Firm, Fair, and Friendly: Teamwork and Family Drive Expansion
In the late 1970s, David Griffin set out to build an auto detailing business. Some years later, he found himself at the helm of a large, scattered operation. He'd opened five separate locations in Utah, including a large central complex, along with an independent chemical business and distribution center that provided the materials he needed to clean vehicles for local retail consumers, car dealers, and the large, national Manheim auto auction company.
His business took a new turn in 1999, when he added a fast-lube operation at one of his locations. "It satisfied a need my customers had," says Griffin. "And that's how I got into the Jiffy Lube world. From that point of buying one, we're now at 51."
A few years ago, Griffin sold off all but one of his car wash and auto detailing locations so he could concentrate his time and attention on building his fast-lube business, which has quickly proliferated in three states: Utah, Colorado, and Nevada.
"Our past primed us for the present," says Griffin. "We really appreciate what the franchisor does for us. We came to fast lube after developing a franchise-like business on our own. We had to develop our own procedure, our own chemicals, everything from scratch in its entirety. Jiffy Lube had accumulated all these practices that were paradigms of success, and accumulated knowledge from when they acquired other franchises. We came from the ground up and we know how hard it is when you have to do it from scratch. Now all we have to do is run our business."
Griffin is used to doing things the hard way. The son of a hardscrabble farmer, he's earned everything he owns today. He works hard, something his three sons have taken to heart as they've assumed trusted positions in his growing operation. And he can rely on his wife and partner, Joye, for wise advice and unending support. The tightly knit family business is made stronger by their teamwork and a shared sense of purpose.
"We don't plan on stopping. Our objective is to continue to grow," says the hard-charging Griffin. --who says also happy to play as hard as he works. Every day is a family day for him, whether he's working long hours or enjoying time with his three grandchildren. But he's not growing the business just to get bigger or have more things. Growth is his opportunity to give back to the people who work in his franchises and live in his communities.
"He who gets and who never gives over a lifetime will never live, either in his personal life or business life, " says Griffin. "If you are a taker and everything good draws into you, how do you think that makes your people feel?" Rather, he says, "We're a builder of people, of young men and women who desire to be successful."
Name: David Griffin
Company: Griffin Fast Lube LLC
No. of units: 51
Family: Married 30 years to Joye, wife, business partner, and closest adviser, with three sons, three daughters-in-law, and three grandchildren.
Years in current position: 30
Years in franchising: 10
Key accomplishments: In 2007 we received the Operators of the Year award from Jiffy Lube International. But for me, I'd have to say the greatest one came on our managers' retreat this past week. I had 51 managers there, and with passion and tears in their eyes the Griffin family got the Employer of the Year award from them. That's my biggest accomplishment.
Biggest mistake: Building a full-service car wash. I built a Taj Mahal and put too much money into that facility.
Smartest mistake: Building that car wash. It's twofold. The vision of building that created the opportunity to introduce us to the fast lube franchise. We bought 12 stores in Northern Utah and that quickly opened other doors to buy other stores.
How do you typically spend a day? I like to feel the pulse of the operation on the ground level. I review the stats from the previous day, week, and month. My vice president of operations is our youngest son, John. I will also spend time with Jeff Griffin, vice president over all inventories and vendors. And then I'll be reviewing things with D.J. Griffin, our eldest son, who will be working primarily on marketing as well as addressing new acquisitions or contracts on any new development. And at some point I will talk with Joye. She's my wife and business partner, and we will make sure that we're united on the things we want to do.
Work week: It changes from week to week. There are weeks when I will be looking at all items on the ground level in the three states. We travel two by two. We rarely travel one at a time. We maximize talents and abilities by going together.
Favorite fun activities: I'm a farm kid. I grew up raising horses and I still have five. So I spend time saddling horses, also snow and water skiing. We play as hard as we work.
Exercise/workout: Walking primarily. And I get a hard, physical workout when I'm around my farm. I like to go hiking in the mountains, working on fences, skiing. I don't go to the gym.
Favorite stuff/tech toys: My favorite stuff is a harness for my horses. The tech tools I have, but they're just tools I have to accomplish what I need to do. I most like to spend one-on-one time with my grandchildren.
