Level Up During Downtime

May 5, 2021

This company made the most of a long slow period. Here’s what it learned from the process.

In pursuit of car counts, having cars in your bays is the most optimal use of business hours. Many days, that’s how it plays out for the quick lubes that are set up to handle traffic.

During a brief period without cars, techs might tidy up the pit, check inventory, or clean customer areas. That’s important routine maintenance, but those tasks are often just done when there’s extra time. 

What if operators looked at downtime work with more of a purpose? Moreover, what if your shop was saddled with downtime, and you wanted to make those hours as worthwhile as possible?

That was the situation that so many other shops found when shutdowns related to COVID-19 slowed car counts to a trickle. For California-based Oil Changers, it was an opportunity to make real investments in the company’s properties and people.

“We ran into the challenge during COVID of, do we have to send our people home?” says Eric Frankenberger, president of Oil Changers. “We wanted to find ways to maximize their pay in times when we didn't have the volume that we'd expect.”

The approach even had a name: the “Looking Great” promotion. Oil Changers leadership created an initiative to spruce up stores and catch up on maintenance, strengthen the brand, support employees, and improve the customer experience.

Moreover, the deliberate approach Oil Changers took to its COVID downtime provided lessons that could be used by any shop to make any additional time worthwhile.

“I think this program really opened up our eyes and realize that you do have opportunities to take care of this upkeep when it’s slow,” says Oil Changers territory manager Amani McCockran. “And a lot of guys continue to keep up with them.”

  • "Looking Great" at a Glance 

    The Tasks

    • Update shop art/murals
    • Deep clean pits
    • Exterior painting
    • Align brand recognition among network
    • Staff training

    The Results

    • Brand consistency
    • Incentivize and reward staff
    • Clean shops
    • Enhanced customer experience

Incentivize the team.

The Looking Great campaign was a way to keep the Oil Changers staff working paid hours during a tough period of COVID-related slowdowns. 

“We really put it out to the stores as an opportunity for them to keep their hours somewhat normalied,” Frankenberger says.

While it was an extraordinary time, the way the campaign was executed provides great lessons for shops during anytime. Finding a way for techs to keep their hours wasn’t the only incentive. 

Even if an operation has just occasional downtimes, it’s important to incentivize the work that happens in that space. It helps to motivate not just the job itself, but a job well done. Oil Changers found this to be the case with painting work, which could turn out to be an eyesore if done incorrectly.

Oil Changers incentivized people with free meals, gift cards, and other rewards for high-quality work. Frankenberger says that the techs ended up doing a great job with painting, but the use of gift cards helped other businesses during a tough time.

“The goal was to be not only supporting our teams and stores, but also supporting the local community as much as we could,” he says.

Create a roadmap toward completion.

As a territory manager with Oil Changers, McCockran oversees more than 50 locations. Like most quick lube leaders, he and his managers had lists of general upkeep and things that could be done during downtime. McCockran says that the managers had a great handle on those items that helped them plan this initiative.

“Our store managers have always historically taken true ownership in their houses, so it was pretty easy to implement,” he says.

Rather than just identifying potential tasks, Oil Changers identified those tasks and set a plan for completion, step by step.

“In any business, lube shops specifically, there’s always something to do,” McCockran says. “This program was put together for specific areas, like the interior. We had a list of items and a guideline.”

It sounds simple, but having well-prepared guidelines at the beginning helps teams get going more quickly on specific tasks, as well as gives them something to work toward.

Establish consistent branding.

At the time of this promotion, Oil Changers had been through a rebranding to update the company’s look and feel. That meant it was important to have continuity between all the locations so that customers get a similar experience across the network.

This was the guiding force behind how Oil Changers implemented its Looking Great initiative.

“We came up with it, and it was a need to get uniformity in our stores, first off,” McCockran says. “Making sure that the interiors of our stores were uniform.”

Consistent building paint schemes helped them reach this goal, but it was also in the details. McCockran says that computer stands needed to be painted black. It’s a small but impactful detail when you’re pushing for a consistent customer experience.

Of course, that attention to detail in the pursuit of cleanliness is important as well. That can make or break a customer visit.

“There's no doubt that the customer’s experience in the shop is enhanced by a clean, good looking interior of the shop,” Frankenberger says.

Encourage training whenever possible.

Oil Changers used some of its downtime to bring team members up on training. Frankenberger says that some techs went through the Automotive Oil Change Association technician academy during that time.

McCockran says that this was one area that he continues to emphasize during any kind of slow time.

“Even downtime now, the busiest stores will have periods that are slower,” he says. “Certain days of the week are slower. We try to use the time for training opportunities. There are always new crew members coming in.”

The training could be in the shop, showing new techs how to guide cars into the bay. McCockran says that some locations have been role playing customer phone calls in the stores to make sure techs are able to handle different kinds of inquiries.

The overall goal, of course, is to stay busy and productive. It’s common to have a running list of tasks that need to be done “at some point.” But what Oil Changers has shown with its Looking Great initiative is that, with a little foresight and detailed guidance, tasks can be approached more quickly and deliberately.

That’s how shops can maximize downtime, and that’s how you can ensure that your operation is doing the most for itself and for its people.

“If you want to be good at what you do, never stop working on your people,” Frankenberger says.