LOUISVILLE, Ky.-Back by popular demand....Well, sort of. Right now it's only an experiment prompted, in part, by customer requests. But after refocusing its automotive service business a year ago to eliminate underhood and lube work, Chicago-based Sears, Roebuck and Co. has shifted gears again. On May 14 it marked the grand opening of three Jiffy Lube service centers in three Louisville-area Sears locations.
The six-month test could pave the way for a return of oil changes and other routine maintenance at many of Sears' 779 auto centers nationwide. The retailer discontinued those low-profit services in March 1993 in order to concentrate on selling tires, batteries, brakes, shock absorbers and front-end alignments.
Under the terms of the agreement, Jiffy Lube International Inc., the largest fast oil change and fluid maintenance system in America, has remodeled, equipped and will operate service areas within the three Sears centers. The company took over several bays at each site, added lifts, and also either upgraded waiting rooms or, in one case, converted a used-tire stockroom into a Jiffy Lube-only waiting room.
Jiffy Lube President Clyde W. Beahm said the facilities will feature the company's regular 14-point fluid maintenance package, which includes an oil change and oil filter replacement as well as fuel injection cleaning, radiator flush and fill, air conditioner recharge, light bulb replacement and other services.
``For our part, we will benefit from the excellent locations of the Sears facilities,'' he said. ``Sears will be able to focus its attention on tires, batteries and other services not offered by Jiffy Lube....''
And, noted Jim Thornton, Sears vice president of automotive, the partnership will provide Sears customers with ``an even wider selection of services....''
Better serving the needs of its customers motivated Sears to undertake the pilot program, according to Bob McHenry, public relations manager for Sears' auto service group.
``Many of our customers still pull in thinking they can get an oil change or a tune-up,'' he said. ``Even though we've refocused our auto center business, not everyone knows that.
``We don't like to disappoint any customers. At the same time, we're committed to sticking with the new design of our auto centers and the products and services we will perform.''
He called the Sears-Jiffy Lube alliance a mutually beneficial one that will increase the level of services-and traffic-for both. And although Jiffy Lube customers ``are only around for about eight to 10 minutes,'' they'll be exposed to Sears' array of products and services.
Mr. McHenry would not speculate on how Sears might roll out the program if it proves successful. ``This is an honest-to-God test,'' he said. ``To put a spin on it that we're sure it's going to work sounds positive, but we're just waiting and hoping it will work out.''
After six months, both companies will evaluate the program and, he said, ``if we make the assumption now that this is something that both companies are interested in, we'll begin to look at the other markets.''
However, he admitted, ``We don't envision this happening in every Sears auto center-even if things work out very, very well''-due to space limitations or the close proximity of other Jiffy Lube outlets.
Jiffy Lube, a wholly owned subsidiary of Houston-based Pennzoil Co., said the new facilities employ 40 people, and bring to seven its outlets in the Louisville area.