What are you reading? Leadership and Self-Deception, from the Arbinger Institute. We find our greatest value in our employees, and that's not just lip service. We train people on the business and bettering ourselves as individuals. James Ferrell, the author, came to our retreat and spoke to our team.
Do you have a favorite quote or advice you give? I have a lot of quotes and advice. It depends on the situation. If someone is focusing on something, I'll say: "That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself is changed, but that our power to do is increased." (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
Best advice you ever got: At one point in our career in the chemical business I had another partner, and that partner's outlook was totally opposite of mine. I'm an optimist but realistic. My glass is half full and his is half empty. I ramp up in the worst of times, he ramped down. My wife said, "Babe, you need to step back and decide to be yourself. Once you decide who you are then you need to decide whether you need to be in that chemical business." I couldn't shed his outlook and the death spiral he was in, and that was affecting me. Her advice: Get out.
Formative influences/events: I spent my childhood on a poor farm, the son of a broke farmer. That bred certain attributes into me, living with little to nothing, not having things, being made fun of because I didn't have it. Clothes were hand-me-downs. I was the fifth child of six. I was in the 7th grade reading at a 3rd-grade level branded as attention-deficit, and there was a lady in the remedial reading course for people who couldn't read. She found I was a multi-level thinker and not attention-deficit. That was a real impressive moment. That woman took me from the 3rd-grade level to the 8th-grade level in six months.
The next one would be learning how to work for my father. My Dad had a car wash. Prior to going to work, I'd volunteer and drive tractors and equipment, planting and cultivating crops on 130 acres owned by our church, from early morning to 20 minutes to 8. Then I'd drive to my Dad's place and did it again in the evening. It cut back on my play time but increased what I call service and work time, and I found great pleasure in working for others.
Then, when I married Joye 30 years ago. She s been telling me things about myself I never knew. She was the absolute making of me.
How do you balance life and work? We don't keep score on one side or the other. We're passionate in the business and the same with our personal lives. We spend time at the cabin with our horses, working in the religious sector, serving other people in the community. But we're not keeping score. It's a well-woven rope all the way through.
Business philosophy: We grow during the economic downturns. During the fat years we are maturing inside the core, developing the leadership of our people, saving and paying off debt. We have stores that are up 47 percent in customers. This is a great opportunity at a time competitors are hesitating or focusing on their own demise. Very few people can stand in a circle of fire and not feel the heat. Two years ago we bought Nevada. Last September we bought Colorado. This is from our company manual:
"Griffin Fast Lube believes in creating valuable services for customers and enjoyable work environments for employees. To do that, a set of values and information must be known and achieved by all employees. GFL does not create a comprehensive list of rules and regulations that will guide employees through every possible situation. Rather, it hires teachable individuals, with good core values. We build off those core values and teach them how to understand and evaluate situations, so that they can make correct decisions. This type of management stimulates innovation and allows management to be creative. These values and creativity show to our customers, which then builds excitement and loyalty."
Would you say you are in the franchising, real estate, or customer service business? Why? The customer service business. We have a lot of real estate, but without our customers we wouldn't have any of it. Our customers are our guests.
What gets you out of bed in the morning? The building and the accomplishment of dreams for all those around me.
What's your passion in business? My sons will tell you that their Dad has passion about operational things. He likes things done exact. They'll say he loves to see passion and growth of the company, increasing our footprint as we grow.
Management method or style: Firm, fair, and friendly. In that order. I'm always firm. I'm always fair, and I'm friendly. You'll see managers hug me when I walk in. They'll say, "Mr. Griffin will communicate but not talk in a demeaning way to me." I'll never tear down the individual.
Greatest challenge: Right now it's keeping everybody from not letting the economic downturn affect them negatively. You have so much negativity coming out from what's written and what's viewed on TV. But I try teaching them how to look at that as an opportunity instead of a downfall. My father was in the 111th Airborne unit. He lived through the '29 crash, the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hitler declaring war on the U.S. It was all turmoil. He taught me about an individual named Marie who was asked to make desserts when it was hard to make food. She was a single mother raising a child, and built a bakery in '48. In 1968 she had 26 restaurants and today, what, 182? She was Marie Callender. I bought a home when interest rates were at 18 percent, car sales were down, home sales were down, and homebuilders were going broke. In 2010 interest rates are low but car sales and home sales are down and homebuilders are going broke, car dealerships are going broke. And Griffin Fast Lube has doubled twice in two years. The opportunities don't float to the surface unless something difficult happens.
