By YouInc Columnist Tiffany Burns
Relentlessly focused is how Stuart Suls describes his vision for Mr. Lube, the largest quick oil change chain in Canada. You could use the same expression to describe him, the company's President and CEO.
"I don't want to make it sound simple, but it's not complex either," says Stuart, speaking on his hands-free as he drives from Peterborough, Ontario to Toronto. "It's a matter of saying, what is it that you're trying to get done? Anything that doesn't look like that — stop doing it. Focus on what you're supposed to be doing. Relentlessly."
When he joined the company in 2008, Stuart made it his mission to streamline Mr. Lube's operations, starting with their warehousing and distribution. "That didn't fit into the vision," he says. "Even though we were making money in it, we shut it down. When we looked at the total cost, with energy, resources and all the people, we really weren't making money."
Mr. Lube opened its first location in Edmonton in 1976, offering fast turn-around oil changes with no appointment necessary. After initiating a franchise program in 1984, the company expanded across the country, eventually numbering 120 stores. It takes a royalty fee of 7% of gross sales and a marketing fee of 6.5% of gross sales from each individual shop.
Stuart believes the best way to promote profitability within the franchisor is to help the franchisee be as profitable as possible, within a strong brand and a clearly defined system. With that in mind, he set his laser-like focus on eradicating corporate stores. In 2008, 25% of Mr. Lubes were owned and operated by the company, instead of independent owners.
"If you're going to be a great franchisor and you're going to provide great service to your customers - your franchisees - then you can't do both. So even though we were successful running stores, we got out of that business." Within three years, they transitioned into a 100% franchise-owned operation.
As he negotiates Highway 115 south, Stuart tells me he could talk for days about business strategy, but the thing that gets him most excited at Mr. Lube is incorporating what he calls his One Life philosophy.
"Lots of people talk about work life balance. But I think they're totally missing the point." He doesn't believe it's possible to take personal life out of the daily nine to five. On the flip side, he doesn't think work can be contained to a strict schedule. "We only have one life and you can't separate the two."
Hiring good people and keeping them is a concern most retailers share. Stuart believes flexibility is a key component. If Mr. Lube gives employees the space to deal with their private issues when they need to, the karma will come back in barrels. The goodwill came full circle for Stuart today, because he's driving with a belly full of barbecued ribs — a surprise home-cooked meal from his Peterborough franchisee.
"I'm giving them the space to do what they're going to do naturally anyway," he says. "Because of that we're going to end up with happier people, more productive employees and everybody wins."