You’ve taken the leap to add a quick lube, now you need to make sure it’s a profitable business. First things first, you need to position yourself as a professional lube shop owner/operator, rather than simply a professional carwash owner/operator with a fast lube business on the side.
To do that, you’ll need to operate your fast lube as an enterprise that has different requirements than your carwash — like its own business plan, marketing strategy, professional staff, target audiences, and suppliers.
Comparable or complementary
Just because two businesses are in close physical proximity, does not mean they are, or even should be operated as similar businesses. This is especially true for a carwash and a fast lube. In fact, the only three attributes they will probably share are location, ownership and the need for a robust point-of-sale (POS) system. It is for the very reasons that they differ that these two businesses are complementary, which makes ownership of both extremely beneficial in certain economies.
Consider the impetuses that motivate a consumer to pay for a carwash, and then the flushing of a coolant system. The first is far more often than not a discretionary purchase. The latter, if positioned properly by strategic marketing and messaging, can be considered non-discretionary and perhaps even a prudent, money-saving expenditure.
In depressed economies, down turns in your carwash business can be offset by a spike in revenues from your fast lube operation — but only if your business is equipped with the proper tools and resources to enable you to implement effective marketing strategies.
In the fast lube business, service histories will become the single most important resource in your efforts to build a solid base of repeat business from loyal, satisfied customers. Your ability to capture and present these service histories will depend on the tools you select to operate your business. And the most important tool in this arsenal will be your POS system.
Customer relationship selling
Consumers naturally prefer to buy from people they know and trust. Build relationships with your customers and your business will grow. It’s often stated that it costs about five times more to attract a new customer as it does to keep an existing customer.
In his article, “Software sells: Using technology to up sell,” (PC&D April 2006), author Jim Rowland, regional sales rep for Innovative Control Systems, reinforces the concept of educating the customer and not simply selling him. What better resource than you does a customer have to tell him when to change his air and oil filters, flush his coolant system, replace his cabin filter, and inflate his tires?
By suggesting and offering the customer those services that are specifically recommended by their own vehicles’ manufacturers at the proper intervals, you will earn their trust, which is job one in building a relationship. Rowland recommends that “implementing the right lube software can help you earn your customer’s trust, maintain your target ticket average and keep your costs down…this type of consistent, simple presentation will be much better received than the old ‘your filter looks awfully dirty’ routine.”
Not your father’s POS system
The new POS systems have evolved into tools that no longer simply help you operate and manage your business – they can now play an integral role in building and sustaining your business by providing you with a key competitive differentiator.
They are capable of storing, maintaining and presenting to your customers in a simple, visually appealing graphical display the services provided in the past for each of their vehicles, manufacturer recommend services, and the services that will be required during their next scheduled visit.
The new, robust software is sophisticated, yet easy to operate. The hardware is compact and durable. Keyboards and often even the mouse have been replaced by touch screen technology as the primary input device. This is the same technology used by restaurants and other retail outlets for years. Monitors are normally much larger, with flat screens that display colorful large icons and graphics. Microsoft Windows is the most popular operating system due to its universal recognition, ease of use, and its ability to support most “plug and play” hardware devices.
In his article, “Getting the most out of your quick lube software,” (PC&D April 2007), Craig Harris, national sales manager for Auto Data, Inc., recommends that you give serious consideration to a POS system “geared toward the lube business” that has “a graphical user interface that makes it easier for your employees to use and train new hires.” Harris also advises you to look for touch screen technology for ease-of-use. “Invest in a POS system that will yield results for your quick lube business…in the form of time or money. The resulting dividends will be paid back to you in happier customers, higher profits, and increased control of your business.”
But just having a fully functional POS won’t build your business. Emphasize using the information and presentation format of your POS to focus on building relationships with your customers. It’s important that you don’t over think the whole process. Simply engage the customer in a conversation that presents the specific maintenance services that your POS identifies as required for your customer’s car now. I recommend that our customers make their presentations conversational. Let the customer weigh the facts and make an informed decision based on the services presented. You’ll be viewed as a trusted advisor, rather than a salesman.
Cutting to the chase
If you can swing it financially, diversifying your carwash with a fast lube operation makes a lot of sense — but only if you approach the venture with the proper frame of reference. The lube shop needs to be run as a unique operation, with its own profit projections and ROI requirements. It can provide relief in a down economy if marketed properly and substantial revenue growth in a strong economy. But always consider your fast lube operation complementary, not comparable to your carwash business.
A recommended exception is to select a fast lube POS that can also manage your carwash business, since the requirements are substantially the same as the lube side requirements. The more robust lube POS systems on the market today can meet this requirement.
Remember, people would like to keep their vehicles running smoothly, efficiently, on the road as long as possible and out of the mechanic’s shop as much as possible. You can provide evidence that your services will do just that. Conversely, they don’t necessarily require their vehicles to be clean when cash is tight.
With the proper tools — particularly a fully-functional POS — you can provide each customer with a consistent, concise, and accurate presentation of their vehicles’ current and future requirements. Presentations provided by your POS will be visually appealing, easy to deliver and easy to understand, convincing, and able to facilitate a relationship and trust building conversation between your customers and your staff.
Mark B. Miller is currently manager of sales and marketing for Sage Microsystems, developer of QuickTouch and NexGen POS systems for fast lube operations. Prior to his current position, Miller spent 17 years as operations manager for a chain of six highly successful lube centers.