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The Promised Brand?


When a customer gets a motor oil change from an installer that proclaims the use of Pennzoil, Quaker State or Shell lubricants, can he or she feel confident that the promised brand went into the crankcase? Thats a question Shell hopes to answer as it rolls out a new product-quality program in key U.S. markets.

A third-party independent laboratory began testing motor oil samples from bulk tanks at Shell installers in Detroit this summer, as part of a Shell Lubricants campaign to crack down on those who substitute off-brand or off-spec lubricants for the branded products they claim to use. The labs will look for a hidden marker in the oils, confirming the right products are in place without having been commingled with others.

The program went into effect in Detroit July 1 in conjunction with a local-market customer appreciation tour. Shell plans next to extend the program to New York City and Dallas. We expect by the end of the year its probably going to be up to around the 50 top cities, said Luis Guimaraes, general manager for Shell Lubricants North America marketing.

Pennzoil, Quaker State, FormulaShell and Rotella installers are automatically enrolled in the product quality program, and it is conducted at no cost to them. Other key components of the watchdog effort will include a public awareness campaign called Motor Oil Matters and a seal of approval for qualified lube installers.

Jiffy Lube Enthuses

Jiffy Lube International – the Shell subsidiary that runs the largest chain of quick lubes, with about 2,000 U.S. stores – fully supports the Motor Oil Matters campaign and believes it is good for the integrity of the entire industry, said John Sanfacon, manager of marketing and innovations. Motor Oil Matters is largely about ensuring quality, and quality is very important to both Jiffy Lube and our customers, Sanfacon said. There is a huge trust factor involved here. Its important that people have confidence that they will get what they pay for when they get their oil changed.

While Jiffy Lube does not have its own testing program, the company does require that Jiffy Lube service centers use oils meeting API and SAE requirements, as recommend by vehicle manufacturers. Many of our customers choose Pennzoil-Quaker State oils, so this program will help reassure them that they get what they order, said Sanfacon.

Heartland Automotive Services Inc., Jiffy Lubes largest U.S. franchisee, earlier this year signed an agreement with Shell Oil Products U.S. to offer Pennzoil lubricants at all Heartland locations, which previously used a variety of brands.

Our customers know and trust the Pennzoil brand; its the number one brand in passenger car motor oil, and we are proud to pour it in all 392 of our service centers, stated Eric F. Glover, president and CEO of Heartland Automotive in Omaha, Neb. We applaud Shells efforts to protect the integrity of the Pennzoil brand, and we support their work to ensure that every customer receives 100 percent genuine Pennzoil product.

Save the Brand

Over the past months, Guimaraes noted, Shell Lubricants had noticed an increase in vendors using its signs and the Pennzoil-Quaker State brands to promote their businesses. When we were checking that, they were not always using Pennzoil-Quaker State products, he said. We see thats probably driven by the recession and by some people trying to cut corners in order to keep their business running, which in the end doesnt help them and doesnt help the consumer. People are not getting what they are paying for. We decided it was time to really step in, and make that very clear to consumers and to all our loyal customers, that we will protect the integrity of our brands and the quality of our products.

Shell has a special marker in the motor oil, not simply a colored dye, Guimaraes continued. Its a kind of identity print, as we have as human beings, he explained. You can trace the marker back to our core formulation, the core components, and really make sure that this is our product. We have done over 100 [sample tests] already, so were very confident we can really identify the different type of oils vis-a-vis our own products, including when the products are mixed.

The marker enables Shell to trace specific components and their concentrations in the motor oil. On Pennzoil we [track] the cleaning agents that are unique to our formulations; therefore, that component is identifiable because no other company uses it, he cited as one example.

If the sample shows the installer is not complying with product standards, he said, Shell Lubricants will take action, which can include signage removal, or other legal action.

We have done that a couple of times already, in different parts of the country. In all of them, we have been successful, Guimaraes stated. Its a very simple proof: Youre selling Pennzoil or Quaker State, [but] then you are installing a different product. And for the ones that are really doing what they are promising, there is a thank-you for their business. We are supporting them with additional tools and support.

Links in the Chain

In general, Shells testing program seems positive, said Chris Tolsdorf, president of the Automotive Oil Change Association and owner of Oil Lube Express in West Chester, Pa.

I think that any way that we as installers can be assured that the product that we are putting in our customers cars is a good product, and is the product that we believe were buying, is a good thing, Tolsdorf said. So I think from one standpoint, its good from the installer side. If they are going to the distributor and saying Id like to buy Shell in bulk, this could be a way to get further assurance thats what theyre getting. Obviously youve got the company thats supplying the product also doing the testing, but Shell certainly has an incentive from their standpoint – theyre protecting their brand.

Although I think brand plays less and less importance in the successful operation of a quick lube, any time youve got someone out there whos sort of playing in a gray area or possibly duping the public, that is not good for the industry, Tolsdorf continued. Any attempt by manufacturers to protect themselves, protect the installer and the consumer is a good thing.

Fairness, too, has to be part of the program, he added. I think the main issue we as quick-lube operators should be worried about is if a test were to come back bad – whether a test like Shells or a test where a consumer protection agency or a state agency comes in and tests bulk oil – that the quick lube has an opportunity to show a chain of custody, so that they dont get sort of an instant pall of guilt from whats happened, Tolsdorf stated. There are so many places in the chain where things could have gone wrong, either intentionally or not, long before it gets into a quick-lubes tank.

Doug Kline, owner of Ohios Ultra Lube in Myrtle Beach, S.C., also believes such testing programs should go higher up the chain, to the distributor level. His 25-year-old business carries Castrol and private-label oil in bulk, and a variety of other brands in bottles.

By the time it gets to us, its too late, Kline said. Were buying the product in good faith that whatever were purchasing – be it Shell, be it Pennzoil, be it Castrol, be it whatever – is what were getting. Our biggest concern is that if the [sample] is done at our facility, we get blamed for it without being given the opportunity to show that were buying it from somebody else.

Certified Installers

After Detroit, New York and Dallas, Shell will roll out the scheme to other areas. We think it will be good to focus on the areas that have a stronger propensity to have this type of problem, Guimaraes explained. We thought it would give us a good combination of understanding how the program works, and how its going to help us roll out to some additional cities as we progress across the country.

The quality testing is part of a three-tier campaign that also includes an upcoming new certified installer program, and a consumer education program whose main component includes the web site.

The site provides basic consumer education about motor oils and terminology, and emphasizes the importance of using quality brands that meet key specifications. Shells certified installer program, to be launched later this year, will spotlight participants on both the Pennzoil and Quaker State web sites. It will also offer a seal of approval to help consumers identify Shell-certified installers.

The company even is working with the legislatures in some states on simple steps to help protect consumers. For example, a motor oil product and its specifications arent obliged to go on the [retail] invoice, Guimaraes pointed out. So people can put motor oil, w-30, and thats it. Its very difficult for the consumer to trace, and make sure [the installers] have used the oil the consumer paid for.

Shell is discussing with some legislators a requirement that retail invoices show the motor oil brand, viscosity grade and specification, so the consumer is assured the installer used the brand and type of motor oil promised. If it hasnt, he can really go after that specific installer and complain, Guimaraes said. We want to make sure we implement practical ideas that are going to help the consumer, the owner-installer and the industry overall.

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