Profile in Success - March 2002

Cars, Trucks, Fast Lube Serves All Comers
By Jim and Elaine Norland

Pickups, a high-performance Beemer, and a drop-dead-gorgeous classic - all just part of the customer mix served at Lube Express.

Only a connector road passes by Lube Express in Surfside Beach, SC, but a crew of five, six bays for service and an energetic owner make the most of its vehicular traffic and assure speedy, complete, and quality service to every entering car or truck.

Motor homes costing up to a half-million dollars, large trucks, sport utility vehicles, and "regular" passenger vehicles - and even a bulldozer - have been part of the customer mix at this car care center since it opened three years ago. Drivers buy services ranging from oil changes to brake relining and light repair performed by ASE certified technicians, including an ASE Master Technician.

Services delivered here include cooling system, transmission, power steering, and differential drain/flush work; fuel injection cleaning; tune-ups; air conditioning service; and serpentine belt replacement. Wiper blades, shocks and struts, air and fuel filters, headlights, breathers, PCV valves, and batteries are replaced according to OEM specs, thanks to Auto Data sheets covering virtually every vehicle.

Not bad for a boxmaker!

After 16 years of running a cardboard plant, Nick Roselli quit his job and chose to follow his lifelong interest in cars. He went to work for a friend and garage owner in New York to "really learn the trade," and then opened up his Lube Express at 2216 Glenn's Bay Road in Surfside Beach in late February of 1999.

His location is just outside of Myrtle Beach, in an area that is growing fast in permanent residents, complementing its popularity with tourists. The 1998 daily traffic count on the two-lane Glenn's Bay Road was 19,200. Roselli's location is about a third of a mile off the bypass of U.S. Highway 17, which had a 1998 traffic count of 39,000.

Across the road from Lube Express is South Bay Lakes, "with a ton of condos," Roselli notes. He's very close to a Food Lion strip mall and near a recently built bank. "We definitely have tremendous growth here," he comments, "and construction here is nonstop."

Roselli sized his building to accommodate vehicles of every size and to service them quickly. Ceilings 20-feet high and 15-by-12-foot doors offer spacious access and working room. The exterior of the steel building has a blue roof, and sides are painted white on top, blue on the bottom. A two-foot fascia and the Citgo tri-color band encompass the structure. The facility is landscaped with bushes and sod.

Bay-entrance side. Note the ample clearance.

His building is actually three bays wide, but each bay is 49 feet deep, so several cars can share bays.
Big trucks or motor homes can be serviced completely under its roof and pull through onto access and egress areas surfaced in concrete. Part of Roselli's preparation of his half-acre site included pouring $8,000 worth of concrete to avoid problems with heavier vehicles driving over asphalt.

Lube Express is a Citgo "A-branded" facility, "meaning that we're Citgo top to bottom. We display the Citgo triangle sign and banner on our building, use Citgo products, and use the Citgo credit card program," Roselli explains. He's enthusiastic about the support he receives from Citgo. "I have one store and they treat me like I had 100, in software and support of all kinds."

Just lube and minor repair services are offered here now, but Roselli has plans for expansion. At the time of this interview, he was building a 1,700-square-foot addition to house most repair functions, freeing up a third double bay for more lube work, and he'd like to install a full-serve wash later on.

Lube Express serves its customers as quickly as possible, but there's a small waiting room with seating for eight people. Customers can purchase a variety of Mega Power products, but nothing else such as the impulse items often offered in lobby or waiting areas. There are no soft drinks, snack vendors or coffee, but customers can watch TV or browse the magazine rack during their brief stay.

"Nobody spends any time here," Roselli explains. "Our whole idea is to get them in, get the vehicles done, and get them out. It's 11 minutes maximum for the first car in. When we've stacked four cars in here, someone's leaving every two minutes.

"These guys are like soldiers; they don't play," he says of his five full-time employees. Four run the lube operations, while the ASE-certified Master Tech handles mechanic duties. Roselli himself is ASE certified in brakes and suspension. Even repair customers don't usually hang around; Lube Express runs them home so they can go on about other business and brings them back later.

