“The 10-minute oil change was just starting off. I went and visited some of them in other cities. I didn’t feel Rome could support just oil changes, so I added tune-ups.”
Twenty-five years later, Quick Tune & Lube is a small-business success story. It’s expanded but remains in the same spot at 2 Riverbend Drive. It’s been victimized by Etowah River flooding. It’s watched Riverbend Mall at its back close and Riverbend Center rise in its place.
About the only thing that’s not new in the area since Gates opened in March 1984 is the Floyd Bowling & Amusement Center. The medical component of Riverbend Center, a group of health care businesses, is now a neighbor. Across the street is the new Riverbend Medical Center.
“I picked up a lot of new customers because of the people who work there,” he said. “But the main growth comes from referrals, word of mouth.”
Also, “My customers were wanting me to do more work on their cars,” he said. So in 1989 he opened a four-bay brake shop next door, and in 1995 he added two more bays to the tune-up shop, giving him a total of 10 bays today. His mechanics do more than the maintenance work that was the genesis of the business.
“There’s nothing close to what we did 25 years ago, other than the oil change,” Gates said. “The 10-minute oil change is the backbone of the business. It’s where we initially meet new customers.”
Looking over the two-bay oil change pit, Gates said, “It’s a functional design. If I were starting over today, I don’t think I’d change it.”
Behind the success
“The biggest challenge is having to adjust and train and buy new equipment,” he said. “It’s a challenge keeping up with new cars and technology coming out. But if you don’t change, you get left behind. I have not had any problem keeping good help,” Gates said. Two of his five mechanics have been with him more than 20 years.
“They’re dependable and very people-oriented. They each have their specialties.
“To be in business as long as we have, you have to have your customers’ trust. I’ll undersell you before I oversell you.
“I’ve got long-time customers whose kids are doing business with us now. I’ve got a customer in Ohio whose daughter is here. He works his maintenance schedule around when he comes to Rome.
“We’ve been really blessed. Customers are what make any business successful. We’ve had great relationships and very few problems.”
Customers have also taken to his father, John Gates, who retired and was soon restless. He began spending time at the shop.
“He just enjoys meeting people,” Gates said. “If he’s not here, customers ask if he’s OK.”
In the current economy, Gates said, “People are putting off maintenance. But the repair part (of his business) is up. When a water pump starts leaking or the engine starts skipping, people bring the car in.”