The 'Why' in The Work

June 3, 2024
The motivating factors behind a career of vehicle service.

In a career, the “what” component is important. You invest your time and energy in the industry that you choose. But something else to consider is the “who”.   

The “who” in this context is the person doing the work. They show up and they show dedication. They celebrate their professional successes, and they’re not defined by any bumps in the road—this is their career and their journey.   

The stories of shop owners showcase the opportunities that this industry has to offer. So, NOLN reached out to two shop owners and spoke with them about their career journeys thus far and what inspires them to continue doing this work.   

The “Who” and “What”  

Who: Brent L. Tomman  

What: Owner of Brent’s SpeedyLube in Clinton, Iowa  

Who: Greg Costa 

What: Owner/operator of Safeway Oil Change & Automotive Services in Cranston, Rhode Island   

The Journey Begins  

Greg Costa and Brent L. Tomman both have their fathers to thank in part for an early introduction to the automotive world.   

Costa describes his father as a “jack-of-all-trades" with experience in heavy equipment and traditional car and truck repair. When Costa got his first car at age 16, he was inspired by the idea of vehicle repair out of necessity.   

“I started off when I purchased my first car ... not having the money to have somebody else fix it,” Costa says. “So, I started putting the effort into learning how to fix it myself.”   

In addition to the hands-on aspect, Costa also enjoyed racing cars and demolition derbies at the time. His passion for cars led to his first job at a towing company, which had an in-house body shop and repair facility. While employed there, he towed cars and learned more about working on vehicles.   

In 1996, Costa started working for a SpeeDee Oil Change & Auto Service franchise. He worked his way up to the management level before leaving to work for a Goodyear shop, after which he returned to work at SpeeDee. Overall, he worked for SpeeDee for about 20 years, which even included purchasing franchise locations himself.   

Even after eventually closing those franchise locations, his connection to SpeeDee played a role in establishing the location where he now runs his shop Safeway Oil Change & Automotive Services in Cranston, Rhode Island—it used to be a SpeeDee.   

The location was being closed and the building was up for rent, and when he was approached about it, Costa was interested but didn’t want to run a franchise again. Thus, Safeway Oil Change & Automotive Services came to be—it opened in April 2013.  

“(I’ve) been working it ever since,” Costa says. “I opened it up underneath my own name—no franchise affiliation—and just been working it every day.”   

Tomman and his father have a special connection to the building that now houses Brent’s Speedy Lube in Clinton, Iowa. Originally, it was a Speed Lube where his father acted as manager when Tomman was a teenager.   

At 15, Tomman wanted some cash flow. He went to work at the shop washing windows, checking tires, and filling washer fluid in cars. He was paid out of his father’s pocket until he turned 16, at which point he officially got hired at the shop.   

“And that’s just how it started,” Tomman says. “Go to work with dad, and then once I turned 16, I could work here, and that’s what I did. And then once I was here, I worked here for two or three more years before I left.”   

Tomman left the shop to go into the welding and fabrication industry, which he was in for 15 years. His father left the shop too, but it was always in the back of their minds—especially when it sat closed for 13 years.   

“Sometimes (my dad and I), we’d go out to lunch, we’d sit in the back parking lot, and just have memories of this place,” Tomman says.   

Tomman was still in his welding career at the time, and his father was retiring. Tomman says he was ready for a “life change” and he and his father worked together to make a new shop on old stomping grounds a reality.   

The building sale came to fruition in 2020. Tomman says it took eight months to get things back in working order. Since the building had been empty for years without functioning air conditioning or heat, they had their work cut out for them. Improvements included a new parking lot, new garage floors, new roof, garage doors, signage, oil tanks, air compressor, and computer systems—just to name some.  

The hard work paid off, and the shop opened in July 2021. Tomman says they’ve won some awards along the way from the Clinton community, including property improvement as well as an award in 2023 for top rated oil change center. Additionally, the shop was a 2022 and 2023 award winner from CarFax for top rated service center.   

“So, everything has just been going real real good since we decided that this was the place that needed to be reopened,” Tomman says.   

The Journey Continues  

Costa is a consistent presence at his shop, calling his role a “lifelong” job that he enjoys doing each day.   

“I’ve always been here, I’ve always worked a full week every week,” Costa says. “Very rarely do I take time off—not as much as I should, that’s for sure!”    

He’s proud to be an independent operator, but something he learned to appreciate from his time as a franchisee was the value of an outside perspective. Costa and a group of other franchisees in the New England area would do franchise rides—visiting each other’s shops and providing fresh eyes.   

