Mr. Lube’s iconic journey began back in 1976 and has expanded to serve Canadians and their cars from coast to coast
By Jordan Whitehouse
One day in the mid-1970s, a young entrepreneur from Edmonton named Cliff Giese took his dad out for lunch. That morning, Cliff had dropped his car off for an oil change, but by lunchtime it still wasn’t ready. Oil changes should be quick, he thought. You should be able to get one done while you wait.
His dad, Arnold, agreed, and soon the two came up with a simple plan for a new business: fast, hassle-free oil changes without having to make an appointment. By 1976, they opened their first Mr. Lube in Edmonton. Clearly, Cliff wasn’t the only one who wanted a quicker oil change. By 1981, the Gieses were franchising, and by 1986 there were 47 Mr. Lube stores across Canada. Today, there are more than 172 locations from coast to coast, making it Canada’s largest quick lube brand.
The Gieses’ original idea is a big reason for that success. Mr. Lube has been a pioneer in perfecting the quick-service oil change business over the past 45 years. But innovation has also been huge, especially in recent years, says CEO Stuart Suls. “When we had a change in shareholders in 2006 and Jim Treliving, George Melville, and Mike Cordoba from Boston Pizza came in, it was a big shift. The family feel is still very much in our culture—more than a third of our system is operated by second-generation franchisees—and over time we have enhanced the professionalism and efficiency of the organization.”
The pace of franchising picked up around that time too, says Suls, as did Mr. Lube’s service offerings. Now, it’s not just about oil changes. Technicians offer a full range of fast maintenance services, from batteries to belts to sparkplugs to tires. The company also has an electronic version of the owner’s manual for every vehicle on file. That makes it much easier for customers to trust that technicians are keeping their vehicle’s maintenance on schedule, says Suls.
These types of forward-thinking evolutions are one of the main benefits of being a Mr. Lube franchisee, says Toronto area franchisee Karim Kara. “You’re never in a position where you’re thinking, ‘Is this going to be a dead-end business?’ You’re always thinking, ‘What’s next? How are we going to adapt?’ They’re always looking at new equipment, new technology, introducing new services. It’s an intense, fast-paced business, which I love.”
The foundation for success
Kara began working for Mr. Lube as a technician in 1995 but left to join a family business. Seven years later, he returned, and soon after, jumped into franchising with two business partners. Today, they own a total of 12 Ontario Mr. Lube locations in Markham, Scarborough, Stouffville, Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, and Oshawa.
Looking back, Kara says he wanted to become a Mr. Lube franchisee because he saw the potential in the business. “It’s a very sustainable business in the sense that it’s recession proof; you need a car to get from place to place in Canada. But looking at the business model, I also found that it was very professionally managed. The brand name is strong. There was great marketing support. And operations are very strong.”
The franchisee training system was another big benefit, says Kara. The initial training program takes around three months to complete and includes both online and in-store instruction. It covers everything from operations to accounting to marketing to human resources. While some training is led by the corporate team leads, existing franchisees also take on new franchisees in a mentorship-style role.
As for ongoing support, every franchisee has access to Mr. Lube University, an online training portal. The company also has a Manager’s Centre of Excellence, where managers and franchisees can go to work on both their technical and customer service skills. Plus, the company has several committees that franchisees can participate in and reach out to, such as the Operations Advisory Council, which strategizes on new services, processes, and protocols.
All of that support speaks to the culture at Mr. Lube, says Kara. “It’s a family-oriented culture here. There are franchisees in the system that have been here for 35 or 40 years, and now they’re handing over their businesses to the second generation. But when there’s a new member within the brand, they’re welcomed as part of the family, and every franchisee works towards making that individual successful together with Mr. Lube Canada.”
Usually, new franchisees come with some sort of business background and/or mechanical expertise, says Suls. But not in every case. “Sometimes you run into people who just have that desire and drive to want to be an entrepreneur and have neither background—so then we’ll give them the background they need.”
Words of wisdom
Although Mr. Lube does provide business and operational training, franchisees do need to come with strong interpersonal skills to deliver the exceptional customer experiences the company aims for, says Suls. “You can only standardize so much when you’re interacting with customers, and so one of the main challenges with this business is being able to treat every one of our customers in the way that they want to be treated.”
Kara agrees and says that franchisees also need to be adaptable. “I call this a hybrid business. We’re not retail, we’re service. But we’re also very technical. So, we need people with good interpersonal skills, but we also need people that can adapt to working with their hands and tools, and are mechanically sound.”
That ability to be flexible has been key for franchisees during the pandemic, say both Kara and Suls. Although automotive businesses have been considered essential across the country, Mr. Lube franchisees and their teams have to be mindful of a variety of shifting health and safety protocols as well as each customer’s comfort level.
It hasn’t been easy dealing with such uncertainty, says Kara, but Mr. Lube’s own adaptability during the pandemic has been huge. Early on, for instance, the company created a COVID Crisis Team that included the CEO and all the company’s vice presidents. Every day, they got together to figure out how they could help franchisees. This included consulting with suppliers to get better terms, contacting individual franchisees to help them apply for government supports, and ensuring each location was aware of new health and safety protocols.
This supportive, adaptable, and forward-thinking ethos is a cornerstone of the company, says Suls. But prospective franchisees interested in Mr. Lube shouldn’t take his word for it, he says. Instead, he offers the same advice he gives to anyone looking to get into franchising. “Go out there and look at lots of other systems, compare and contrast, see what you’re comfortable with and what you’re passionate about,” he says. “Talk to as many franchisees in that business as possible. And then look at the returns of the business to see if it meets your expectations.”
Kara agrees, adding that prospective franchisees should pay particular attention to franchises that are sustainable through difficult economic times, such as a pandemic, and that are evolving as the world evolves. “I think Mr. Lube ticks all these boxes. You always want to invest your money where it’s secure long-term, and I believe that’s right here.”