The Importance of Knowing the Numbers: Complete the NOLN Operator Survey Today

June 1, 2018
If you don’t realize how helpful the Operator Survey is to our industry, just listen to what these two veteran operators (and industry trainers) have to say.

The questionnaire for the annual Operator Survey was polybagged with your May issue, or you can complete it online. The survey dives deep into business operations and does take some time to complete, but it’s well worth the effort. We urge you to complete the survey by June 29. If you don’t realize how helpful it is to our industry, just listen to what these two veteran operators (and industry trainers) have to say.

From Rick Price, owner/chairman of Flagship FastLube, operating six locations in Hawaii:

“Living in Hawaii for the past 40 years, I have seen a lot of changes in this beautiful paradise in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Forty years ago, there were no “big box” stores in the islands — such as Walmart, Home Depot, Costco, SAMS Club, Kmart or Office Depot — very few national chain restaurants, and absolutely no quick lubes! Getting an oil change in Hawaii was an adventure. First, you had to identify a place that would actually do an oil change, then make an appointment, drop your car off at a time convenient for “them,” then wait for a call to come pick up your car, often the following day. Then there was the price. Every quart of oil, filter, quantity of other fluids used, etc. itemized on the invoice, and then labor was added. What a shocker! Needless to say, oil changes were not a top priority for many in the islands. How things have changed. With well over a million folks calling Hawaii home, we have all the big boxes, restaurants galore and at least 14 quick lubes, with six being my Flagship FastLube Centers.

“In 1991, literally out of necessity to get my personal and business vehicle serviced, I decided to build a quick lube, as they were becoming very popular on the Mainland, and Jiffy Lube had just built a single store on Oahu. Needless to say I knew nothing about the quick lube industry, I had other businesses in Hawaii and on the mainland taking up most of my time, but hey, how hard can it be to change oil. I opened the first Flagship FastLube in September 1992, with great excitement and fanfare, employed a staff to manage and operate it and returned to running my other businesses. A year later the wheels were coming off my fast lube venture. Cost of goods and labor were out of control, advertising was missing the mark, training was lacking and it was draining on my other businesses. I learned very quickly there was a lot more to changing oil than I could have ever imagined. But who had the answers? I asked my manager if there was an organization or association that dealt with quick lubes. He pitched me a copy of the National Oil and Lube News (NOLN), and a whole new world opened up. Wow, as I began to read I immediately saw that this was the real deal, a real industry and that I’m not alone. That issue was also my introduction to the Automotive Oil Change Association (AOCA). A call later that day to AOCA was my introduction to Steve Christie, executive director of the association, and the very next day, I was on a plane to Irving, California, to attend my first AOCA regional meeting. It changed my life. The rest is now history. However, I know for certain if it had not been for NOLN and AOCA, I would have never survived in the quick lube industry or attained the level of success the business enjoys today.

“One of the most important things I’ve learned is ‘knowing the numbers,’ and NOLN’s Annual Fast Lube Operator Survey is the absolute key to knowing the numbers in the quick lube industry. Averages for cost for labor, cost of goods, services offered, rents, advertising and insurances have all been part of past and recent NOLN surveys. These averages have kept me on track for more than 25 years, and I know if I keep my numbers in line with, or better than, the average, my shops will be successful. It is that easy. There is no mystery to the numbers — operate within or better than averages shown in the survey, and you will be successful. Fail to operate within these parameters, and then success may be more difficult. Several years ago, NOLN began to graciously provide a copy to the annual survey to each student attending the AOCA Manager’s Certification Course of Instruction. Having taught the class for many years I can say unequivocally that the survey is the best tool we have for clearly illustrating the importance of ‘Knowing the Numbers.’ The survey is priceless and should be part of every operator’s readily available reference material.

“But the only way for NOLN to gather, collate, organize, quantify and publish the survey is if each of us will take the time, and make the effort to complete and return the annual survey questionnaire that we will all received with the May issue. Our participation will assure success for all of us.”

From Kevin Davis, operator of Fast Change Lube & Oil, with 25 locations across Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia:

“The annual NOLN survey is so much more than just the cost of goods and the cost of labor. Although these are still the most important numbers to track, we need more information. In the early days of being an operator in rural Kentucky, I had no idea what was a reasonable expectation for my shops. I could look at my reports, and although the reports looked fine, I really had no way of knowing if the services we offered were the correct service, was I charging the right amount, not to mention were we selling the services within a reasonable percentage of the number of oil changes we were doing? Most business people will tell you that in order to know if you are being successful, you have to know how to measure success. It is like building a fence, the only way to know if the fence is level to use a leveling tool. The NOLN annual survey became my plumb bob to gauge if my shops where within a reasonable expectation. These days, my managers and I sit down and compare the survey to our operation. When the survey comes out in the September issue of NOLN, we go line by line to see how we compare with the rest of the industry. Are we offering the right services; are we charging the right price? What is our percentage of sales of any particular item versus the industry? These are hard questions that we could not answer without the help of the survey. We keep in mind that for our part of the country, we may have a plus or minus one way or the other, but even then, we have an explanation of why we are performing at certain levels.

“As a trainer for AOCA’s Management Training Course, we use the survey as a reference guide to what a shop could be or should be doing. There are always those times during one of the training sessions that someone will realize they have been ‘leaving money on the table’ simply because they have not been charging enough for a particular service, or worse yet, haven’t been offering the service at their shop. As a core principle of the training course, we stress the importance of offering a quality service at a reasonable price and an honest desire to serve our customers. Occasionally, someone will realize they have been overselling a service, which is only apparent when they have the survey to compare what the rest of the industry is doing versus the numbers from their shop. The NOLN survey is the tool to enhance services, compare pricing and forecast what percentage of business you can expect.

“As an industry, our participation in completing the survey in full is one of biggest investments you can make for your shop and for our industry. Please take a minute to fill out the survey and return to NOLN. The survey is only as good as we make it, but in order for all of us to benefit, we need you to do your part.”