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Franchise Players: How This Franchisee Runs 200 Oil Change Shops

Don Smith owns Valvoline franchises from coast to coast, with locations in 12 states with more than 1,000 employees.
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 is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email .

Back in 1989, Don Smith was one of the first Valvoline Instant Oil Change franchisees. However, once he opened up his first shop, he decided there was only one way to go – up. With dreams of expanding nationwide, he went on the hunt from state to state for existing stores to buy. Today, he is the largest Valvoline Instant Oil Change franchisee with 195 locations in 12 states with more than 1,000 employees. Here's how he's done it.

Name: Don Smith 

Franchise owned: Valvoline Instant Oil Change, with 200 stores nationwide.

How long have you owned a franchise?

Since 1989.

Related: Franchise Players: Finding a Niche in a Crowded Market

Why franchising? 

Franchising gave me a system in an area I had no knowledge in.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

Petroleum geologist and Exploration company owner.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

There weren’t many quick lubes in Boston at the time and Valvoline was just starting to franchise. They already had over 200 stores, so we knew they had systems in place to run them well. As it turns out, Valvoline is the only large quick lube franchise remaining with company owned stores. This is very important because they deal with operations every day.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

Building: $350,000; Equipment: $100,000; Franchise fees (Development area): $125,000

These are the costs in 1989, and we did a lot ourselves. Stores now run about $700-800,000 to construct.

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Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

Calling and talking to people. We took trips to talk to other franchisors.

What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise? 

Too many customers and not enough trained people… we were Valvoline’s first franchise to open.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

Do the research and make sure you know the numbers and you can MAKE MONEY. The franchisor should have an ulterior motive for franchising. They should be a “product franchise” where they sell you something besides just collecting royalties and fees.

What’s next for you and your business?

More stores!

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