The staff is fully uniformed in shirt and pants (and caps if desired) provided by Roselli, who also pays for their laundering. The full-time staff is supplemented from time to time by one part-time worker.

The crew takes care of some big customers.

The inside of Lube Express is sparkling clean, helping assure customers their vehicles will be kept equally unsoiled. Roselli finished the shop area himself, avoiding the "bare wall" look of many facilities. Seat covers are used on customer vehicles to make sure the upholstery remains clean. Technicians who work on vehicles don't enter the driver/passenger cabin; only the store manager does.

There is no basement, but a six-foot-deep H-pit to allow technicians to do under-car tasks. Pits are sealed to avoid any danger of contamination in this beachside community. Roselli designed the drainage
system for the facility, and the pump is constantly hooked up. "If there's a spill, it doesn't go anywhere; it stays in that hole" until properly removed, he says.

Despite the occasional extremes of weather, bay doors stay up during open hours. "If they're down, it looks like you're closed," says Roselli. He has mitigated temperature swings somewhat by incorporating R-40 insulation on the roof and R-28 insulation on the eight-inch walls. "It's never freezing or roasting in here," he says; "it's pretty comfortable."

"Customers love that the facility is immaculate," Roselli notes. "If you drop a sandwich on the floor, you could pick it up and eat it. I get constant compliments on the cleanliness as well as the service, and that the guys are always in a good mood."

How do you assure that "good mood?" Roselli encourages it by treating his employees "like human beings, not a number." He leads by example, coming to work with a positive attitude and sharing some "positive energy" with his staff. "We're friendly to all our customers, joke with them a little, and make them feel comfortable. We all have personal problems and concerns," he acknowledges when talking to his crew, "but here, we leave those at home." Each employee is paid a salary plus commission.

Despite the extensive services available, aggressive upselling is avoided. When vehicles come in, they get an 18-point check via the Auto Data Chek Chart system. "We recommend services according to the vehicle manufacturer."

Roselli says many new customers complain that "they (a competing business) try to do everything on their menu." Roselli's basic oil change service is priced about $3 less than that other shop, but his average per-vehicle revenue is close to $40.

"Customers love the fact that they can get everything done under one roof," he says. "We have a sophisticated diagnostic machine, so they don't have to go elsewhere for repairs."

Most Lube Express customers come from an area extending about two miles to the north but as much as 10 miles to the south. While Roselli gets some tourist business, he relies on and caters especially to local residents. His store is open six days a week, 8 to 6 weekdays and 8 to 5 on Saturdays.

Perhaps aided by his experience in New York, Roselli understands the needs and concerns of truck owners, particularly those with one to three vehicles, and he marketed strongly to them when he began Lube Express.

"I wrote to all the truck companies here and visited them personally, especially the ones who don't have their own shops. They're inclined to do their preventive maintenance and upkeep on their trucks themselves, and I'd ask them how long it took them to do it.

"They'd say, 'I spend my whole Saturday PM-ing my truck,'" Roselli recalls. "I'd tell them, I can do it in 45 minutes or an hour, and you're not on your back getting dirty and greasy and killing half your weekend."

Rather than dealing with individual charge accounts, Roselli set those owners up with a Citgo Fleet Card. "They love it. They can pay every 30 days, and it's very itemized. They can also use it for fueling their vehicles elsewhere." (Lube Express doesn't sell fuel.)

The cashier's desk, from the employees' perspective.

Such personal salesmanship and cheerful service has earned Lube Express strong word-of-mouth recommendations from its customers. Roselli has tried radio and TV for some advertising, but it hasn't been very successful. He does maintain some regular newspaper and direct mail advertising.

Given its owner's aptitude in meeting customer needs and addressing their special requirements, it's understandable that Lube Express business is growing steadily and expanding physically.

Roselli's business plan has been mostly fulfilled so far, although he says he's a little behind on setting up his second store. "My goal was to open Number 2 in 2002, and I'm going to do it," he asserts.

With a separate repair center being built and some expectation of adding a tunnel car wash at his first site, plus plans for a second store, Nick Roselli and Lube Express seem sure to have a major role in car and truck care along the South Carolina coast.

Jim and Elaine Norland are regular contributors to Auto Laundry News.

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