Griffin, Georgia — it’s America’s typical hometown. The laid-back atmosphere says this is the way life should be. And it’s funny that no matter where you’re from, in a way, you feel like you’ve been here. Maxi-Lube Tire and Auto recently celebrated 30 years as an important local business that gives back to the community. With service consistently rated at 5 out of 5 stars on Yelp, the friendly, honest, positive-minded spirit of the Shell family has kept employees and customers loyal and business booming for three decades.
The Patriarch, Mike Shell
At 17, Mike joined the US Air Force as an F-4 aircraft mechanic. During his six years in the Air National Guard as an aircraft and equipment mechanic, he landed a job with Northwest Airlines that lasted 16 years until he was transferred to Memphis. That move would require an exhausting 422-mile, eight-hour commute from Griffin to Memphis to keep the job and, eventually, a major move for the family. No deal.
Unknown to Mike, on his way back home, he happened to show up at the right time with the right stuff to launch a legendary career in our industry. Mike’s uncle had just started up a sweet little quick lube business when Mike, a talented manager with extraordinary mechanical skills, returned home without a job. His uncle asked Mike if he would like to give the lube business a shot. After two years, it was a natural fit, and Mike bought the place in 1990. Reflecting on that life-changing transaction — in an amazingly modest way and barely audible — Mike said, “It seems the Lord worked it out.”
The beauty in this story lies in the old saying, “Charity begins at home.” Christian-owned and -operated, Maxi-Lube’s “family” is comprised of 22 employees.
“We love our people as if they were our own children,” said June Shell, matriarch of the family business. “Some employees — like a lot of folks — had fathers who weren’t around very much. So, we can understand why they feel close to us, because we try to make up in any way we can for what might be missing.”
It Runs in the Family
Take employees Wayne and Michelle Parker. Wayne is Maxi-Lube’s Head Mechanic, who has been with the Shell family since he was 15 years old. A perpetual student of everything automotive, he operates at the cusp of the latest technology. Asked if he would ever leave for greener pastures, he scoffed and said, “Why would anyone in their right mind ever leave a good family?”
The same holds true for general manager, James Carden, a master technician in his 29th year with Maxi-Lube. He speaks not in terms of employer-employee but rather of a relationship much closer.
“I came here right from high school. I never intended to stay on, but the Shells were an answer to a prayer — and all these years later, they still are,” Carden said. “When you see loyalty like this for no explainable reason, you don’t just walk away looking for something better. We’re very close with the Shells — in fact, I asked them to be godparents for my kids.”
Mike Shell, Jr. started in the pit at 13 years old, standing tiptoe on a box, changing oil. For the last 20 years he has become the area’s undisputed expert in tire service, sales and maintenance. His wife and three daughters are his first love, although he admits to an obsession with the business.
“I’ll often get up in the middle of the night to check our CCTV to see if the place is safe,” he said. “One late night, I saw a man sleeping in our dumpster and had the police check it out. At three in the morning I’ll sit up and remember, ‘Hey! I need to order tires for that customer.’”
Stephen Shell, the youngest son, is a music teacher who was away from the family business for 10 years, spending school breaks leading Christian missionary trips for his church into difficult overseas locations.
“But I’m back home for good, now,” Stephen said. “My place is here at home in Griffin, helping out with the family business.”
Mike Sr.’s sons outdo themselves in singing their father’s praises. They enthusiastically interrupted each other: “Dad takes good care of our employees in every way — we help our employees and customers purchase homes, vehicles.” “We’ve been blessed with an abundance, and we want to help others with what we have.” “Yeah, the Lord’s given us more than we can use.” “We’ve never wanted for anything, so if we sense a need we’re eager to respond.”
Each of the Shells eats, sleeps, lives and breathes the business on an average of 60 hours each per week, and it’s all rooted in a firm belief that they’re here to serve. Kim Blaine, the daughter in the family, also worked as a receptionist for years, but now focuses on family life as a stay-at-home mom.
Outstanding Customer Loyalty
Typical of customer comments is Barry Cooper’s, a pillar with the fire department of neighboring Henry County, enjoying fellowship with townsfolk there waiting for their oil changes. We asked, “How long have you been coming here for service?”
“I’d say about 30 years,” he stated with pride.
Then, the same question was put to Mac McCullough, who was sipping a cold Mountain Dew. Out front on a 30-year-old bench on this sunny day, he’s chewing the fat with a younger customer in a cammo cap — no generation gap here — and they’re talking like old friends. We ask, “How long have you been coming to Maxi-Lube?”
“All of 30 years — and I’ll tell you something, it’s the best service up and down the hill! These folks are good. They’re honest, and they’re absolutely reliable.”
Then, looking to get Mike Shell’s attention, who is with a customer, Mac shouted, “Hey Mike! You owe me an oil change for this!”
June Shell offered this: “We’ve been very blessed because we have always been truthful. We’ve never tried to sell anything or any service that our customers did not need.”
Mike Jr. chimed in: “We’ve often discouraged sales, like with tires, for example. Customer comes in and says he was told he needed four new tires. We tell the customer, no, you really don’t need new tires right now. You’ve got quite a few months of good driving left. Come see us in the spring.”
Changing Oil. Changing Lives.
Shell’s Maxi-Lube is a generous contributor to the community. The good things that Mike and his family do are notable, but not easily pried from them, considering their modesty. For years they have been restoring and donating vehicles to needy women of the community, assisting women’s organizations with repairs and maintenance, supporting Little League, purchasing equipment for the Griffin Police Department, sponsoring golf tournaments, supporting cancer drives and assisting the Junior Deputy Program with all-expense paid trips to Washington for youngsters, to mention a few.
A Tip of the Hat
“In 1990, when we bought the place, National Oil and Lube News was a start-up publication, and we began receiving copies,” Mike Sr. recalled. “Since then, the articles, news, the surveys and business advice have made a difference in the success we’ve had. I remember it took off when some suppliers like Castrol and Mighty and others ran ads and contributed some great articles. I’ve written articles for NOLN myself, and we’ve been ‘Lube of the Month’ a couple times. It’s still a must-read in this shop.
“It’s only right to thank Castrol and Mighty Auto Parts for their support all these years. Our partnership with Mighty, in particular, for keeping our parts inventory right up to date to help us better serve our customers. Special thanks to Mighty’s president, Ken Voelker.”
Congratulations on 30 wonderful years, Maxi-Lube — a business model whose success has come from unselfishly putting their employees and community first.