2015 Tops in the Industry Rankings: Music Edition

Feb. 27, 2015

Music is a universal language. It speaks to everyone in some form or fashion. And just like language, music has its own dialects — or genres, to be more specific. This is how I perceive the automotive industry, anyway. An eclectic mix of genres all encompassing one major theme: cars. Whether your genre sticks to what it knows best, such as rock ’n roll, or goes off the beaten path, like country, the automotive industry plays on. Every year, we undertake an extensive research program to identify and rank the top auto service chains in the nation — and around the world.

Music is a universal language. It speaks to everyone in some form or fashion. And just like language, music has its own dialects — or genres, to be more specific. This is how I perceive the automotive industry, anyway. An eclectic mix of genres all encompassing one major theme: cars. Whether your genre sticks to what it knows best, such as rock ’n roll, or goes off the beaten path, like country, the automotive industry plays on. Every year, we undertake an extensive research program to identify and rank the top auto service chains in the nation — and around the world.

Before we examine the rankings, however, we first have to define the terms we use in this study. For starters, what exactly is a “fast lube” facility? Well, we classify a fast lube as any business that derives the majority of its sales from quick, convenient oil changes and other automotive preventive maintenance services. Businesses that merely offer oil changes as an additional service (i.e. a tune-up shop, mass merchant retailer, tire store, etc.) fall into another category.

We do not require a fast lube to meet the traditional architectural definition of a quick lube, however. That is, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a roll-in, roll-out multi-bay shop with a pit/basement system. A converted muffler shop with 10 bays and nothing but lifts would qualify as long as the primary focus of the business is providing customers with quick oil changes and other maintenance services. By our way of thinking, it’s still a fast lube.

While this definition is broader than that used by some entities, we maintain that if a majority of a facility’s income is derived from quick oil changes and other maintenance work, that facility should be called a fast lube.

What about facilities that have dual profit centers, like a carwash/fast lube, cobranded facilities like Midas/SpeeDee or tire stores that also have lube bay or two? To clarify this gray area, we categorize these facilities as “oil change-plus” shops. This category also includes muffler shops, auto repair shops, mass merchant retailers, etc. All these places will change oil, but it’s not their primary business model.

The second term we must define is a “chain.” For our purposes, a fast lube chain is any six or more fast lube facilities owned by the same company/individual/business entity and/or operated under the same or similar signage. That’s why a brand like Havoline xpress lube, which is actually comprised of individual owner/operators who have entered into an agreement with Havoline to use xpress lube signage, is grouped together as a chain.

Further, we frequently run across independent lube operations that might own six or more of these branded facilities. To avoid double-counting those shops, we group them into a separate listing we call “Associated Lube Chains.”

Also, we’d like to mention the sponsorship of this year’s Tops in the Industry study. Sometimes, we publish only select data in the magazine, reserving information about oil change-plus companies, industry sales, overall store population, etc. for a report available for sale or free to paid subscribers. However, thanks to Amsoil’s sponsorship, we are able to bring readers the full study. One final note before we examine the data: The information we publish was reported to us directly from the companies we contacted or from independent sources we deem reliable. It is believed to be accurate and current as of February 28, 2015. 

Rock ’n Roll: Fast Lubes 2015

Fast lubes are the rock ’n roll genre of the automotive industry. It’s timeless, has its set beats and rhythms and has influenced countless other genres, while staying true to itself.

The 53 operating fast lube chains on this year’s list operate a total of 6,736 facilities, which is an increase of nine facilities from last year’s total. Just like how rock ’n roll has never gone out of style, the quick lube industry keeps steady on its path. To quote a line from the AC/DC classic “Rock ’N Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution,” “Rock ’n roll ain’t gonna die…rock ’n roll, it will survive.”

Staying at the top of the charts yet again is Jiffy Lube, which operates 1,928 shops and had a 1 percent decrease in population year over year. Jiffy Lube is expected to open an additional 25 stores in 2015. Valvoline Instant Oil Change remained at the No. 2 spot and saw a 3 percent growth. It’s planning on opening an additional 25 stores and currently operates 929 locations. Pennzoil 10-Minute Oil Change and Kwik Kar keep their chart-topping streak alive with the No. 3 and No. 4 spots, respectively operating 700 and 398 stores.

