Fast Growth the Exception for Quick-lubes


The quick-lube market in the United States may seem fairly saturated, but that has not kept a few chains from growing at healthy clips.

Among chains with more than 100 locations, three grew by at least 30 percent during the 12 month period that ended March 1, according to a survey by National Oil& Lube News. All three – Texaco Xpress Lube, Valvoline Express Care and a troika of ExxonMobil chains – are signage programs tied to big-name motor oil brands. In addition, all three grew primarily through conversion of existing sites rather than new construction.

Overall, the population of quick lubes in the United States is barely growing. NOLN, which is based in Lubbock, Texas, covers the quick-lube market and conducts an annual survey of it. This years survey counted 16,241 locations in the nation as of March 1, just 1.8 percent more than a year earlier.

According to the survey results, published in the magazines March issue, ChevronTexacos Texaco Xpress Lube added the mostlocations during the past year, with 116 sites joining its chain. An asterisk goes by Xpress Lubes growth because many of those sites had already been branded Xpress Lube when the chain was managed by Equilon Enterprises, the former oil products joint venture between Texaco and Shell. Shell bought out Texaco when the latter was acquired by Chevron in 2001 and Shell and ChevronTexaco then competed for the allegiances of existing Xpress Lube operators. On Aug. 13, ChevronTexaco gained exclusive rights to the Xpress Lube brand name.

ChevronTexaco’s Xpress Lube chain had 303 locations on March 1, making it the fourth-largest in the United States, according to NOLN. ChevronTexaco officials expect it to continue its rapid growth, even now that the dust has settled from the Equilon breakup. The company expects to add 100 more locations in the next year,ChevronTexaco Installed Motor Oil Manager Violet Anderson told Lube Report.

The roundness of that number may have something to do with the fact that Texacos Havoline motor oil brand is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, but Anderson maintained that the Xpress Lube program is popular with operators because of the flexibility and attention that ChevronTexaco gives them.

We offer them everything that franchise programs offer – from building design to signage to cooperation on marketing – without franchise fees, Anderson said. I think we have also distinguished ourselves as the oil company that listens. We have an Xpress Lube Council that meets twice a year, and we listen to what they say and incorporate changes that they suggest.

For example, she said, ChevronTexaco began supplying a particular viscosity grade of oil at the request of operators. It met another request to provide brochures with safe driving tips for operators to hand out to customers.

Valvoline Express Care grew by 32 percent in the past year, adding 74 locations to become the sixth-largest chain with 303 sites. NOLN counts it separately from Valvoline Instant Oil Change, which is ranked third and grew by 3 percent to 741 sites. The programs differ in that VIOC offers more assistance and is gearedfor entrepreneurs who may have little experience in the automotive or lubricant business. It also allows operators to become franchise owners, and indeed, 390 of existing VIOC locations are franchised.

Valvoline Express Care offers signage and design programs and lesser levels of other assistance and no franchising options.

We think the Express Care program is well-positioned because it gives operators a very professional clean image that gives them additional credibility with the consumer, said Bob Craycraft, Valvolines vice president of distributor sales. Hetold Lube Reportthat Express Cares growth to date has been mostly through conversions, but added that the chain is increasingly adding new sites. Valvoline expects the chain to add another 72 sites this year.

ExxonMobil has three programs – Mobil Lube Express, Exxon Superflo Fast Lube and Mobil 1 Lube Express – which added a combined 46 additional locations last year for a one-year growth rate of 61 percent. They now have 121 locations to rank 12th.

The company declined to comment about the growth of its chains.

Citgo Lube was the only other chain among NOLN’s top 10 with double-digit growth last year. It grew 17 percent to 192. Shells Jiffy Lube grew less than 1 percent but remained by far the biggest chain with 2,187 locations. Shell also owns the second-largest chain, Pennzoil 10-minute Oil Change, which grew 6 percent to 887 sites.

Copies of National Oil & Lube News’ 2004 “Tops in the Fast Lube Industry” facility-count survey results are available for purchase for $30. Contact NOLN by phone at (800) 796-2577 or (806) 762-4464.

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