant.
"A lot has happened over our nearly 17 years in the industry, with each year bringing its own unique challenges and unexpectedness," says Joshua. "We're firm believers in that having the right attitude is the first step in learning to adapt to changes, no matter what your career choice is."
The duo recently joined another former NOLN Operator of the Year Eric Frankenberger and his team at Oil Changers, making the transition with mentor Davis.
"We're excited about the future in the quick lube industry and the opportunities to share our passion for customer service and developing others," says Jonathan.
"Working for Kevin has been a truly gratifying experience," Joshua adds. "He has the unique talent of seeing the spark inside of people and igniting the flame. If you were to ask him, he would say he simply gave us the opportunity and it was us that seized it and ran with it. But I think he recognized our passion and drive for developing others. It's been almost 17 years since we started, and he's been there every step of the way as a mentor, coach, and leader."