The Future Looks Bright

Feb. 9, 2024
Elements of the quick lube industry may be changing, but there is still plenty of opportunity to be found. 

Oftentimes with quick lubes, brainpower is focused on the day-to-day. But what happens when we look ahead? What opportunities can be found? Despite all the changes felt across the automotive aftermarket—from labor to emerging technologies and more—what can shops in this current industry look forward to? 

That isn’t a trick question. There is room for quick lube providers well into the future. It starts with evaluating where we are as an industry, and what can be done to embrace that and build upon it. Three different perspectives—all part of one strong industry—shed some light on the topic of looking forward.  

Spotlight 1: 

Ron Stilwell, president of FullSpeed Automotive  

For Stilwell, the conversation starts with one unavoidable factor pertaining to the modern car parc.  

“I think the thing that is the big elephant in the room is the fact that cars are getting older and (there are) more and more older cars on the road,” Stilwell says. “So that brings a greater opportunity to the oil change business to provide additional services that maybe they didn’t focus on in the past.”   

But to provide services, there needs to be technicians. Stilwell acknowledges the ongoing battle with labor shortages across the industry but also adds that FullSpeed Automotive has a strategic approach to these kinds of challenges.  

“I think that’s one reason why we’re so interested in our ‘Store of the Future,’” Stilwell says. “With the labor challenges today, we really feel that keeping and retaining employees has to do with giving them a great work environment from which to work in.”  

The ‘Store of the Future’ has been a huge project for FullSpeed. The model takes many things into account such as visual appeal, thoughtful lobby design, cleanliness, and an overall positive shop experience for customers and employees. It’s being rolled out to Grease Monkey and SpeeDee Oil Change and Auto Service locations, which includes a reimaging program that allows existing shops to utilize the model as well as new buildings.  

“With labor as tight as it is, you want to make sure that people don’t have to run all over the store to get supplies and things, so shrinking the footprint (and) designing the footprint in such a manner that you have efficiencies in your steps and in your walk and where things are located and where the tools are located, all that gives a better work environment for our teams,” Stilwell says.  

FullSpeed also prioritizes continuous improvement, which Stilwell says comes up in nearly every meeting—from cost of goods to providing services and hiring high quality individuals. 

“We are trying to adapt what has been a business model that really hasn’t changed in decades,” Stilwell says. “We’re trying to bring it in to the 21st century.”  

The ‘Store of the Future’ is something that Stilwell is looking forward to more Grease Monkey and SpeeDee shops incorporating moving forward and the greater impact that will be made.  

“It’s really an elevated look and feel … we’ve heard comments from customers that, ‘Man, it feels like I’ve just pulled into a dealership,’ or, ‘I feel safe and that my vehicle is being worked on in a trustworthy manner,’” Stilwell says. “It just elevated the whole brand image and the whole thought process of the consumer when they see how much detail went into our ‘Store of the Future.’” 

Stilwell notes the world is changing at a rapid pace, and that includes the wants and needs of customers. That’s one of the reasons why adaptation is an important consideration for shops.  

“That customer in the future is going to require and expect very different things than I do,” Stilwell says. “So, I think we need to be constantly improving (and) constantly looking. And the vehicles are changing. More and more vehicles are becoming more and more electronic in nature, and so it’s going to take a little bit different skillset in the future to work on our vehicles.”  

Stilwell sees how training plays a role in this as well.  

“Training is probably the biggest reason you either keep an employee or lose an employee,” Stilwell says. “So, if you really want to retain an employee, you’ve got to provide state-of-the-art training for them.” 

At FullSpeed, Stilwell says that training is “light-years” ahead of where it was even just a year ago. He says this is important because there are less opportunities these days for students to learn how to do tasks like an oil change in a classroom setting.  

“And so, our training program has to be more robust. It has to be more intuitive. It has to be designed to be one ... video-based learning, but also hands-on learning and training and it needs to be in such a way that the employee feels comfortable and that we're providing great services without any claims issues. So, training is probably one of the most important things we can do for our crews,” Stilwell says.  

