Scott Webster ditched the trading pit for the grease pit, swapping the world of stocks and bonds for one of spark plugs and bearings.
Disillusioned with his work as a stockbroker and venture capitalist, Webster three years ago bought an Express Oil Change franchise. He was intrigued by the idea of a one-stop shop that offered quick oil changes adjacent to a full-fledged, certified-mechanic service department.
His operation at 3231 Lithia Pinecrest Road in Valrico became the fastest-growing startup in the history of the 170-location Express Oil Change network. It also was cited as the No. 1 mechanic shop in the chain within its first 12 months.
Webster, a 46-year-old Florida native who grew up in Jupiter and graduated from the University of South Florida, recently talked with the St. Petersburg Times about his career transition. Here are some excerpts:
How and why did you make such a dramatic career change?
I worked 12 years in the financial services industry, and in the later part of my career, a little bit of venture capital work. We were evaluating individual startup firms. I was not getting pleasure out of the financial services industry. I looked at other businesses and realized the automotive repair industry is somewhat resistant to the cycles of the economy. When we have a recession or when we have good times, everyone still needs their cars for everything. … I don't have a background in repairing cars; I knew enough to be dangerous. … I've changed oil, done a couple things like that.
How fast have you been growing?
I started in March 2006. I became the fastest startup in their franchise history, fastest ever to $1 million in sales. It was in my first full calendar year. This year, we'll probably hit $1.3 (million) and we'd like to see a 10 percent growth range after we've been open three years.
How much does a franchise startup like this cost?
To get one of these off the ground, you need … about $400,000 of your own money. It's not just going out there and renting out some retail strip center. It takes a little time to locate the real estate, get the permitting, build the building.
There's a franchise fee to start up, and then there's a royalty percentage of monthly revenue … on an annual basis, about $60,000. What do we get for that? Top-notch services. You get data based on sales information (sent) every night to help manage your crew and filter out where you're weak. They also send down training whenever you need it. If you have a mutiny on your crew and need to hire three guys right away, they would send three guys down to help out. They're business partners, really.
How do the two sides of your business work together?
In our mechanics department, we have ASE-certified mechanics. In our oil change side, we have training provided by Express Oil Change. They're trained on how to be observant to issues that may be a safety concern down the road.
Isn't there a natural incentive for someone doing an oil change to steer a customer to the repair shop?
No one is paid a commission to sell anything in our store. If we see oil leaking out of the engine or steel belts are showing in a tire, we let the customer know about it and that we have a facility to address it. They work very well together … (but) they do not get any direct compensation by sending someone over there.
Stores run by corporate America hire a manager and give them a quota. They say if you don't hit this quota, you lose your job. … Here, if someone comes in and the oil light is on, and it's just a loose gas cap, the mechanic lets them know, and we send them on their way, no charge. The auto repair business is a people business. We need to keep those relationships.
With the turmoil on Wall Street, are you happy you're not in the financial services industry any more?
My wife and I have a glass of wine, and we celebrate it every day.
Do you miss it at all?
No. … When everyone is losing money, and none of it is in your control, it's ugly. You can only take so much of it.