Survey: For Fast Lubes, a Good Year


Average daily car counts rose at the typical U.S. fast lube in the past year, after several years of decline, while the average ticket for a standard lube oil and filter change now hovers around $30, according to National Oil & Lube News latest fast lube operator survey. Stores averaged net profits of around 12 percent on average per-store sales of more than $500,000.

Published in the September issue of NOLN, the 2006 fast lube operators survey collected data on operations, prices, sales, brands and other details covering 4,505 fast lube stores in all 50 states. The Lubbock, Texas, magazine presented 2006 data in two categories: companies operating less than 30 stores (the LT30 companies), and companies operating more than 30 stores (MT30).

The most significant survey result, said NOLN Editor Garrett McKinnon, is that average daily car counts at LT30 stores rose to 36.5, up from 35.7 a year ago. In 2002, the typical LT30 facility serviced an average of 40.3 cars per day, and the number declined nearly 12 percent through last year.

But McKinnon cautioned that the 2006 report reflects data for the year ending in May. Looking at the summer information, the counts have tailed off, so well probably see a dip in next years survey, McKinnon said. Were hearing anecdotal reports that counts are down 10 to 15 percent in the summer of 2006 vs. 2005 because of high gas costs.

For the first time NOLN asked fast lube operators if there are any vehicle makes or models that they refuse to service, and a surprising 28 percent of the LT30 companies and 40 percent of the MT30 companies said yes. The vehicles most often denied service, said McKinnon, are high-end European cars such as Mercedes, BMWs and Porsches. There is concern about liability, said McKinnon. In addition, special oils, filters or equipment – such as the oil required for some VW models with 1.8 liter turbodiesel engines, the canister-type oil filters for some General Motors models, and the special tool needed to reset a BMWs engine oil light – cause some fast lubes to turn certain models away.

But other fast lube operators disagree, he added. They acquire the special supplies they need to keep the business from going to a dealership.

Another surprising survey result is the disparity between the LT30s and MT30s building and land investments. The big companies spent an average of over $1 million to buy the building and land for their most recent fast lube, compared to less than $443,000 for the smaller companies. And the big companies put more than $86,500 into equipment for that store, compared to $52,000 at the smaller companies.

That hefty big-company investment pays off, however. They report half as many competitors within a five mile radius as the smaller companies; the population within three miles of their best store is twice as high; and the traffic count in front of their best store is 25 percent higher.

The overall average ticket total for the MT30 fast lube is $55, compared to $45 for the LT30 operator. Yearly sales per store at the MT30s averaged $637,135, while the LT30s averaged $522,792 per store. Net profit was 13.2 percent of sales for MT30s, 11.5 percent for LT30s.

The average price of the standard lube oil and filter change with multi-point check is $31.19 for MT30s, but at $29.97 has not yet crossed the $30 barrier for LT30s. Virtually all fast lubes offer premium oil changes with synthetic oil; the MT30 price averages $56.33 while the LT30 price averages $52.97.

Larger companies enjoy some significant cost advantages. For example, LT30 lube operators paid an average of $6.41 per gallon for their highest-volume bulk oil, while the MT30 stores paid just $5.09 per gallon last year, a hefty 26 percent differential.

Pennzoil continued to be the best-selling motor oil brand in the smaller fast lubes. The percentage of LT30 operators who listed each brand as their house oil was:

Pennzoil, 31 percent
Valvoline, 14 percent
Mobil, 10 percent
Castrol and Havoline, 9 percent each
Quaker State, 7 percent
Shell, 6 percent
Citgo, 5 percent
Chevron, 3 percent
Others, 6 percent

Mobil dominated the synthetic motor oil market. Fully 54 percent of the LT30 operators offer Mobil as their house synthetic oil, followed by Pennzoil (13 percent) and Valvoline (10 percent).

Not everything was rosier at the bigger company stores. MT30s reported a workers comp rate per $100 of payroll of $7.29 for lube techs, compared to just $4.27 for the LT30s. And MT30s performed an average of $3,000 worth of warranty work per store in the preceding 12 months, compared to just $1,000 at the LT30s.

The complete2006 Operators Survey is free to paid NOLN subscribers and $60 to all others. For more information or to purchase the survey,go and click on surveys.

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