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The art of the oil change

Monday, October 1, 2012 - 08:51
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You’ve probably heard of the Tao of Pooh, The Way of the Dragon and even The Secret.  Now make way for The Value of the Oil Change. OK, it might not be as life-altering as any of those previous philosophies, but for shop owners, it can mean the difference between operating a shop that flourishes and a shop that fails miserably.


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That might sound far-fetched, but trust me, the lowly oil change can have a huge impact on the success of your shop. I know that we aren’t in the business to just do oil changes.  We don’t make much money — if any — on them and it eats up the time our technicians could be working on more profitable repairs. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important.  Let me explain how.

Oil changes are like chips and salsa at a restaurant. The restaurant gives them away for free. They lose a little money in the short term, but in the long run, they make that money up in word of mouth and repeat business. 

Over the years, I’ve found that many shops actually turn away oil changes or, worse yet, do them, but do them slowly. These shops are missing the point. Personally, I love oil changes and my shops never turn away an oil change. An oil change serves as a customer’s introduction to your business. New customers will test your organization, and how you treat that customer for something as simple as an oil change, will give them idea about your shop as a whole. 


The Secret of the Oil Change

There are two aspects of the oil change that every shop owner must keep in mind.

  1. It’s all about customer service.
  2. It’s an opportunity to upsell.

Let’s start wi

Oil changes are relatively simple and quick procedures. The average customer budgets about an hour for an oil change. And yet, so many shops can take hours to do an oil change leaving the customer stranded and frustrated. 

For instance, my next-door neighbor Jim recently got his brakes repaired. There is a shop just down the street from him but he took his car miles out of his way for his brake job.  When I asked him why he didn’t use his neighborhood shop, he replied that when he took his car in for a simple oil change, it was so busy and would have taken so long, he didn’t think they’d be able to replace his brakes in a timely manner. That is a shop that lost a big-ticket repair just because they couldn’t be bothered to do an oil change.

Simply put, speed sells when it comes to an oil change. Even if we have to push another car out of a bay, my shops always have time for an oil change and we do it within an hour. That type of fast action leaves the customer looking at your organization and saying, “Wow!”

You’re providing great customer service, taking care of their needs and doing it within a price point and timeframe they need. That customer will return to your shop for bigger repairs down the road and they’ll tell their friends and family about the great service they received at your shop.

The time factor isn’t only about great customer service, though. It can also be about upselling. If you can get a car into your bay for an oil change, it’s an opportunity for you to find and fix other problems that vehicle may have. If you can keep it within the hour time limit, customers are more likely to let you perform a flush or other minor repairs. Now you’ve turned that money-losing oil change into a $100-plus ticket.

Do an inspection for every oil change. This is essential for identifying another issue that a customer may want to address while at your shop. I always advise looking for safety issues first, because those are items that customers know they will have to fix. Once you find a safety item, inform the customer of the problem, but don’t present a hard sell. Instead, let the customer decide if the repair is worth pursuing.

If you can’t find a safety issue, then focus on a maintenance item and follow the same procedure. The chance of selling a maintenance job is less, but it’s still worth bringing an issue to the attention of a customer

Whether it’s a safety or maintenance item you’re trying to sell, remember speed is essential. If a customer asks about pricing for a repair or maintenance job, don’t make that individual wait around for an estimate. Offer to give the customer a ride to work or back home, while you get pricing information. If the customer can’t leave the car at the shop that day, offer to schedule the repair for another time and follow-up with a call.

If you do your job right and get customers out within an hour and take care of their needs, they will return to your shop at a later date, when they will spend more money.

From my experience, these customers will spend upwards of $200 on their second trip and even more in subsequent trips to your shop. This is money you’ll never see if you turn away the oil change from the get go.

If you take in as many oil changes as you can, speed up the process and work on upselling, you’ll make money. Communicate to your staff why oil changes are important, so everyone is on the same page and you’ll quickly see your business grow. 

Remember, you may think you have enough business now, but your customers are constantly changing, moving away, dying. You have to always be reaching out to and recruiting new customers. An oil change is the best way to introduce your shop to new customers. That’s why we offer basic oil change specials on all of the direct-mail pieces we send out monthly. 

Once you turn away a customer, they never return. Do this enough and you’ll soon find your customer base dwindling. Instead take the hour, perform the oil change, treat that customer with courtesy and your business will always thrive. 

And that’s the value of the oil change. 


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