From the start it was an amazing war. Beginning on a moonless night in January -- during the six o'clock news no less -- and ending with a full moon hardly six weeks later, the war had all the earmarks of a good drama: flashy beginning, continuing tension, interesting major characters, and lots of action. Best of all, there was a decisive, satisfying conclusion.
What struck me most about the Persian Gulf War, code named Desert Storm, was the disparity between what many people predicted would happen and what actually took place. How many times had references been made to the countless missiles, the half million mines and the nerve gas Iraqis had at their disposal? Likewise, it was hard to ignore the ominous fact that Iraq had not lost a single defensive battle in its eight year war with Iran - a grim and sobering thought in light of the almost certain need for a ground war.
So, what happened? As witnessed by all the world and contrary to all we were led to believe, the Allies took the driver's seat from the start and dominated in every phase of the operation. The Allies' superior equipment and well-trained troops decimated and demoralized the Iraqi army. Once the ground fighting commenced, that "long and bloody" land campaign we'd been promised was over within a hundred hours.
And what does all this Desert Storm summary have to do with the quick lube industry? There are several applications I can make, but I will limit myself to three. The first lesson: a better equipped and better trained army will smash to pieces an equal sized army that is less equipped, inadequately trained or poorly treated. Whether in war or business -- and we are talking about the quick lube business here -- survival depends on being up to date, not only in equipment, but in business philosophy, training an attitude. Quick lubes that wish to stay competitive understand this.
For quick lube owners who are as committed to winning in business as General Schwartzkopf and the Allies were committed to liberating Kuwait, these are the important questions:
1) Are you staying current with technology?
2) What is the condition of your troops, in both performance and morale?
3) How reliable are your experts, the people who help you stay current?
Staying current with technology
Times have changed. A car engine used to be so simple. The engine sat fully accessible in the middle of a large engine compartment. Now, you've got brain boxes, catalytic converters, and a whole raft of fancy connectors and contraptions that fill every cranny of the half sized space.
There once was a time when changing oil meant pulling the drain plug draining the pan, and replacing the plug. You changed the filter and poured oil in the top. On some cars these days you're lucky if you can find the filter.
Now we have oil change interval analyzers that don't really analyze oil but make recommendations based on other variables. A brain box on many new GM cars uses an algorithm to evaluate driving style. At least one manufacturer uses a refractometer that measures the oil's darkness. In many instances petroleum is not getting changed because it's not yet black. The oil can be in poor condition with acids in it and the viscosity off, yet the analyzer continues to read "good to go." There are other gadgets, too, that serve up electronic data in place of requiring an understanding of lube issues.
In fact, there's a whole raft of technologies being thrown at us these days. While many are quite astonishing and useful, some are dubious at best. Staying current is a challenge, but you can't afford not to if you want to make good decisions.
What is the condition of your troops?
At one point during the battle of Vicksburg, General U.S. Grant's army had to march across a narrow bridge in single file. Grant, seated on his horse at the far end of the bridge, studied the faces on each of his men as they walked toward him. He would talk to them, smile at them, encourage them, and inwardly gauge their readiness for battle. One key to his success as a leader was this down-in-the-trenches style that kept him in touch with what was really going on, not only in the battle but in the minds of his soldiers.
Successful quick lube operators cannot be absentee landlords. It is vital to know the condition of your personnel. Are they trained or are they just getting by? Do they know how to use the tools? Do they know how to read the manuals to find sump capacity for various car makes and models? Do they take pride in their work or do they not really care because it's just another job?
For example, the burnt smell of oil dripped onto hot exhaust pipes can be a major frustration for car owners. Sure, we can gripe about bad engine design that puts hot pipes below oil spouts, but that's not the issue. Lube personnel need to put themselves in the customers' shoes. The smell makes motorists wonder if something else is wrong. We need to clean that oil off as much as possible if we spill or, better yet, take an extra moment to avoid the spill.
Using air wrenches can create problems when drain plugs are misthreaded, or worse, when a metric plug is accidentally mated with a non-metric drain hole. The end result in either case is a small, but annoying, leak... along with stripped or partially stripped threads.
A hundred examples could be cited of football games lost because a player's head wasn't in the game. So it is with our own lube team. The little things make a difference, but it begins with training, and a motivation to excel that results in paying attention to details.
Who are your experts?
Information is power. Getting an edge on the competition requires good intelligence. In Desert Storm it soon became apparent that our fears of another Viet Nam were unfounded. The people saying these things did not have all the facts. There was a lot going on behind the scenes that we did not know about, and it wasn't long before the Iraqi troops were utterly demoralized.
So it is with motor oil technology. A lot of people have been afraid of synthetic motor oil and extended drains because these people do not have all the facts. They have not taken time to understand the real issues and, in some cases, have decided to stand in the way of history instead of embracing it. Synthetic oils can become an integral part of facing the future head on, especially when it comes to protecting the engines of motorists who are annually increasing their oil change intervals.
The world is changing. Even the ways we wage war have been changing. Yet certain principles remain unchanged. As it was written three thousand years ago, "There's nothing new under the sun." To stay competitive it is vital that you stay up-to-date and informed. Keep your troops trained and motivated. And surround yourself with experts you can trust.
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