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Business Spotlight

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by Kris Ann Hegle

SBJ Contributing Writer

"There are hundreds of places people could go to get their oil changed," said Joe Horton, owner and operator of Blue Stream Lube & Oil. "Our customers come to us because we're quick, we're dependable and we're convenient."

When Horton and then-business partner R.L. Mullins started Blue Stream Lube & Oil 10 years ago, the fast-oil-change business was a growing industry. Today the market is saturated, according to Horton. Indeed, Blue Stream has many competitors auto dealerships, local garages, and other fast oil and lube shops.

Still, Blue Stream has managed to expand anywhere from 1 percent to 15 percent every year since its inception, and now the store services more than 20,000 vehicles per year, according to Horton. To keep pace with the competition, Horton employs a variety of business tactics. The first is personal service.

Recently, when Mullins sold his interest in Blue Stream, Greg Byler, the store's original manager, became a part owner. According to Horton, either he or Byler make it a point to be on site every day.

"Some of our customers have been coming to us ever since we opened," Horton said. "If they are having a problem with their car, they know they can talk to one of us directly. There's no absentee management here, and that goes a long way toward providing consistent service."

Blue Stream "just tries to do more in general," Horton said. For example, Blue Stream offers a 24-point oil change and preventive maintenance service. By comparison, Jiffy Lube offers a 14-point service. Blue Stream also works hard to save its customers time, Horton said.

While most auto dealers and local garages have to put the cars they service up on a lift, at Blue Stream, the cars are driven into a service bay that contains a pit. Using a pit saves time, according to Horton, because it gives the service technicians fast and easy access to their work. Saving time is important because all work is performed while the customer waits.

In addition to its 24-point service, Blue Stream technicians do official state motor vehicle inspections, flush and fill radiators, rotate tires, clean fuel injectors, change fuel filters and serpentine belts, and perform other regular maintenance services. Blue Stream also is open 7 days a week as a convenience to customers.

Still, convenience isn't everything. Name recognition also draws customers. Although it is not a franchise, Blue Stream adheres to a set of standards established by Penzoil, a leading oil manufacturer, and the shop bills itself as a "Penzoil preferred lube center," Horton said.

Along with providing oil changes and other maintenance, Blue Stream Lube & Oil is home to two other businesses: Rent-A-Wreck and Overnite Auto Detail.

"We already had a storefront, office, lobby, and a perfect setup for cleaning and maintaining cars," Horton said. "Opening Rent-A-Wreck seemed like a natural add-on to the services we were providing."

Contrary to its name, Rent-A-Wreck vehicles aren't beat-up old clunkers. Most of the vehicles are 2 to 4 years old, and all the vehicles are clean and well-maintained, according to Horton.

When Horton and Byler started Rent-A-Wreck in July 1997, they had only three cars. Today, their rental fleet has expanded to 30 vehicles, and their inventory includes cars, pickups and minivans. About 60 percent to 70 percent of Rent-A-Wreck's customers are working people who live in Springfield, Horton said.

Consequently, Horton doesn't feel Rent-A-Wreck's location, which is on the premises of Blue Stream Lube & Oil at 3325 E. Sunshine St., is detrimental to business.

"We're a neighborhood rent-a-car, as opposed to an airport rent-a-car," he said. "Our business appeals to a different clientele. A lot of our customers come to us because their car is being worked on, and they are looking for the cheapest transportation they can find. They don't want to drive out to the airport to rent a car."

Rent-A-Wreck also attracts customers who might not otherwise be able to rent vehicles. Some customers are under 25 or do not have credit cards a requirement for many other rental car agencies, according to Horton.

In addition to Rent-A-Wreck, Horton and Byler also offer an auto detailing service. Overnite Auto Detail was an outgrowth of the cleanup operation from Rent-A-Wreck. The work is performed in the service bays at Blue Stream after hours by any of the company's 13 employees who are looking for extra work. Cars dropped off by 6 p.m. are available for pick up by 8 a.m. the next day.

"A lot of these auto detail shops are run by young kids," Horton said. "People come to us because they know us. They know if there's a problem, we're still going to be here, and that they'll get the same reliable, dependable service they've always gotten from Blue Stream."

Horton said the response from his existing customer base for Rent-A-Wreck and Overnite Auto Detail has been great, and he is cross-promoting all the businesses. For example, Rent-A-Wreck customers get coupons for discounted oil change and lube services at Blue Stream.

"I'm excited," Horton said of Blue Stream and its satellite businesses. "My work is more interesting these days. All this diversity keeps your juices flowing."

PHOTO CAPTION:

Joe Horton's 10-year-old business on East Sunshine focuses on customer service to stand out in a saturated market. The firm has also grown into other auto-related lines of business. [[In-content Ad]]

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