Discovering Oil: Multi-unit Operator Strikes it Rich with Oil Change Franchises

Darrell Lamb remembers toiling away in the heyday of the mid-90s stock market. He was always searching for new investors, and on the lookout for hot investments. One day some of his advisers told him about an opportunity - a chance to invest in the Express Oil Change franchise. He had reason to trust the advisers since they were his uncle, who was president of the company, and his dad, an Alabama optometrist who was always interested in investing in growing ventures.

"I saw it as a sideline," says Lamb. "I didn't really think of it as a career." But that's what it became.

"My dad always preached that you had to be in a business that made money whether you were there or not," says Lamb. "My family did well in Express Oil. And I was burned out on dialing for dollars, so I thought about owning the asset, building assets. In '97 I started looking for I built two and bought a third in Gainesville. From there I agreed to take over the operation of four more stores so a franchisee could get out. I parted with my existing investors, my parents, in that deal.

"My parents still owned part of the company," says Lamb, "but they were done. I partnered with an investment group after the other owner-operator was ready to get out. The operation wasn't doing well. The owner had lost his drive. He had left a job where he was making good money and needed to go back to his old career, but the investors were on the hook with the debt. I came in with no salary but got half of the action. Several years later I bought most of the partners out."

Five years ago, he made a fateful connection. He began working with Adam Fuller, a fellow entrepreneur and kindred spirit. A year later the two formed LF Management and now operate 24 Express Oil franchises under that group. And Lamb couldn't be happier with the way it's turned out.

"Some locations we own 50/50, some we each own 100 percent," he says. "But we operate as a group." It's a team approach that Lamb clearly enjoys. He's also grateful that he chose to buy into a franchise for a service that people truly need.

"Just look at luxury businesses," he says. "There's no need for what they sell. It's just a want."

Name: Darrell Lamb
Title: Owner/partner with Adam Fuller
Company: LF Management Group

Age: 37
Family: Wife of 12 years; daughter
Years in current position: 12
Years in franchising: 12

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