Car Count Boosters for Quick Service

Dec. 9, 2022

Strategies to bring customers back in and earn new customers through marketing and relationship building. 

The goal of any business is to turn a profit.  Though that may seem obvious, actually ensuring that the business makes money isn't always as easy as it seems, especially with rising inflation, and consumers adapting to a new "post-pandemic" normal. This means the volume and amount of sales, and in the case of quick lube operators, it simply comes down to increasing car counts, as well as offering additional services beyond a standard oil change.  

Some shops have success bringing in passing drivers with simple and old-school marketing tactics that can include an inflatable or someone in a costume holding a sign, however, a long-term strategy should include other contact points, and more importantly, developing a relationship with customers to keep them coming to the shop for regular oil changes and additional services. A gimmick might mean an extra customer or two, but a solid plan will create repeat visitors that become regular clients. 

The Backstory 

With locations in Payson and Spanish Fork, Utah, owner Ryan Frisby is very conscious of the car count. He operates his two locations, Spanish Fork Oil-N-Go and Payson's Oil-N-Go, under a Valvoline independent operator program. However, the locations each offer different opportunities and challenges when it comes to increasing the business.  

The Payson location is what Frisby describes as a "mature location" that is well-established in the community. That means regular and often steady business, but such a deep-rooted shop can have a difficult time increasing its car count. Meanwhile, he opened a second location in Spanish Fork in 2011 with expectations and strategies to expand the monthly car counts.  

To address customer demand, both shops have a 12-person staff while the Payson shop has two bays, whereas the Spanish Fork offers service with three bays.  

"I'm committing to having the extra staff number, running a four-to-five-man crew to offer consistent business," says Frisby.  

At times, he admits, that the numbers don't always add up in a way that makes immediate financial sense, but his strategy pays off with happy customers who receive quick and friendly service. 

"When a customer comes in the door they are getting a good experience," Frisby tells NOLN.  

The Challenge 

His car count was never so low that Frisby needed to be concerned; however, he was operating an established location in Payson and a new location in Spanish Fork. The Payson location, a well-established shop, offers less opportunity to attract new business, and as result it saw monthly numbers leveling off some. Meanwhile, the newly-opened Spanish Fork location needed a strategy in order to grow. 

Another issue to address was the seasonal fluctuation of business. Monthly car counts tend to slow in the winter in Utah, only for business to pick up in warmer months. Gas prices also affect the influx of business as drivers put in fewer miles when prices at the pump climb. That was certainly the case during the recent spike in gasoline prices this past spring and early summer.

Yet, it behooves drivers to stay up-to-date on oil changes and maintenance to get better mileage when prices are especially high.  

Sometimes messaging is the key to educating customers.

The Solution 

Shop owners can handle messaging customers in-house; however, a marketing firm is often able to streamline actions such as compiling a customer database and knowing when and how to reach out to those customers. The firm can also run outreach programs to bring new customers to the bays with coupons and special incentives.  

"A lot of our strategy is long-term stuff we are doing with our marketing company for retention," explains Frisby. "What we are doing in the long-term to increase car count for the future." 

Coming up with a long-term strategy was paramount. Frisby started in-house by using customer retention strategies. This included sending reminders and other cyclical communications. But it soon became apparent that some outside input was required. Frisby turned to a marketing firm that works with the quick service industry, as well as other sectors in and outside of the automotive industry. 

Sometimes shop owners need to understand that they need to focus on what they do best, and call in an outside firm for such services.  

"The company works on marketing to customers when they need it. They have an algorithm that does a really good job," Frisby says.  

Customers get reminders every 90 days to alert them it's time to come in for an oil change. Communications are sent via text, email and sometimes postcards. The old methods often remain the best ways to reach the clientele.  

While customer communications is the focus of the marketing for Frisby's two Utah-based shops, staying on top of trends, technology and services go hand-in-hand with keeping customers returning.  

"We try to stay on top of the newer vehicles," explains Frisby, who adds that his Spanish-Fork shop has developed a reputation for servicing high-end cars. "We try to be able to service the vehicles that come in the door."  

Customer-focused services are a strong point for both Frisby's locations.  

"A big thing for us is how to add in ancillary services," Frisby says, using the example of resetting the oil-change notifications, which has often required a dealership service center in the past.  

"I don't know that we've done it with the intent of increasing car count," details Frisby. "We do it for the customers."  

The Aftermath 

Ryan Frisby now has two shops operating in two different stages of business. The Payson location is well established with the local clientele, having been established in the community. The Spanish Fork shop was still somewhat new when Frisby enlisted the help of a marketing agency. Yet, both shops benefitted from the regular outreach to customers and other marketing efforts.  

"We've been seeing an increase in car counts," states Payson. "With the Payson location we thought we'd plateaued and then dropped due to competition. 

The numbers started to rise with each campaign.  

"We have seen the car counts start to grow over the last two or three years. I wasn't sure with the mature location if we would see that kind of growth" he says. 

After Frisby had success with the marketing company, Valvoline contracted with the same firm to handle marketing across its business. "Valvoline has brought them on as well," says Frisby. 

The Takeaway 

Marketing is one part of a long-term strategy to increase car counts. Though marketing to customers is a crucial part of the package. Frisby was able to handle customer communications, but has experienced increased success since bringing in an outside marketing firm.  

"Just finding the right partnership is going to help," states Frisby. 

Whether working on customer retention and bringing in new drivers in-house or with an outside marketing firm, it is important to create near and long-term goals to keep the business growing.  

"We always said we needed to reach [a certain number] of cars a day," he says. "Once we hit those we adjust." 

Long-term goals are necessary to achieve those goals. 

"I always tell my guys that it's not just what we're doing today, but what can we do better than we are doing now," Frisby says. "Otherwise we are stagnant and going backwards."

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the shops are not franchised operations. They are under an independent operator program.