“They might see things that you don't see because you're used to it every day. So, it allowed us to have somebody else look at it from a different perspective and (we were) able to make changes and grow from there,” Costa says. “I always liked learning on how I could become a better ... business and better for the customer.”  

The motivation to provide the best for the customer also comes from a place of helping them successfully take care of their vehicles.   

“The only way to maintain the value on your vehicle is to maintain your vehicle,” Costa says.   

Costa welcomes any vehicle repair need into his shop, saying that he doesn’t like to turn people and their vehicles away. He says his shop has the tools, knowledge, and equipment to tackle any fix.   

“That’s why we take every challenge that comes through our door—where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he says.   

In Costa’s opinion, modern vehicles don’t seem to be built to last despite modern technology. But that makes attention to detail all the more important. He wants the repair work to last.   

“I went through the years every time that we go to repair vehicles, I look for the best quality parts possible. I look for the ones that can last the longest for the customer,” Costa says. “I like to fix cars once and have and our repairs last as long as possible for the customer.”    

Costa says the automotive repair industry’s reputation is subject to being besmirched by “some places that take advantage of the customer,” but that’s the exact opposite of what he strives to do. He values quality—from the parts used to the interactions had. Plus, he says it simply brings him happiness to keep people’s vehicles “running and on the road.”   

“I take pride in vehicles. I want to make sure that they're always safe for everybody,” Costa says. “Whoever drives in them, I want to make sure that they get the longest life out of them—because then it becomes the best value for them.”    

When Tomman first opened Brent’s SpeedyLube, he says “the goal was to provide a great service to an even better community.”  

Every business requires a strong leader behind it, and Tomman learned leadership skills from his time as a welder—where he worked in a variety of environments with many different people. He developed a keen sense of supervision and how to establish the steps to success in a plan of action.   

“I’m good with people. I’m good with workers. I’m good with morale and attitude and making sure everybody has what they need, making sure that if they have an issue in their personal life that they can come to talk to me,” Tomman says.    

People skills come in handy at the shop. Tomman takes care of his staff, from ordering pizza every Saturday to offering good salaries and time off when needed. It’s a family-first mentality.   

“Me, I’m the type of person where family’s first. We’ll change oil later—family's first,” Tomman says.   

Being active in the community is a major priority for Tomman, going beyond offering quick lube service by acting as a booster for local clubs and giving back to local charities.   

 “We just want everybody to know that we're not just a business, we're a family-run place who has not only our family but your family in mind as we're running it,” Tomman says.   

Tomman says he has customers drive from outside of Clinton to get their oil changed at his shop due to the price and speed of service. Something Tomman values is clear communication with customers.  

“You got to be straightforward and you gotta be honest. You gotta let your people and your customers know what you can do for them and what you cannot do for them,” Tomman says. “You don't want to leave anybody in the dark, which we don't. Just be upfront, forward, and honest.”  

Tomman says he offers “pretty cut and dry” service that revolves around quality oil changes. For Tomman, success comes from customers being satisfied with their service and having the shop be top-of-mind when people need that service. Word-of-mouth stretches beyond customers—he says other shops have even recommended Brent’s SpeedyLube to get the job done when those shops are at capacity.  

“We always tell people, we want this to be an errand on your list. You need to go to the grocery store, you need to go to the bank, change the oil, and get the kids from school,” Tomman says. “We want that to be another check on your list.”    

Running the shop is a labor of love for Tomman—he says he always puts in 100%, he loves getting up for work in the morning, and he “wouldn’t change it for the world.” A guiding principle for him is simple: be nice.    

“It’s literally $0.00 to be nice. If you can just be nice ... and I always try to have fun,” Tomman says. “If we’re not having fun, then what are we doing this for?”    

This fall, Tomman will get to share that fun with his daughter as she’ll start working on the computer at the shop. He says he’s visited high school classes such as driver’s education before as well to emphasize to young people the importance of automotive maintenance—and the job opportunities in it.   

Tomman enjoys pouring his energy into the shop, even though it requires much of his time.  

“I tell people all the time when I can’t do stuff ... I have a 3-year-old toddler in Clinton needs my attention—usually all day,”  Tomman jokes.   

Being able to resurrect a shop that meant so much to him and his father and turn it into something new and just as meaningful has been a huge accomplishment.   

“I like an adventure. I like a challenge, and this was this has been a fun adventure and it's had its challenges along its way,” Tomman says. “But the benefits have outweighed the challenge tenfold.”    


About the Author

Hanna Bubser | Editor

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.