How close are you to operations? There is a Griffin in these stores a minimum of every month, most generally twice a month. I am in every store at least once a month.
How do others describe you? They'd say I'm an individual with a lot of passion and discipline, somebody who has the ability to care for all of us beyond the employee at work and into their homes and families. They would say when he gets a goal in his mind he can work dog-tired under extreme circumstances. I work as a team, I don't run point. I'm not that type of manager. I'm side by side with my wife through all of this. That's why we get so much accomplished.
How do you hire and fire? All of our employees are clearly communicated with as to what the job position requires and their daily, weekly and monthly responsibilities. Their managers clearly communicate as to what they're doing right or wrong, and their job is to teach them along the way how to get better. If you find someone resistant or negative or foul-mouthed, if they don't move on they won't be able to stay with us. We're firm, fair, and friendly. At the same token, we're very careful about who we hire. These aren't just bodies coming through the door.
How do you train and retain? We have a training program buddied with Jiffy Lube's program. Everyone gets certified on the customer side and the procedure with the vehicle. How do you deal with problem employees? Clear communications verbally and then written up. A key point: we follow back up with training in their area of default.
What kinds of things are you doing to take care of your employees? Our management team participates in profit-sharing from the locations they operate for us. We provide them with a clear understanding of the profit-and-loss statement.
How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, healthcare, etc.)? I mentioned we're paying for health insurance. At this point the biggest thing in a down economy is to lift the quality of our overall employment. There's a lot more unemployed and we can be a little more selective and we can upgrade, become a better performer. By hiring better we can improve our situation.
How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees? We evaluate key focal points for each manager and assistant manager and we do a lot of "attaboys" when we're out there. We make sure to recognize them in the managers' retreat, bringing them to one location with an awards banquet.
Annual revenue: Just under $29 million
2010 goals: We are in the process of remodeling and reimaging all of our stores. That's a huge process. We're replacing and putting in armchairs and leather chairs in the lounges, painting, remodeling, and repairing.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? How many stores we've added and where's the targeted area for our next 2-3-4-5 stores. Improving the footprint overall; improving the talents and abilities of the management team. We're always evaluating the customer experience.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? First and foremost, have all the stores reimaged with all buildings having the same new-age Jiffy Lube made clear. I want a better-trained employee working in a new and improved facility. Even if we do not get any opportunity to open other markets, we can still add 25 to 30 more locations.
How has the most recent economic cycle affected you, your employees, your customers? Our employees have been inspiring us as a corporate team and customers feel the inspiration as well. The stats verify that. We're one of four front-runners for Jiffy Lube International. We're climbing and that filters down into our customers.
Are you experiencing economic growth/recovery in your market? I've seen a kind of a settling in the market. We've had a lot of car dealers close, and it's lifted us. But I don't think we're going to see any more major turnovers. People are starting to get their feet underneath them again.
What did you change/do differently during the recent tough economic times that you plan to continue doing into the future? We got more aggressive. When others duck their heads, we lift ours.
How do you forecast for your business during trying times? Can you even forecast at all? Forecasting becomes a little hard to determine if you look at it in broad geographic areas. When you drive around and identify a need in a county, then it becomes clear. Statewide it's hard to apply it. You have to break it down into a county, get in a car and go with your people. Then you can see what you need to do to lift your market.
Where do you find capital for expansion? That comes as a result of developing trusting relationships with your franchisor and your suppliers. For the most part banking and loans are difficult or nonexistent. Your greatest opportunity is to have a trusting supplier and franchisor.
Is capital getting easier to access? Why/why not? No. Aside from opportunities from Jiffy Lube and Shell, our internal cycle comes from savings and we don't even approach the bank on those items. If you wanted to acquire just the franchise and lease the facilities, very few banks right now, if any, would even consider that. The banking industry is not built to loan money on a straight franchise unit. You need dirt, brick or mortar. Have you used private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? Why/why not? We have used some lightly.
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Multi-Unit Franchisee Magazine: Issue 2, 2010