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I recently sat down with Leanne Stump, executive director of the Automotive Oil Change Association (AOCA), to discuss everything from the future of the AOCA, to how operators are overcoming some big challenges, including rising gas prices and outrageous bank fees. Stump also let me in on what’s to be expected at this year’s iFLEX Expo and what the O.K. Corral has to do with the three-day event.
Debra Gorgos: Please tell us a little about what’s going on with the AOCA right now?
Leanne Stump: Training and education are always at the forefront of the AOCA. Our Management Certification course has already been to Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Vancouver this year. It is very popular with fast lube owners because it deals with the issues of running a successful business. Most importantly, we are keeping our members abreast of a variety of issues that are threatening the industry and rallying support to fight these issues. Being a member of the AOCA is more important than ever before; strength in numbers is the only way we will prevail.
Oh, and did I mention iFLEX 2011? Putting on the premiere event for the fast-lube industry takes months of work from the staff and our committees.
DG: What are some of the biggest challenges operators are facing now?
LS: Some of the biggest issues include:
• The wild gas price swings and overall economic conditions. The cost of goods has increased significantly, a trend which will continue for the foreseeable future. Dealerships, eager for the lucrative repair business that can be the by-product of the checks done during an oil change, are jumping into the lube business in increasing numbers.
• OEM proprietary products designed to crush the fast lube industry: AOCA’s fight against General Motor’s dexos1. If GM gets away with it, other OEM’s will surely follow suit. There is no way they can afford to pay double for every OEM’s proprietary motor oil.
• Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) regulation slams fast lubes: Rampant TPMS sensor valve breakages and cap fusions costs fast lubes $100 to $500 per incident and puts them at risk for each tire pressure check service and any other tire-related services, or worse: Fines and damages due to ambiguous liability language in the federal TPMS regulation.
• EPA takes new shot at expensive used oil regs: The AOCA is defending used oil from federal regulations that could render it worthless as a recyclable commodity and end up costing each fast lube facility $5,000-$10,000 per facility per month in transporter fees and increased power costs.
• The AOCA is fighting against outrageous bank fees for credit card transactions known as “swipe fees,” which cost fast lube operators upwards of 2 percent of their profits every year.
DG: How are they overcoming these challenges?
LS: These issues are forcing the industry to expand the mix of products and services and to become better business operators. It’s also time to rethink our position in the auto maintenance and repair industry and redefine our overall objectives. Today, fast lube centers are often the only place where the consumer has a professional checking his/her automobile on a regular basis. Customer reliance can and will be increased each time we provide both excellent service and care.
DG: Please tell us about the upcoming Expo?
LS: iFLEX 2011 is in Dallas, our hometown, to celebrate 25 years of serving the industry. We have dynamic educational sessions planned, and the tradeshow floor will be filled with all the latest products and services. For the AOCA Grand Party, there will be a private rodeo and barbeque for attendees with plenty of southern hospitality and Texas-sized fun.
One new feature is the O.K. Corral. The “O.K.” stands for Obtaining Knowledge and at the Corral exhibitors will have scheduled time slots to give product demonstrations. So now, instead of just seeing what’s new, you get to see how it works.
The closing session is a continuation of the first annual AOCA Summit held earlier this year. It’s a perfect opportunity to discuss the issues and derive plans to consolidate our efforts for the future.
DG: What does the future hold for the fast lube industry and its operators?
LS: New technologies, hydrogen cars, electric vehicles, and DEF. The industry must also prepare itself for the next motor oil upgrade. One of the OEM’s major goals for newly formulated motor oils will be to make extended drain intervals a reality, while continuing to provide the engine protection that our high performance vehicles demand. Significantly extended intervals will require changes in how we do business going into the future.
A fast lube is based on convenience and outstanding customer service and, as life becomes more fast-paced, customers depend on them more and more — and the more services they can get in one stop, the better. The age of cars on the road keeps growing, and the hesitancy to make big money purchases and an increasing trend toward do-it-for-me services, bodes well for the industry.
DG: What does the future hold for AOCA?
LS: Unifying our industry is priority for the AOCA. Our industry is facing many challenges that we know about — and certainly there will be more. This industry needs to come together — we need to create a UNITED voice for the entire fast lube industry. There is strength in numbers!
No matter the sign outside your shop, the brand (or non-brand) of the oil you feature, or the logo on your uniform, we are all part of the same industry. Every fast lube owner, operator, group, franchisor, and franchisee, needs to come together. One shop, two shops, more — again, still the same industry. We need one loud and clear voice in Washington to shape the policies and regulations that affect our industry.