The Littlest Detail is the Biggest Thing

Why is it that some quick lube shops can effortlessly do non-stop fast-oil changes, along with a healthy dose of extra services, and do it all in a timely, mistake-free fashion, while others struggle to just get through a few oil changes without running into issue after issue — problems that slow down the whole operation — never allowing them to really get into the groove of a great day?

It all has to do with the rhythm of your crew and how well they work together. There is no doubt, every person on your team must be tuned in to what the rest of the crew is doing, is about to do or has just done — without having to be told. Think of your day in the lube shop as your “performance” for your “audience” — your customers.

Just as audiences at a concert do not go to the show to watch their favorite entertainers stand still on a stage and play scales on a guitar, your customers do not come to your “venue” — aka shop — to just have you go about the mundane business of draining old oil, putting in fresh oil and screwing on a new filter. Anybody with even a modicum of mechanical ability and only a couple of hand tools can easily do an oil change on their car in their own driveway, yet they choose to come to you. Why is that?

Is it because they don’t know how to do the work themselves? Certainly, that accounts for a large portion of customers. Or, is it they don’t have the time to do it themselves, even if they do have the skills? That is surely another percentage of your customers’ reasons for coming to you. Then, there are those who just don’t want to do it themselves — even though they might have the time, skill and tools necessary to do so.

Why Your Shop?

So, we’ve established why oil change customers come to lube shops — no mystery there. However, let’s try to understand why they would choose to come to your lube shop as opposed to your competition. What is it about your lube shop that attracts your regular customers to you over the other lube shops they could be going to in your area?

Well, it could be the price. Is your price lower than the competition? That will surely get customers through the door — at least the first time. However, if what they find once they get through that low-price door is poor service, a dirty shop, sloppy work and indifferent employees, they surely will not be back. That is the ultimate waste of time and money on your part if you are guilty of this.

We all realize how difficult it is these days to get a fresh customer through our doors, and if you go the trouble of discounting your oil change to achieve that —basically giving up your profit margins and the reason we are ultimately doing all this — just to get them to come in that first time, only to provide a service that is neither impressive nor memorable enough to get them to want to come back again at your regular price, then you have gone to all of that effort and expense for absolutely nothing!

Are your customers coming because of your proximity? Is your shop located in a good traffic area; a place where most of the local residents pass by daily and are constantly reminded that you are there, ready to serve them? If so, you are one of the lucky ones. There are many lube shops located in not-so-prime locations that do not have the luxury of a huge contingent of possible customers driving by at all hours of the day and night.

The truth of proximity is not what many think it is; however, a well-located lube shop that enjoys a healthy car count solely because of its prime location is many times operated with an indifference to their good fortune and its management may not feel the need or pressure to actually do their best at running a successful, customer-friendly, high-volume lube shop. They simply gather up all the low-hanging fruit without any real effort to maximize their day by actively picking fruit from the tree’s higher branches.

Over the years, I have been witness to many lube shops around the country that are part of a chain, and the No. 1 store of that chain is heralded by the owner as his best store, naturally. He will usually refer to this store as his best-run, best-managed and best-staffed store, all on the assumption that the higher car counts obviously equate to the best overall location in terms of operations. He may even use this store as his training location, thinking that they “just do it” better than the rest of his locations.

Many times, my observations have been exactly the opposite. While this may, indeed, be the highest car-count location day-in and day-out, this situation is often not because of the great service they provide, but in reality it is in spite of the poor service they provide. The customers just keep coming in out of convenience. What is far more telling and impressive is a location in a not-so-great area that continues to show positive car count growth and has a vocal and happy base of repeat customers. That store is showing the rhythm.

OK, So What is the Rhythm?

Rhythm is all the little nuances your crew must perform together as a team to ensure your customers are going to have a smooth and effortless experience on their visits.

  • When greeting a customer outside and gathering the initial information from them, does another tech make himself available at the front of the bay to properly guide the customer in without having to be told to do so? That’s rhythm.
  • As your tech is performing a lights check with the customer, does one of the other team members casually get behind the car at the exact moment to check on the rear lights, so the lead tech does not have to break his conversation with the customer by walking to the back of the car and checking himself? That is an effortless experience for the customer — and that is rhythm.
  • If some oil or gas additive chemicals are sold, does another tech get the bottles or stand ready to assist in installing them as the lead tech talks to the customer? If so, this makes the service go quicker and easier for the customer — and that is rhythm.
  • If your POS system is such that your customer service advisor enters pertinent technical information about the oil change, as well as the customer’s choices for any additional parts and services as the presentation takes place, do your hood techs begin to gather the extra-service parts and fluids needed to complete the service while the presentation is taking place in real-time? That is rhythm.

