BIRMINGHAM, AL | Friday, January 16, 2004

ASO, The Auto Services Operator Magazine, recognizes the Dynamic Duo of Joe Watson and Ricky Brooks Of Express Oil Change. It may not be a battle of good versus evil, but the fast lube business can often be a serious struggle. At times, operators may feel like it takes super human strength to run their business, but in reality it doesn't take super heroes to run a successful automotive service chain. There is a "dynamic duo" that has faced the challenge of growing a fast lube enterprise and has made it into one of the most successful chains in the industry. In just five years, Richard Brooks and Joe Watson, whose friendship and business trials span more than 20 years, have transformed Express Oil Change from a 47-store chain in Alabama to a prominent 129-unit franchise in five Southeastern states. It started out simply enough as a passive investment. Brooks and Watson were working at insurance and financial planning company and decided to look for something to produce additional income. After doing due diligence on the fast lube business, they liked it and opted to go into business. They opened their first stores in 1988. "We knew that Express Oil Change had a very good operational system," said Brooks. "We took the attitude of show us how to use your system and we'll try to beat you at it." By 1996, Brooks and Watson were operating 14 Express Oil Change centers, boasting the chain's highest profits and sales growth. That same year, armed with a loan and confidence from a noted local investor who saw the pair's potential, Brooks and Watson purchased the franchise corporation in a friendly deal from its original founder, Jim Lunceford, a 50-year veteran of the auto service industry. "We saw a tremendous opportunity for growth," Watson said. "People recognized that with the way we operate that we would be able to build the company." Both men were entrepreneurs and brought that spirit to the business. "We enjoy working together and the challenge to see what we could do with the business was strong motivation," added Brooks. The benchmark of the Express Oil Change system is its ability to hire and retain full-time workers. "Our system rewards people through a profit sharing compensation system," said Brooks. "We have full-time career employees who have a vested interest in growing the business." The compensation is based on a teamwork concept. "We do not pay commission to an individual," Watson noted. "Everyone depends on someone else." By compensating the entire team there is a strong motivation to help others. The company is very cautious about overselling. Express Oil Change employees are trained to offer recommended services only. If an employee sells anything that is not needed, he is fired immediately. "We never sell customers products or services that are unnecessary," Brooks said. "Our compensation program rewards the store for overall growth, which sets the tone for high morals, teamwork and integrity. The end of our mission statement says "emphasizing integrity in every action". The major objective is for the customer to have a good experience and come back." Brooks and Watson believe that by having full-time career employees it builds trust with customers. That trust keeps customers coming back, which grows the business. System wide sales for the company for 2000 totaled $73.4 million, almost triple that of five years ago. "The reputation of the store is extremely important," said Watson. "There is a perception that fast lubes are always selling additional services. Express Oil Change is a haven for people who are tired of being hammered to buy something every time they come in for an oil change." It is evident that Brooks and Watson put a great emphasis on their employees. They recognize their importance to the company. "Our reputation and success completely depend on the guys in the stores," Watson said. "We give our employees a vested interest in the business and our compensation program works." Brooks and Watson aren't the only one profiting from Express Oil Change's burgeoning success; the company's 24 franchisees are also reaping the benefits of the company's system. Last year, annual sales for each unit averaged $664,000. "Our sales growth is a pure reflection of customer satisfaction," Brooks said. "When it comes to deciding on where to go for car service, customers vote with their dollars. Our consistently higher than average and growing numbers tells us they are voting for Express Oil Change. Another plus for customers is that Express Oil Change provides more auto services than oil changes. The franchise also offers supplemental mechanical services in every store including brakes, air-conditioning service, tire rotation, transmission service and minor repairs. The stores are also bigger with more bays to provide better service. "Our general philosophy is a win-win-win concept," said Watson. "It has to be a good experience for the customer so they keep coming back. We have to provide full-time career opportunities and compensation for our employees. By having great employees, we are able to grow our customer base, which in turn creates profitability for our ownership. All parties win." Express Oil Change's business philosophy is helping them grow at a time when many others in the industry are struggling to increase car counts. With a focus on franchise growth, Brooks and Watson expect to have 268 Express Oil Change centers operating within the next five years.

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1880 Southpark Dr.
Birmingham, AL

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