Jose Cervantes got his start in the auto service industry in 1999. You can say that he got his start on the ground floor.
“I started in courtesy,” Cervantes said. “I’d greet the customer when they came in, and help with windows and checking the tires.”
A classified ad in National Oil & Lube News back in 2008 found him driving two hours to a small shop for sale north of where he was living at the time, in Broward County. Speed Lube was located in Stuart, Florida. He was living and working in Miami at the time.
“My uncle actually saw the ad and told me about it,” he said. “We drove up to look at the shop, and it seemed perfect.”
Cervantes indicated having an early passion for vehicles and what made them tick. Even when he was just starting out, working for one of the large quick lube chains, he knew he wanted to make it a career. From convenience, he found his way into the bay and then, it wasn’t long before he was managing stores.
“I was bouncing around a lot. But I liked the retail aspect of the game,” Cervantes said. “I liked cars, and I liked interacting with customers.”
It was only a matter of time before Cervantes felt like he’d take the next step toward being an owner/operator of his own store.
The Treasure Coast and Stuart, where Cervantes found and acquired his first shop, is much smaller than Broward County where he was from. The culture is different, and owning a shop requires a different approach.
“Coming from big city in Broward (Miami), I’ve had to learn about small town life — you have to carry yourself in a different way,” Cervantes said. “For one thing, word-of-mouth is very important — you have to do things right the first time and all the time.”
Safety is a big concern for Cervantes. Also, paying attention to the little things. It’s how he tries to differentiate himself from his competitors.
“I tell my guys, we have to do it right all the time. I’m a stickler for safety, as well as making sure we always make sure the customer’s car doesn’t leave with any spills or missed courtesy checks,” Cervantes said.
He credits his time managing stores in Broward County for helping him cultivate relationships with vendors. He has able to draw on that experience these days.
It’s a long way from doing courtesy checks to now, owning four shops in Stuart and Vero Beach, for Cervantes. While he cited having a passion for servicing his customers’ vehicles, he also indicated he has found the real estate aspect of acquiring shops is something he enjoys — things like finding the best location, where he can maximize his efforts.
When quick lubes revolutionized vehicle maintenance, a big part of that was convenience. Cervantes said he thinks many in the industry have forgotten that.
“I’m always focusing on the basics, which, to me, has to involve convenience,” he said. “We emphasize every service has to provide value for our customers — to me, that’s convenience and efficiency. We also want that customer to know we appreciate their trust in us and work at having them become repeat customers.”
While each one of his locations does minor repairs and one shop sells tires, he said his Speed Lubes are 80-percent focused on oil changes. Getting customers in and out in 10-15 minutes is what his shops are known for, Cervantes said. He still believes in the concept of the 10-minute oil change, plus an additional amount of time to do all the checks.
This isn’t without its challenges. In a competitive labor market in the U.S., finding good help is always going to put you in competition with other similar businesses.
Cervantes works to hire the right people, then, provides them with the proper training and tries to keep them once they’re up-to-speed. He also communicates to his staff that making customers feel special is essential.
“The competition is always tough. We’re up against the tire places and dealerships, now,” he added.
The original store in Stuart will be getting a makeover and a facelift. Cervantes is excited and said he’ll be doing a special event to commemorate this. He’s still working on final details.
“It gives us a new look, but we’ll still be providing the same kind of service,” he said.
Cervantes is planning a grand re-opening event as a way to say “thank you” to his regulars and to entice first-timers.
“It’s a competitive business, and you always need to be on top of your game to be successful,” Cervantes added.