There are countless little efforts and actions that go on all day in a well-run lube shop that all contribute to the shop’s rhythm. If you find yourself having to tell the technician who normally checks tire pressures on every vehicle to check tires on each vehicle or having to ask if they were done yet, that is a sure lack of rhythm in the shop.

Excellence is Always Found in the Details

This is one of my biggest pet-peeves: Do you or anyone in your crew find themselves talking to a customer, only to find out they don’t have a pen on them? Do they say to the customer, “I’ll be right back!” and run off to find one? Or, do they reach across and take one from the pocket of another employee, only to set him up for the same situation with a fresh customer in a few minutes? This seemingly innocuous and meaningless situation brings everything you are doing with your customer to a screeching halt in an instant. It destroys any continuity you may have built up with a presentation, it takes the customer’s mind out of the frame of thought you had so carefully put him into and it makes you look unorganized and unqualified.

Imagine again that you are at the same concert we spoke of earlier, and the guitar player is at the front edge of the stage, ready to launch into his signature guitar heroics and he blurts out, “Dang, I don’t have a pick! Hang on; I’ll be right back!” Then, he runs off stage to go get a pick — a little 25-cent thing that brings this whole performance to a screeching halt right in front of your eyes. Would that be what you would consider a great performance?

The tiniest of details, like not having a pen at all times, can have a gigantic and negative impact on your business. It is these thousands of little details that give your shop the rhythm it needs to be great. It’s all in the details.

Another aspect of creating rhythm in your location is all the little things that are done during an oil change — and instantly afterward — to get ready for the next oil change, so it can progress as smooth as possible. Here is a partial list of little things done during an oil change that helps the next oil change get done more efficiently:

  • Each tool wiped down and returned to the exact proper space on the tool board or cart as soon as that car is done. This tool is now ready, instantly, for the next use and is right where it needs to be.
  • Old oil filters removed from the drain tray immediately after the car is done. Multiple oil filters in the drain tray are annoying and make for clumsy work, plus it dramatically increases the possibility of not catching an inadvertent double-gasket situation.
  • Greeting clipboards hung in the proper place, ready to be used immediately upon a fresh customer driving up.
  • Partial oil bottles combined, and empties thrown out.
  • Trash cans emptied quickly in between cars. It takes only a moment. Plus, overflowing trash cans look terrible to customers.
  • Doors and walls wiped down of fingerprints that accumulate non-stop during the day. Your entire team should be on fingerprint patrol all day, every day, non-stop. Your store cannot be too clean, so don’t worry about overdoing it.

Customers See All the Little Things

Some shops allow their customers to drive their vehicles into the bays, and to stay in their vehicle as service is performed, while other shops have a system that does not permit customers to drive their own vehicles into the service bays or to freely roam around the work-area of the shop’s bays, keeping them in the waiting area for their own safety and convenience.

No matter which style of service procedures your shop employs, do not fall into the trap of thinking that your customers cannot see, hear and experience everything that is happening in the service bay and happening to their cars.

They can, and they do. They hear much, much more than you might ever suspect. And they formulate opinions about your shop, your employees and your business in general. They may never let on what they really think about you and your crew — good or bad. Just be sure they see you at your best at all times. Again, it’s all in the details.

There is so much more than the scope of this article could really touch upon to address what the rhythm in your location really entails. So, If you want the hits to keep on coming, you better get the rhythm! The crowd is here, the stage lights have dimmed and your audience is waiting for you to entertain them — make it happen!

See ya next month.

Kit Sullivan

Kit Sullivan has more than 25 years of experience in all facets of the quick-lube arena, which have made him one of the most respected and sought-after experts in the areas of customer service, operations and sales. Sullivan's colorful and unique perspective on all aspects of daily lube shop activities have made him a favorite speaker and consultant with many lube shop owners and operators from around the country, as well as many of the industry's top vendors. Sullivan is available for consultation and speaking engagements and will show you how to "Make It Happen" for your business. Sullivan can be reached at: quicklubekit@aol.com