Change the oil change business

I recently got an oil change at one of those quick-change places– you know, the ones that smell like burnt coffee? It got me thinking– this is a market that will exist for the foreseeable future. It’s also a commodity market– they all compete on price and there’s little product/service differentiation. It’s also a bit of a confusopoly. But does it have to be?

Let’s walk through the customer experience and see if there are any opportunities for innovation.

Getting an oil change is kind of like going to the dentist, but for your car: uncomfortable, boring, confusing, and it always costs more than you were hoping.

First you drive up, park behind the half-open garage door, and leave your keys in the ignition. Then you walk through the person door, but you’re not quite sure if you should just walk under the garage door and through to the person door in the garage– it is closer to the lobby. Then you sit in a grimy chair, rifle through a tattered stack of Car & Driver, and Mechanics Monthly, and try not to breathe too deeply the pungent aroma of 3 hour old, burnt, cheap coffee. Some time later, one of the mechanics comes in holding what looks like the bellows of a dusty gray accordion, framed in cracked black plastic. He informs you that “this is your air filter, and as you can see, it’s pretty dirty. All these little nubblets are flowing into you car’s cabin, and they’re even dancing in your lungs right now. You don’t want dancing nubblets in your lungs, do you? I didn’t think so. We can replace it for a minimal fee price that seems awfully high for a framed broken accordion. Oh, also, you need new wiper blades, your brakes are broken, and your tail lights need replaced. That all comes out to exactly twice the price we advertised to get you to hand over your keys.”

Reluctantly, you sign the work order, and Mike the Maniacal Mechanic texas two-steps back to the garage. And you go back the the magazines. Then your phone. Then you stare blankly at the wall. For exactly three times as long as they advertised to get you to hand over your keys.

Too long; didn’t read: upsell, hidden fees, mechanic jargon, unknown wait time, old magazines, bad reception on a little old tube TV playing Faux Fox News.

Or, you can go to you car dealership: sit in a comfy chair, have a cold soda or some fresh coffee, wait the expected time and pay an even more exorbitant amount of money after getting a softer version of the upsell.

What if you could go somewhere with the high-touch service you get from luxury car dealers when you bring your car in for service, but split the market? Luxury-level service in a stand-alone, convenient location, simple, all-inclusive pricing that is less expensive than a dealership, but more than a quick-change place. All the services could be ordered via a website, Yelp, or Android/iOS/Windows Phone apps. You could even offer pick-up/drop off service.

To get here, I used a framework developed by Rita McGrath, called the Attribute Map. Check it out– it’s a great way to systematically analyze opportunities for innovation. In this example, we’re competing against a negative on the attribute map.

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