Another thing that has been floating around for aftermarket service providers is electric vehicles. Stilwell acknowledges that the use of these vehicles can differ depending upon which part of the country someone may find themselves in. But overall, he says high demand for EV services just isn’t quite there yet. It’s something he sees transitioning over time.  

“I think there’s a lot of obstacles that have to be overcome for this to really get to the point where electric vehicles are being sold at anywhere near the rate of combustion engines,” Stilwell says.  

Spotlight 2: 

Travis Miller, owner of Speedy Lube in Bozeman, Montana  

Miller’s shop has three bays. Two of them are strictly for oil changes and fluids, and one is for mechanical repairs.  

“We’ll do lots of brakes and water pumps and wheel bearings … kind of your minor repairs,” Miller says. “We’ll get into engines and stuff if we’re slow, (but) we haven’t done that in years. We’ve been so busy we haven’t had time to need to do those bigger jobs.”  

Diversification of services is something that some quick lube shops have been considering. In this realm, Miller’s service menu is intentional. He sees having these multiple services is good for the customer and the shop.  

“The oil change for me is the way to get them in the door,” Miller says. “We try to be kind of a full-service shop that people can come get everything done when they’re here.”   

While the busy nature of Miller’s shop keeps cars coming, the other side of the coin is the current industry-wide challenge of staffing. Miller says Bozeman is an expensive place to live, and so his labor rates are a bit higher, but in turn he’s also charging higher rates for oil changes. Still, he’s having trouble getting people through the door to work.  

“I’ll put an ad on Indeed and I’ll get 20 applicants, and they don’t even show up for an interview,” Miller says. “They’ll schedule an interview and then don’t show up.”  

Miller says he hasn’t experienced a phenomenon quite like this before when it comes to hiring in the industry.  

“We’ve never had this issue in the past, I mean, not at this regularity,” Miller says. “You’ll always have people that quit and don’t show, but it’s weird. They go through the effort. They put their resume on Indeed and they answer your phone call. Then, they don’t show up for the interview.”  

But Miller’s shop reputation remains strong, which means customers will keep coming back. Offering the array of services that Speedy Lube does is a way for Miller to encourage customers to visit his shop instead of the dealership. It has worked out well.  

“In my area here anyway, people respect us as much as they do the dealer … any of our quick lubes, we’re all very busy here. I don’t think any of us have the reputation of ‘Oh that’s just the cheap oil change,’” Miller says.  

His shop services about 50 to 60 cars a day. The age of vehicles on the road may be higher these days, but Miller says his shop is also well-trusted with newer cars. Porsches, Corvettes, and BMW models alike have visited his bays.  

“We do all cars, we don’t turn away any car,” Miller says. “I think that’s just the training that’s out there that we provide our employees. I think we do a good job (of) training and people are comfortable. They trust us with their vehicles.” 

Miller says this is something that is different from when he first started in the industry. He used to see many more people go to the dealer for longer periods of time before visiting a quick lube shop.  

“I think that’s education that people have done to help improve the quick lubes,” Miller says. “I don’t think that people think of you just like the ‘quick oil change.’”  

This reputational boost for the industry is bound to keep customers coming in for years to come, and Miller strives to continue to be a “one-stop shop” into the future while staying up to date on the industry at-large.  

“For me, it’s just keeping up to date on technology and education of customers that they know that we’re able to take care of their maintenance needs and keep them happy,” Miller says.  

About the Author

Hanna Bubser

Hanna Bubser is the editor of National Oil and Lube News and has been writing about the automotive aftermarket since 2022. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. As a teenager, she drove a green 1996 Jeep Cherokee that was previously used as a forest service vehicle. Currently, she drives a 2019 Subaru Impreza. She's an avid bumper sticker collector and loves adorning her vehicle with brightly-colored conversation starters. 

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