The top 10 chains remain the same but the No. 5 through No. 10 rankings are slightly mixed up from 2014. Valvoline Express Care (which saw a 2 percent growth) and Havoline xpress lube both jumped two spots from last year to land the No. 5 and No. 6 positions, respectively. Mobil 1 Lube Express dropped two places to No. 7, and Grease Monkey moved up one position to take the No. 8 place. Express Oil Change fell one spot to take the No. 9 position, yet it grew by 4 percent. Phillips 66 rounds out the top 10 with the No. 10 spot, staying consistent with their place last year.

We saw some notable gainers in the industry this year. The chain blazing up the charts was Mystik Service Center with a massive 92 percent growth by adding 11 stores to its repertoire. The Texas-based chain currently has 23 facilities and is expected to open an additional three in 2015. Behind Mystik in growth, but still impressive, is Take 5 Oil Change, which grew by 18 percent. The Louisiana-based chain added six new locations for a total of 40 operating stores. Seven more chains saw double-digit growth during 2014: Grease Monkey (17 percent), Express Lube (16 percent), Victory Lane (14 percent), Toot’n Totum (14 percent), UMC dba Speedy Lube/Zap Lube (11 percent), National Lube Express (11 percent) and Lube ’n Go (10 percent).

Other chains that grew over the past year include: Castrol Premium Express Lube, Snappy Lube, Avis Lube Fast Oil Change Center, Performance Plus Quick Lube, Valvoline Instant Oil Change, Oil Can Henry’s, Express Oil Change and Kwik Kar.

One new fast lube chain made its debut this year. California-based SynFast Oil Change currently operates 28 locations.

There were a few companies that saw a moderate decline in store count in 2014. Sinclair Dino Lube saw a 50 percent decline, but only because six locations de-branded. None of those stores closed outright. Other companies include: CITGO (22 percent), Mr. Good Lube 10 Minute Oil Change (13 percent), Grease Pro (9 percent) Mobil 1 Lube Express (8 percent), Super-Lube (8 percent), Pennzoil 10-Minute Oil Change (7 percent) and American LubeFast (2 percent).

Music evolves with the times. The bands you held near and dear to your heart might have been — according to your parents — the work of the devil, and I’m sure you could say the same about the music kids listen to now. One thing’s for sure, though; quick lubes, just like rock ’n roll, will be around for a long time.

Of the top 52 operating chains, 18 of them showed growth over the last year, while only nine of them (which is down from last year’s 11) showed a decrease in population. There was one new chain added, and 25 chains achieved a consistent store count. This means that 83 percent of chains in the fast lube industry rocked out in 2015, seeing growth or no change in store population — an increase of 5 percent from 2014.

The industry’s associated chains put on their leather jackets and rocked the 2015 stage, too. The top eight associated chains remain the same as last year. Only two chains saw a moderate decline in store population, but their place in the rankings remain the same. No. 3 Fast Change Lube & Oil currently operates 21 Pennzoil 10-Minute Oil Changes — a 9 percent decrease from last year. No. 6 Speed Lube 10-Minute Oil Change currently operates 15 Pennzoil 10-Minute Oil Change facilities — a 6 percent decline from 2014.

No associated chains saw growth in 2014, but just like any rock band worth its salt, they’re primed to take back the spotlight in 2015.

When it comes to U.S.-based lube chains operating in foreign countries, Mobil 1 Centers and Texaco Havoline xpress lube are the major rock stars. Just like Axl Rose’s beer gut, Mobil 1 Centers swelled up out of nowhere and added an impressive 347 foreign locations in 2014, bringing its total to 2,800. Texaco Havoline xpress lubes stayed steady with its 1,432 facilities. Midas Auto Service Experts rounds out the top three chains with its 1,037 foreign facilities. Three more companies saw growth in the foreign sector: Midas Auto Service Experts, Jiffy Lube and Meineke Car Care Centers. One new company was added to list. Valvoline Express Care currently operates eight foreign facilities.

Country: Oil Change-Plus 2015

“Of emotion, of love, of breakup, of love and hate and death and dying, mama, apple pie and the whole thing. It covers a lot of territory, country music does.” — Johnny Cash, country music legend.

Country music expresses a plethora of emotions, but there are also numerous versions of country: bluegrass, country rock, honky tonk and country-pop crossovers.

Just like country music, oil change-plus facilities dabble in a little bit of everything, including — you guessed it — oil changes. Goodyear Tire & Service Network Outlets dethroned Wal-Mart, once again claiming the No. 1 spot on the Oil Change-Plus list. Goodyear is currently operating 2,609 facilities and observed an 8 percent growth during last year.

