With the exception of several corporate entities lining High School Road, retail chains are generally less important to islanders than they are on the mainland. Why?
Various reasons, but when it comes to service-related businesses such as vehicle maintenance there’s no doubt that many locals would prefer having the work done on the island.
That’s something Mike Brooks realized when decided to add a quick lube and minor engine repair business next to his car wash at the corner of Madison Avenue and Wyatt Way.
Brooks, who also owns a car wash and detail operation in Poulsbo, said he looked into bringing an Oil Can Henry’s to the island when he leased the entire building a few years ago.
“It was do it the franchise’s way or you don’t do it,” Brooks said. He said no.
“The island is unique because businesses like mine need to orient themselves toward the customers more than the chains are willing to do. There’s the commuting issue where people want a ride to their homes after getting off the ferry. The public transportation here makes it tough to get around without a car, and people are also reluctant to go off island.”
Brooks considers such requests to be reasonable and most island mechanics provide free rides to their customers.
“But the franchises worry about the liability issues and other regulations involved with transporting people, and it just became obvious that it wasn’t worth fighting about it,” he said.
So he started an independent oil lube business on the corner a year ago and likes the response he’s getting.
“I wanted to start slow so that our service was good from the beginning. That’s worked out,” he said. “There were some bumps in the road, but the lube business is picking up.”
There’s also a detailing service that goes with the car wash. Mechanics work on brakes, belts, batteries, automatic transmissions, tuneups and other minor repairs.
Brooks believes islanders appreciate that the money stays on the island and the business is community oriented. “We can donate to the community involving things that we do at our site, like helping out with service groups,” he said. “You can’t give back to the community in that way, when you have a franchise.”
Brooks, who drives to the island from his Poulsbo home nearly each of the seven days he’s open weekly, has six full-time employees, including site manager Layne DeGrow.
While the car wash/detailing part of the business is consistent during the drier months, he believes the two lube bays will eventually be the strength of a going concern.
“We’re now getting repeat business because people like our personal touch and we compare favorably in price and time of drive-in service (15 minutes with no appointments) as the franchises,” he said.
“We do the same thing as Jiffy Lube for $37.95 and we offer a free car wash with the higher-quality, synthetic oil change ($62). We use only Castrol oil and lubrications, which I think is better than Pennzoil. And they never have to leave the island.”
He has one other thing going for him on the island, he said.
“The IslandMoms seem to like us.”