Valvoline franchisee plans to acquire more locations

    Great Lakes Quick Lube LP, the largest franchisee of Valvoline Instant Oil Change stations in the United States, will soon have its 100th store.

    The West Allis company began with 47 stores in Wisconsin and Illinois in November 2004, when it was founded. Most of those stores were purchased from existing Valvoline franchisees.

    “We continue to see the quick lube industry going though a major consolidation period,” said Jim Wheat, partner and chief manager of Great Lakes Quick Lube. “There is a lot of independent ownership looking for an exit strategy. They’re looking for a buyer, and we’re looking to grow.”

    When it acquires independently owned oil change stores, Great Lakes Quick Lube usually sells the land the store sits on, then leases it back, Wheat said. 

    Most of the oil change stores owned by Great Lakes Quick Lube are in Wisconsin and Illinois – and the majority of those are in the Milwaukee and Chicago markets. The company also owns stores in the Des Moines and Indianapolis markets, Wheat said.

    Great Lakes Quick Lube does not want to expand its geographical market right now. Instead, it wants to grow its market shares in the areas it is already in, Wheat said.

    “We threw the pebble in,” Wheat said. “And as the ripples come out we’ll back-fill to get more stores in. There’s a lot of room to grow in Wisconsin, and we need to fill Chicago between Danville (Ind.).”

    While there is plenty of room and opportunity to grow, Great Lakes Quick Lube is planning for that growth to have a degree of restraint, Wheat said.

    “We’ll probably do 50 stores next year,” he said. “We feel like we can do 50 stores a year and still keep tight controls. We don’t want to overextend ourselves.”

    Depending on the market size that the oil change facilities are located in, they generally have four to five or nine to 10 employees. Among all of its locations, Great Lakes Quick Lube has more than 700 employees – about 250 of which are in Wisconsin.

    All of Great Lakes Quick Lube’s employees who work more than 30 hours per week are offered health insurance, said Dorothy Ramsey, the company’s chief financial officer.

    While employees are required to pay a portion of the cost for that insurance, it is heavily subsidized by the company, especially for employees earning lower wages, she said.

    Wheat said Great Lakes Quick Lube will likely reach 250 locations in the next three years.

    As Great Lakes Quick Lube’s number of stores has increased, so have its revenues. Over the past two years, revenues have increased by 130 percent, Wheat said. And same-store sales have increased by about 6 percent on average.

    “We gauge our business on customer count,” Wheat said. “We’re up on the overall trend, while our industry is flat to down.”

    Great Lakes Quick Lube LP
    Address: 10150 W. National Ave., West Allis
    Industry: Drive-up oil change and auto maintenance stations
    Number of locations:  97, soon to be 100
    Geographical footprint: Metro Milwaukee, Chicago, Indiana and eastern Iowa.

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