Cover StoryNovember/December 2018

The Drive for Excellence

The road less travelled isn’t always smooth or easy, but big rewards are in sight for those that stay the course. For Mr. Lube multi-location co-owners Rick Spindor and Keith Wickens, it was taking the unbeaten path that shifted their success into high gear.

In 2007, Spindor had just ended a successful career as Director of Operations at a distribution company. When a friend brought up the idea of owning a Mr. Lube franchise, all he could think about was his total lack of knowledge when it came to motors. “I don’t know a thing about cars,” he recalls thinking. While the idea of own­ing a business never occurred to him, he decided to take a closer look. A year later, he opened his first store in Coquitlam, B.C.

For Wickens, the road towards becoming a franchise owner started at Mr. Lube’s ground level. When Wickens first moved to B.C from Ontario in 2002, he applied for a tech job at a local Mr. Lube, then quickly advanced to management. “I went to my mentor Cory Testa and told him I wanted more. I was put into one of the underper­forming stores which we now own, and I turned it around in 18 months,” Wickens recalls of his journey. Soon, Wickens was working the same magic at other locations.

The duo met and formed a partnership about 10 years ago. Today, they own three B.C. stores in Coquitlam, North Burnaby, and South Burnaby. Each member of the duo brings a unique set of strengths to the table to create a seamless synergy, from expert customer relations to keen operational skills.

“For me personally, the biggest hurdle at the start was moving into an industry I was not familiar with,” says Spindor. “When we took ownership of our first store in Coquitlam in August of 2008, I was 47 years old, so adjusting to a completely new career at this stage in my life was significant. It turned out to be the best career adjustment I ever made.”

Though initially not a big automotive aficionado, Spin­dor says his business sense prompted him to surround himself with people equipped with the skills needed for success. This included retaining Wickens as Operations Manager. With Wickens’ experience in managing day-to-day operations and Spindor’s background as an opera­tions director, they had a solid foundation to build on.

A major challenge presented itself in 2011 when they purchased an existing Burnaby location while simultane­ously constructing their third Mr. Lube franchise. “To go from one store to three within one year was by far our greatest challenge,” says Spindor. “To expand our team almost threefold in such a short period of time was dif­ficult. During the five years that followed, we slowly but surely made the necessary operational and personnel changes to get us to where we are now.”

Wickens adds that retooling their team allowed them to build their culture from the ground up. “It’s different when you get to make your own decisions based on what you think is best for your franchise,” he explains. “We had an idea of what we wanted to do, and we invested a lot more labour up front. The franchise really allowed us to address our location’s needs.”

Backed by the Brand

Now a go-to oil change and preventative maintenance destination for drivers across Canada, Mr. Lube started in 1976 when father and son team Arnold and Clifford Giese began offering drop-in oil changes at their Edmon­ton shop. Mr. Lube began franchising in 1981 and is now Canada’s largest quick lube brand.

Since then, Mr. Lube has evolved and now offers a comprehensive range of preventative maintenance ser­vices, from basic oil changes to tire rotation, and filter replacements. The brand caters to consumers who are looking for efficient, and convenient in-and-out service that fits their schedules.

Part of what attracted Spindor to Mr. Lube is the franchise’s brand recognition. “I doubt anyone would be interested in ‘Rick’s Quick Lube’,” he jokes, adding that Mr. Lube’s franchisee support, such as the brand’s strong marketing program, provides great visibility both regionally and nationally. “Having the benefit of the best quick lube brand in the business provides comfort to me, knowing that as long as we maintain the high standards established by Mr. Lube, we can expect to have customers come and see us even though they don’t know who I am.”

Wickens appreciates the standards put in place. “With our franchisor providing that for us, it creates a roadmap to success if you utilize the program. We just have to come in and focus on our customers, and the opportunities are there for success,” he says.

Though working with any system has its chal­lenges, good communication serves as a key element in Mr. Lube’s franchisor-franchisee relationship. Com­mittees review everything from purchasing to overall strategic direction so that franchisees can have a say in the organization.

Spindor also likes the sense of community fostered regionally and nationally. “We have an environment where we get to share from each other’s successes and failures. Although nationally we only get together a cou­ple of times a year, it’s as though we see each other all the time,” Spindor says. “Everyone is only a call, email or quick text away. It is a nice feeling, like we are part of a large family where we all want everyone to be successful. That’s what I like the most.”

Spindor advises prospective franchisees to speak to others already in the system so they’ll know what lies ahead before making a commitment.

“If you have a passion for people you have an oppor­tunity to be very successful,” says Wickens. “The brand has a strong presence, and if you give great service, your customers will come back and you’ll also grow your busi­ness with word of mouth advertisements, and they are worth their weight in gold.”

Awarding Excellence: The Three Pillars of Success

Mr. Lube has continued to excel in its 42 years, with 174 locations located across Canada and opportunities to grow in all provinces as the right fit comes along. Bob Anderson, Vice President of Operations, says franchisee success comes from following and executing the system. “As a franchisor, we spend a lot of time training franchi­sees and their key operations people,” he says.

Rewarding the right fit is one of the joys that comes with franchise success. On presenting the Franchisee of the Year award, Anderson says the company’s three pil­lars; customer visits, customer experience, and brand, are the foundation of the award.

“We collaborate with our franchisees throughout the year, and we need to recognize their successes. It starts from the top of the organization and trickles down to our franchisees and the individual technicians that deliver the service,” says Anderson. “It’s about reward­ing people for following the process and doing a good job. They work hard 365 days of the year. To receive The Franchisee of the Year award means they are doing well. They have exceeded those pillars. It gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment.”

Has winning the award changed the way the partners feel when they go to work every day?

“I strive for excellence every day whether I’m a winner or not, but I tell my guys that when I started doing this job, I figured if I’m going to be here, I might as well be the best that I can be while I’m here,” says Wickens.

“What it has done is provided the recognition of the hard work and effort Keith has put in developing his leadership team at the stores. This starts with our store managers Puneet Kallah at Coquitlam, Tommy Pham at South Burnaby and Japneet Singh at North Burnaby and continues on with each member of their teams,” Spindor says of receiving the Franchisee of the Year designation. “For that I am most grateful. That being said, when they announced our names as the winners it was a moment I will never forget! To share that moment with my wife of 32 years along with my partners and to also receive sin­cere congratulations from my franchisee peer group is indescribable. As one of my partners said that evening, ‘Best workday ever!’ It really was.”

By Gina Makkar