Putting His People First

April 22, 2021
Owning an independent shop has been freeing for Eric Galindo, especially with how he’s managed his employees

Eric Galindo has seen firsthand the pitfalls of being part of a large quick lube corporation. 

For seven years, he worked as the Director of Operations for Express Lube San Antonio, Texas, overseeing 32 stores. But unexpectedly, Galindo was the first employee to be let go when Take 5 Oil Change acquired the company in 2016. 

After a few years running a Midas repair shop in Houston, Galindo returned to his roots in San Antonio. He now runs his own independent chain, Oil Change Express of San Antonio, and has expanded his company’s network to 10 stores with one thing on the mind: his people. 

“The biggest thing that trumps all that is being able to not hurt my people because someone in an office three states away told me to,” he says. 

With his own shop, he sets the rules, hires and fires and gets to make the final call on every decision—a scary yet freeing feeling. 

Not only does Galindo do his best to watch out for his employees, they return the favor. Galindo credits his team for the company’s growth from a single shop to an expanding territory of quick lubes in the state of Texas. 

Over 90 percent of the workers Galindo has brought on board worked with him at a previous job. The knowledge that he has the right people in place keeps the business going, and it helped the company hit the ground running. 

They understood the call outs, the system, the prices and the services they performed from the jump. It helped turn the anxiety-inducing journey of opening an independent shop into a smooth process. 

“It’s scary that your name is on every check, every lease, every loan. But in terms of building a team of quality people, I wasn’t scared at all,” he said. 

Throughout every aspect of Galindo’s new venture, having his closest confidants helping him make and execute decisions has been his key to success. 

SHOP STATS: Oil Change Express  Location: 10 locations in the greater San Antonio Area Operator: Eric Galindo Average Car Count: 25 (per store) Staff Size: 35 (combined) Ticket Average: $82

Expand, Expand, Expand

With years of managing a large network of shops and overseeing a group of district managers, Galindo is no stranger to expansion. And it’s why he’s taken an aggressive approach in growing Oil Change Express. In his mind, the best strategy for an independent shop is to add several locations quickly in a small geographic cluster. Car count is king, he says.

It helps build brand recognition, increase customer trust and opens up opportunities, like deals with fleet companies, which want to see a network of shops to make it more convenient for their drivers.  

It also helps the bottom line, Galindo says. If one shop has a bad month, the success of the other stores can offset the struggles.

Galindo has grown from one shop to 10 since he started the company in March 2019. Even accelerating his expansion during COVID-19. His mindset is rather simple: “If the property or lease makes sense, I want to jump on it,” he says. 

With several operators “scared to death” in the early months of the pandemic, Galindo took over the struggling businesses. He’s added five stores since March 2020 and intends to keep growing. 

Galindo acknowledges the risk that rapid expansion can have, taking away energy and resources from other stores that are just establishing themselves. But the confidence in his people is what keeps the fear at bay. 

“If you have the right people with you, you can make it work,” he says.

Taking a Step Back

The expansion forced Galindo to delegate responsibility. That was something he felt comfortable doing in his previous job but struggled with at the beginning of his own venture. Oil Change Express felt 100 times more personal than any place he worked, meaning it was that much harder to let go.

But after the second and third stores opened, the long nights of managing payroll began to wear on him, so he hired another employee to handle the operations side. They handle all the accounting and administrative work. 

“I wouldn’t be here without her, honestly,” he says. 

Even with a team he trusted completely, loosening his grip on every facet of the business was one of the biggest barriers he had to overcome. It wasn’t sustainable, especially with how fast the company grew. It’s his biggest piece of advice to others that are expanding or starting their own shop. 

“Swallow your pride. I learned a long time ago, you can’t do it yourself. I tried,” he says. 

The rapid expansion, especially into others markets like Houston, has required Galindo to hire outside his pool of trusted technicians and advisors. But he regards himself as a good test of character, and he would much rather hire someone with the right attitude. Skills can be taught, he said, attitude and respect cannot. 

Marketing What the Big Players Couldn’t

Galindo’s new venture wasn’t without its risks. In the San Antonio area, Galindo says they have plenty of Take 5 and Jiffy Lubes nearby, and at least six or seven Valvolines. 

But after working at a high level at a large corporation, Galindo felt he was in a unique position to start his own venture. He understood what the big companies did well and what they didn’t and the barriers that his independent shop would have to overcome. 

“If you’re in the oil business, nine times out of 10, customers are going to tell you, ‘oh you’re like Jiffy Lube,’” he says. 

And while his shop's services mirrored what is offered at a big-name quick lube, its messaging and marketing didn’t. 

“We are San Antonio’s last local oil change. We really are,” he says.

That was the message when the first Oil Change Express opened and it continues to be even as they expand. He makes sure his employees do everything they can to show they care about the community. 

Galindo’s team did outreach through community channels digitally and through word of mouth. They have a strong facebook presence and canvassed the city streets with flyers and banners.

And when COVID hit, Galindo’s car count went up as his community, along with many across the country, rallied around local businesses. Out of all the big quick lube players in town, Galindo’s shops were the only ones that didn’t adjust hours, lay anybody off or furlough anyone. 

His workers are grateful for that, he says, especially considering nearly all of them have worked at a major oil change company in the past and harbor some resentments about how they treat their workers. 

“We kept everything running,” he says. Galindo believes that vote of confidence and commitment to his employees will be returned. “Once we get through this mess, they’re going to be loyal. They’re going to take care of me.”

Lavana Howard, vanna d. photography
Photo 112175298 © Weerapat Wattanapichayakul | Dreamstime.com
Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez