In order for most businesses to survive and thrive they need to be able to change with the times. Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Businesses need to take on that same approach. Burger King now offers veggie burgers, Dunkin’ Donuts offers green tea, and now even fast lube places may need to go beyond the basic oil change services.
According to Chris Tolsdorf, president of the Automotive Oil Change Association and owner of four quick lube locations throughout Chester County, PA, just doing lube oil filters is a thing of the past. “I don’t think that there’s any healthy quick lube out there that is just doing oil changes. To really succeed in this business at this point, you have to be doing a lot of extra services,” he said.
About seven or eight years ago, the vast majority of quick lubes were getting by on oil changes, air filters and fluid top-offs and were offering other services, but they weren’t a high percentage of their sales, Tolsdorf said. But, since then, he said, there has been a huge explosion.
Oil change needs, quality and competition
Tolsdorf gave four reasons for this change in the fast lube industry landscape:
- Drain intervals have extended beyond the 3,000 mile oil change intervals — his average customer gets their oil changed every 5,200 to 5,300 miles — and that interval will only get larger;
- The quality of motor oil is much better than it was 15 years ago;
- Engines are built better; and
- There are a lot more places out there doing oil changes, such as Midas and Meineke, two companies that apparently aren’t just doing brakes and transmissions and exhaust systems anymore.
So, with those three reasons outlined, where do quick lube businesses go from here?
Tolsdorf said to start by having good access to what the manufacture recommendations are for the maintenance for each vehicle. He thinks it’s a good idea to stick with alternative services that are within the preventative maintenance realm. But, even that could change, he said.
“One thing I’m going to start looking at more seriously as an operator is brakes —not fixing the brakes, but replacing the pads before they get too low,” Tolsdorf said.
But what will added services do to the “quick lube” or “fast lube” branding that goes with each business? “That’s a very good question,” Tolsdorf said. “I believe that there is still plenty of demand for quick, convenient oil changes. You still have to change the oil in your car on a regular basis, whether it’s at 3,000 miles or 7,500 miles, and I think there is still a big demand for getting that done quickly. It will never go up to every 40,000 or 50,000 miles.”
Doing the math, a quick lube can lose up to 50 percent of their business when oil is being changed in larger intervals. “If you’re not making that up by capturing more market and getting more customers in your door, then you’ve got to find other ways to supplement that lost revenue,” Tolsdorf said.
Customers need to know what you’re capable of
Some operators seem to be hesitant to add services because of the employee training involved with each additional service, but Tolsdorf said this problem is negligible. “Certainly they have to be trained, but the vast majority of quick lube employees have been doing these services for a long time. What could be different is how aggressive quick lubes are in making sure customers know that these services can be done there and are needed.”
Employees need to be proactive and businesses need to go all out to let customers know about all of the services offered. “The key thing is to sit down with the customer during a service review and get the customer to understand that you can do these services and that they’re recommended by their vehicle’s manufacturer.”
Tolsdorf thinks some quick lube employees are hesitant to spend a lot of time with each customer because they’re geared toward speed and to get the customer and the car in and out quickly. “But, if you have the opportunity to take a little extra time, two or three minutes, to sit down and really talk with the customer and go over the car, we find invariably that the customer really appreciates it and that you are much more likely to have that customer purchase those extra services.”
However, if more time is being spent on each vehicle, it might mean that fewer customers are being serviced. Not to worry, said Tolsdorf. “I think that the quickness part is still something that the customer still really desires and the way we market it to our customers is we tell them the services they will need and how long it will take.” Some customers will say “sure” and others will say they don’t have the time now, but will come back, he said.
The downsides to an expanded menu
There are two major downsides, according to Tolsdorf. “You open yourself up to more liability as the more you do, the more changes there are for messing something up, so you have to make sure your training is very good. And employees can be tied-up more and a backlog of customers.”
To get around a customer who might not be happy about a longer wait Tolsdorf said that you just have to be honest and upfront.
“The customers are still coming to us first and foremost for an oil change, so you have to make sure you’re getting that part done. If there are seven cars lined up, I don’t think there’s anything wrong in saying to that customer that, ‘here’s what you need and we don’t have time to do it today. But, it’s not a big deal as its preventative maintenance and there’s no reason you can’t get it done the next time you come in. Here’s our price and you should find it very competitive and the next time you come in, we’ll get it done for you.”
Debra Gorgos is the managing editor of Professional Carwashing & Detailing magazine.She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org