My first ever visit to a quick lube was in August of 1969 while serving in the United States Air Force. I was traveling from Colorado Springs to Champaign, Illinois in my new Triumph TR-6. While traveling across Nebraska, I needed an oil change. In some now forgotten obscure town I noticed a facility that I would later realize was a quick lube. It was housed in a military surplus Quonset hut. The facility had a dirt floor and a single narrow trench rather than a pit. Little did I know then that this concept would become my life’s career seven years later. If someone reading this recognizes this fast lube facility, please call me. I want to thank them.
The quick lube facility did not include a waiting room. I remained in my car for the service.
Seven years later when I opened my first facility, we had a waiting room and included an interior vacuum with our oil change. Two years later we decided to make a fundamental change to our service. We abandoned the interior vacuuming and modified our facility to become a drive thru, keeping customers in the car. What resulted was enlightening. We found the following benefits as a result of this shift.
1. Lowered labor costs.
We realized that it took one employee for every two bays simply to vacuum the car. Some vehicles took longer to vacuum than the oil change service itself.
Our initial concern that customers would miss the “free vacuum service” was alleviated when we discovered that our customers did not place the service high on their priority list. Customers tended to associate a vacuum with a car wash, not a lube shop.
By eliminating the courtesy vacuum service and keeping the customers in their vehicles, our costs were reduced and our efficiency increased. The customer now served as the vehicle porter by moving the vehicles up through the queue line. I no longer had to have my employees perform this task.
2. Increased car counts.
In all honesty, I was fearful of the customer’s reaction to a “cutback in service” with no reduction in sales price. However, we received no complaints about the change in service procedures. In fact our car counts increase percentage rose after the change. When the change went into effect on October 1st, we expected to see a decrease in car counts due to the change in season and procedure. Instead, we saw the car counts increased.
3. Reduced “liability” concerns.
Keeping the customer in the car eliminates complaints about finding a dirt smudge or stain in the interior of the car or concern over an article missing from the vehicle.
We also discovered there was a myth to the danger of keeping the customer in the car in the bays. Since the customer remained in the car, they were no longer walking in the bay and did not need to have an escort from the car to the waiting room.
4. Convenience is king.
Customers with children do not want to take the time to unbuckle and unload their children and then reverse the process when the service is completed. Handicapped customers appreciate not having to leave their vehicles. Customers truly appreciate and value being able to remain in their vehicles during the service. Customers are very comfortable in their cars. They deem their cars an extension of their home and are comfortable talking with the bay tech about the issues that are found.
A customer related to me that they appreciated being able to stay in the car because he did not have to be concerned with someone “looking over his shoulder” while using the customer provided WiFi service. He was able to work on confidential documents without fear of someone else observing them.
5. Customers value involvement in their service.
Performing vehicle services while the customer is in the car allows the customer and bay techs to build rapport with each other through conversation in the bays. This setting provides the privacy of discussing issues with their vehicle without strangers observing in a waiting room environment. As a result, the customer becomes more intimately involved with the services being performed on their vehicle.
We found overwhelming customer support for this change. Customers would mention that they became aware of everything that was done to their vehicle because they could hear the command and echo system being performed and they saw the corresponding service done on the vehicles in the neighboring bays.
When we sold our stores to another national company, the first change they made was to get the customer out of the car. This created a tremendous pushback from the customers and was a constant fight for the new operator. It was one of the contributing factors in a thirty percent loss in car counts within the first 90 days. When car counts should have been rising with the coming summer season, this change made in May created the opposite effect.
Each new operator needs to make the decision of which procedure they want to follow. It is crucial to evaluate the cost versus perceived benefits and determine if the service does in fact drive and increase car counts. As for me, I prefer a Drive Thru concept over the Waiting Room.