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How to be synthetically slick

October 11, 2010
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Synthetic oil is a bit of a mystery to many customers out there. Some think that they’ve been pressured into using a synthetic oil at a fast lube, while others have been told that if they use it once, they have to then use it forever with that vehicle, and many then say “no thanks.”

But, in terms of the “use it once, use it forever” theory, it just isn’t true, according to Shane Terry, president of North American Lubricants, Co., a company based in Scottsdale, AZ, that distributes the bulk motor oils and deals with more than 600 fast lube shops nationwide.

“That is definitely an old wives’ tale, and an untrue one,” Terry said. “From a technology standpoint, there’s absolutely no adverse affects from going from a synthetic oil, to a conventional oil, and back to a synthetic, or vice versa.”

Educate employees
John Palazzo, general manager of Mt. Maya Car Wash & Quick Lube in Brewster, NY, agreed with Terry and said that it is important to educate employees as well as the customer about what synthetic oil is and what it can do for their vehicle. “That’s where employee education is beneficial, because with most leading oils today, you’re not trapped into continuing to use them, it’s just a recommendation.”

Palazzo said that the key to selling synthetics is to know its benefits and what it can do for a vehicle and to let a customer know how they can benefit from it. Palazzo, who said about 24 percent of his customers choose synthetic oil, said that fliers from the manufacturers are shown to customers to show the benefits of using a synthetic oil.

“There’s a high response of positive purchases. Many, even though they’re not looking for the extra expense, are at least willing to try it,” Palazzo said.

But, what exactly is synthetic oil?
Synthetic oil, according to Terry, is a finish lubricant formulated from a non-conventional base oil. The technical classification according to Terry is “any motor oil formulated using a Group III or a Group IV base stock.”

It’s something that is recommended by different car manufacturers for specific vehicles, many of which are high-end, such as a Mercedes Benz, a BMW or a Corvette.

“The key to selling a synthetic oil change, and I think this is true with any quick lube service, is to base it on OEM (original equipment manufacturer) recommendations,” Terry said. The volume of synthetic oil has gone up tremendously in the last couple of years because there are more OEMs that are calling for synthetic oil in their vehicles, and it says so straight out of the owner’s manuals, according to Terry. The advantages to using the OEM recommendations is it sells the service and then they become the messengers, he said. “It’s totally different position than trying to put a ‘slick sell’ on a customer.”

I feel that a perfect percentage for a quick lube, said Terry, is for the sales to be 8 to 9 percent with synthetic oils. That way you’re not over-selling it and just to the customers who need it, and you’re not drastically affecting your cost of goods and you’re still generating a larger ticket average, he said. Terry also thinks the synthetic oil trend will increase.

Avoid buyer’s remorse
If the customer says ‘no thanks’ and doesn’t adhere to the manufacturer’s recommendation then the employee should back off, according to Terry.

“You don’t want to sell something to a customer that they don’t want or need or after the transaction they will have buyer’s remorse and you’ll lose that customer. It’s a strong-arm sell that doesn’t work with a fast lube, because a fast lube’s success is based on repeat business,” he said. “You cannot oversell your customer base, it’s a basic principle in the quick lube industry.”

Synthetic oil gets a bad reputation, Terry said, because it can be pushed on customers and some quick lubes may be pressured by oil companies to push sales. A vicious circle then ensues, he said.

The future price of synthetic oil
Oil prices are on the rise, so what does that mean for synthetic oil, which costs more than conventional oil? “I think it will go up proportionally with conventional oil,” Terry said. “I don’t think it will go up more or less than. Obviously, we’re in a pretty volatile time right now with the oil industry. With crude oil hitting a new record almost on a daily basis, the synthetic oil market will go up, but proportionally.”

Terry thinks the way to sell synthetic oil is pretty basic. “The angle we promote at our company is to not oversell it because it will create animosity and increase the cost of goods. The trend will continue, so let the manufacturer do the selling and make it an easy sell that makes everyone happy.”

Debra Gorgos is the managing editor of Professional Carwashing and Detailing magazine. She can be reached at

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