Future Looks Bright for Fast Lubes


With bulk oil prices down 30 cents per gallon, payroll taking a smaller bite from total sales and average tickets rising nicely, U.S. quick lubes have not only weathered the recession but are well positioned for growth, National Oil & Lube News reports.

In its September issue, NOLN reports the results of its 2010 Fast Lube Operators Survey, its annual in-depth look at operations, prices, demographics, employees, sales, products and services at U.S. quick lube stores. Replies to the 2010 survey covered 4,238 stores in all 50 states.

For the first time in a decade, NOLN reported, per-gallon bulk lube prices declined, from the average of $7.96 per gallon paid by a typical fast lube a year ago for its highest volume bulk oil, to $7.66/gal. today. Even at the largest chains, bulk oil costs fell to $6.30/gal. this year, from $6.56 in 2009.

NOLN divides responses into two categories: data from companies operating less than 30 stores (LT30) and data from large corporate chains operating more than 30 stores (MT30). The average LT30 company operates just over 2 stores; the average MT30 has over 300 stores.

The average ticket total for LT30 stores rose from $52.04 a year ago to $54.08 today, despite a slight decline in the number of cars coming in each day for oil changes, from 32.4 to 31.7. Of significance, NOLN noted, is that the typical LT30 store is also servicing an additional six cars per day that arent buying the traditional lube oil and filter change.

Were seeing a shift in the industry, NOLN Editor Garrett McKinnon told Lube Report. Shops are offering a lot more services, especially in smaller rural areas. Theyre doing tires, brakes, mechanical work. Its increasingly common, McKinnon noted, for a fast lube to designate a separate service bay for services other than oil changes.

Yearly sales per store average $575,400 at the smaller companies, up from $558,400 last year. Payroll, as a percentage of gross sales, has declined from 27.9 percent to 26.5 percent, and net profit has risen to 13.3 percent.

Over a third of the LT30s refuse to service at least one make of vehicle, NOLN reported. Luxury high-end vehicles are harder to service, McKinnon explained. A 10-minute oil change can become a two-hour ordeal, and operators are fearful of damage liability.

The most common vehicles refused are European models, including Mercedes, BMWs and Porsches. One operator said he doesnt want to service anything more expensive than his own shop, McKinnon noted wryly. But at most large national chains, theyll find a way to service every vehicle, as company policy.

Pennzoil continues to be the most popular brand in fast lubes, with 19 percent of LT30s listing it as their house oil. Its followed by Valvoline (18 percent), Mobil (15 percent), Castrol (11 percent), Shell (7 percent), Chevron (5 percent), Havoline (5 percent), and all others (20 percent).

Mobil dominates the synthetic oil arena, with 51 percent of LT30 operators listing it as their top selling synthetic oil. Its followed by Valvoline (15 percent), Castrol (12 percent), Pennzoil (9 percent), Amsoil (2 percent), and all others (11 percent).

Total miles driven between oil changes are creeping up, NOLN reported. LT30s report average drain intervals over 4,400 miles this year, up from about 4,300 two years ago. With 57 percent of their customers now driving vehicles equipped with oil monitors, the industry can expect to see drain intervals increase. Miles between oil changes for the vehicles with oil monitors topped 4,800 at LT30s and reached nearly 5,300 at MT30s.

Despite this trend, 90 percent of fast lube operators continue to recommend 3,000 mile drain intervals to their customers, NOLN reported.

Both the survey data and anecdotal evidence show that the fast lube industry is in a nice niche, McKinnon said. Theres a need for their service, with more cars on the road and people keeping their cars longer. Savvy operators say that oil changes alone arent enough. Today, theyre offering a full range of services. The fast lube industry is poised to do well, and its net profit is impressive.

The complete 2010 NOLN Fast Lube Operators Survey report is available on the NOLN web site (see www.noln.net) at no charge through Sept. 30, said McKinnon, thanks to Citgos sponsorship of this years survey. After that date it will be archived and available for purchase.

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