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Eat, Wash, Fill Up

Situated in a prime location at the junction of Route 196 and Route 9, the Mobil 1 Lube Express site in Lisbon Falls, Maine, is a quick stop for an oil change or transmission fluid top-off. But auto drivers who stop by are in for more than just a quick lube when they pull onto these grounds — the site is also home to a gas station, convenience store, liquor store, deli, self-service car wash and a 24-hour laundromat.

The two-acre plot pools together these different business ventures under one ownership, creating a haven of convenience for shoppers looking to complete all of their errands in one fell swoop. "The main idea is to offer several progressive businesses in one lot, so when you park your car, you can get gas, you can get anything a convenience store would have, a car wash and a sub or a pizza," said Mark Laroche, owner of Mobil 1 Lube Express facility. "It's a one-stop shop."

Laroche first opened for business in 1979 with fast food and a convenience store on the site. His business expanded to include gas under the Mobil brand name in 1982, a car wash in 1985 and the laundromat in 1986. The laundromat, which covers 1,200 square feet and houses 26 washers and 16 dryers, may seem an odd match with the other businesses, but Laroche said it has performed well from the start. "It sounds quirky, but it is extremely cost-effective and you make a great profit," said Laroche. Thanks to the success of his venture well into the late 1980s, Laroche saw an opportunity for more growth through the addition of a lube shop on the grounds in 1989.

"Originally, the car wash was detached from the building and positioned in front of the shop and was not effective for business," Laroche said. "I didn't know what was happening in my car wash or the lube, because you couldn't see it really." Laroche opted to tear down the bays and rebuild the automated car wash adjacent to the lube shop. "If you're going to put money into anything, you might as well put money into the things that you already own," he said. The car wash and Mobil 1 Lube Express now share an integrated waiting area with a picture window looking into the car wash, so customers can watch the cars being washed as they wait.

Interestingly, the driving factor to rebuild the lube as an adjacent entity was actually to save costs for the car wash and laundromat: Both facilities are heated by recycled oil from the lube shop that now resides next door. "I built the lube for the waste oil to make hot water and heat for the laundromat and the car wash," Laroche said. "The Mobil 1 Lube Express has turned out to be a really good thing, don't get me wrong, but I really did it to cut down on my utilities cost. Then I partnered with Mobil 1, and I used their program where applicable."

The Mobil 1 Lube Express Program provides both financial and operational assistance to its operators in every aspect from getting the business up and running to assisting in day-to-day operations. The company provides professional marketing materials, as well as a national advertising campaign that helps operators at the local level drive sales. Laroche added signage to the car wash from ExxonMobil Fuels and created a fresh new look in the lube shop's waiting area by installing black and white checkered tile and granite-colored counters. "Our image became much more professional after we modified the appearance of the shop and integrated the car wash, resulting in a 50 percent increase in business," he said.

The Mobil 1 Lube Express has three bays, usually with four employees working at a time. The rate for a standard oil change currently runs about $24.49. Laroche has experimented with many different promotional incentives for his customers over the years, but said he finds his current method to work best. "We do about $3,000 a month in just upselling," Laroche said. "We give $3 off a car wash with an oil change, and we sell codes off our gas pumps with $1 off if you buy gas as well." The S Series G-5 car wash, which runs from $7 to $9 depending on the grade chosen, is fully automated and runs 24 hours a day, as does the laundromat.

Passing the Buck

The original convenience store with which Laroche began his business venture back in 1979 is not the same establishment that's there today. In 1984, Laroche arrived at work one morning to discover every c-store operator's worst nightmare. "We had a complete and total burnout. I came to work one morning and the store was leveled — completely burnt to the ground," Laroche said. "It was a fryer I had bought that very day, and they did not hook it up right. Luckily, no one was hurt or anything, but the store didn't just burn, it actually had exploded."

A new 4,400-square-foot convenience store was constructed later that year, and Laroche was soon back in business. But over the years, Laroche realized keeping up a one-site convenience store chain was no easy task. "I'm a small businessman in a small town. I ran the store for 10 years, and I got my lesson," Laroche said. "The gasoline business is a big business for the big boys. If you've got one station and you want to legitimately compete in the market, realistically, you're done before you start."

Because he wasn't able to get the volume discounts that major multi-store chains enjoy, Laroche watched his car wash and laundromat businesses grow, while his c-store business barely stayed afloat. In 1990, Laroche opted to lease the convenience store and gas station to XtraMart Convenience Stores, a 400-plus chain out of Connecticut, which still operates the store today. Under its management, the c-store began once again to be a viable factor against local competitors. "When XtraMart does a contract with Mobil, it's for 75 million gallons. Isn't that a little different than my 3 million?" he asked with a laugh.

The site includes a Dunkin' Donuts, Agency Liquor Store and Mark's Deli, which is still operated by Laroche and offers a full menu of subs and pizzas.

Dubbed a Best in Class Operator for Mobil 1 Lube Express, Laroche's business remains successful, he said, because of the way each unit plays off each other. The seasonality of each business segment varies, allowing steady business throughout the year. For instance, the car wash sees its busiest months in the winter during snow season. "Everything works off each other. The lube gets the best business in the summer. You've got the car wash that's busy in the winter and the laundromat that's busy in the winter because people wear more clothes, and then the deli is busy in the summer."

When asked whether additional sites are on his agenda, Laroche said that his Mobil 1 Lube Express facility is his bread and butter and will remain as such. Lisbon Falls, which has a population of about 25,000, has been a successful location for the entrepreneurial Laroche family for decades. "I am the eighth generation of my family to make a living here," Laroche said. "My grandmother gave me this piece of land. I think we did a pretty good job."
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