Once again, the top 10 oil changeplus chains of 2014 are also the top 10 oil change-plus chains of 2015, but in a different order.

Wal-Mart Tire & Lube Express fell one spot to the No. 2 position, thanks to Goodyear reclaiming the No. 1 spot. However, Wal-Mart TLE saw a 3 percent growth from last year, adding an additional 63 stores by either new construction or integrating a Tire & Lube Express to current Wal-Mart locations. TBC Corp. (formerly TBC Retail Group) remained steady with 2,400 locations and clinched the No. 3 spot once again.

Five of the top 10 chains saw growth during 2014: the aforementioned Goodyear TSNO and Wal-Mart TLE, No. 5 Meineke Car Care Center (8 percent), No. 6 Monro Muffler Brake & Service (4 percent) and No. 7 Pep Boys (1 percent).

Three of the top 10 chains reported a decrease in store numbers from 2014 to 2015: No. 8 Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center (2 percent), No. 9 Aamco Transmissions & Total Car Care (7 percent) and Sears Auto Centers (18 percent).

One thing to note is even while decreasing slightly in store count, Quick Lane jumped up two spots from last year, going from No. 10 to No. 8.

Almost a third of the oil change-plus facilities on the list saw growth over the last year, with Commercial Tire strumming up the largest gain. This chain saw a 41 percent growth during the last year, adding 11 stores. Jacksons (formerly Danny’s Family Car Wash) dusted off its boots and saw an impressive 30 percent growth, partly due to Jacksons acquisition of Danny’s. Other chains playin’ the fiddle to double-digit growth include: Honest-1 Auto Care (20 percent), Brake Masters (19 percent), CarMax (10 percent) and All Tune & Lube (10 percent).

When it comes to singing the country blues, these oil change-plus facilities are playing a melancholy tune. Lentz USA Automotive Service Centers saw the sharpest decrease from 2014, declining 65 percent and taking them from No. 39 to No. 58. As mentioned earlier, Sears Auto Centers declined 18 percent. The only other oil change-plus chain to take a double-digit hit was Mister Car Wash & Lube Center (13 percent).

One thing to whoop and holler about is the four new chains added to the list: Jensen Tire & Auto, Theisen’s Tire & Service Center, Northwest Tire and Don Foshay’s Discount Tire.

Overall, 45 out of the 57 chains saw store populations increase or stay the same since 2014. This means 79 percent of oil change-plus chains are whistlin’ Dixie and want to keep that feel-good country vibe alive.

Estimating the Industry’s Size

Every year as part of our Tops in the Industry study, we estimate the fast lube industry’s overall facility population and sales. We calculate facility population using a carefully honed formula that takes into account the increasingly gray area that exists between a “true” fast lube (i.e. those companies with facilities represented on our fast lube chains list) and oil change-plus facilities. In other words, the formula attempts to take into account the fact that many more shops are blurring the line between oil change and oil change-plus category, simply because they are deriving more and more income from automotive maintenance. We recognize while companies may be included in the oil change-plus category, many of their individual stores will, in fact, be counted as fast lubes on their share of the auto maintenance work.

We estimate as of March 1, 2015, there are approximately 16,907 fast lube facilities in operation, essentially a 0 percent change in store population. We have heard anecdotes to support this statistic. Many facilities have been going through acquisitions — either buying stores or being bought themselves — and while some shops currently sit vacant, there are a few new builds popping up here and there. This shows that while some operators in the industry may occasionally lose that rock ’n roll edge, most are still putting out consistent hits that are tearing up the charts.

Using the average car count, ticket average and days open per year figures from our 2014 Fast Lube Operators Survey, we estimate industry sales will be approximately $13.7 billion this year. Other pertinent figures that help define the fast lube industry include: • The average fast lube customer changes his or her motor oil every 4,597 miles — down four miles from last year. (Source: NOLN Fast Lube Operators Survey) • The average age of the U.S. passenger vehicle population stays steady at 11.4 years. (Source: IHS Automotive) • The total vehicles in operation in 2014 was about 253 million, mainly due to an increase in new vehicle sales and low scrappage rates. (Source: Experian Automotive) The fast lube industry has continued to play those power chords and rock out in recent years, producing moderately stable population numbers. With a stream of aging vehicles requiring maintenance and an increased number of vehicles on road, the industry is poised to bring out its inner rock star and play to sellout crowds.

Check out this year's TOPS in the Industry Rankings here.