Perhaps the greatest achievement to entrepreneurial success is not the monetary gain, but rather the satisfaction of knowing you’ve made your parents proud. For some individuals like Gino Gargiulo, his father never had an opportunity to witness his success due an early passing. Vowing to make his father proud, Gino took a chance with a mobile oil change business that was dominated by well known brands to become a recognized small business in Florida. Today, his business has grown to an 8 figure empire and has expanded to different verticals within the automotive repair and customization niche.
A big part of entrepreneurship is how we’re brought up in our families and the beliefs we’re given from a very early age. Can you tell us a little bit about your early background?
I was brought up in Brooklyn, New York. My Italian family always had that very hard work ethic. My dad had a successful produce company in Manhattan and worked very hard. All of our friends, acquaintances, back then everybody worked hard and long hours, so I was brought up like that. My family had a really good life when I was young; always had the newest boats from when I was 8 years old. My dad really spoiled us, and offered us a good life although I went through some rough times..
Your dad was an entrepreneur and had his own company, so you were born into the entrepreneurial background from the beginning. What were some of the main things you observed from your dad early on that you think attributed to your success today?
My dad was a very well respected and honest guy with thousands of friends. Everything he did, if he had an appointment, had a dinner date, etc; he never canceled. He was always punctual, like crazy punctual. One of his pet peeves was if the other person was late. He had no patience for that, and I see a lot of that in myself. From an early age, these were the things that I always tried to instill in myself, and he would always try to motivate us as well.
I remember when I was in fifth grade, I used to buy fireworks, bring them to school, and sell them at school. I would have a price list, and all the kids at school bought fireworks from me until I got caught. I got suspended, but ever since I was young I was always trying to hustle.
Would you mind telling us how you went from living comfortably to the rough couple of years in your life?
Back in the 80’s, cocaine was very popular and out in the open. I liked cocaine more than anything else which was one of the reasons that I felt I had really let my dad down, because he was really heartbroken over my drug use. Then he passed away, and I had a lot of regrets mainly about how bad I was at the end of his life. I know he died worrying about where I was going to go. After he died, I ended up homeless; the rest of my family completely disowned me. I was homeless for about a year and a half in New York. I had a shirt on my back, a white pair of shoes, no socks, and they were so rotted from being out in the rain. They were falling apart and smelled so bad.
I remember one night I had gone to the subway to sleep, and I remember being cold. I had my dad’s Members Only jacket, which was old and beat up. When the doors would open on the train, it would be so cold. Every time somebody would come on the train, I would sit up and try to wake up, because I was so embarrassed. I just remember that part of my life; I hid all the time. I would never beg for money.
One time at a train station I saw a lady eating a piece of pizza; she took two bites of the pizza and the train came, so she threw it out. It was sitting right on top, and I remember taking the pizza and eating it. It was the best thing I had eaten in over a week. It was just a shitty point of my life. Your self-esteem gets so low that you never think you’re going to come back from that. I was fortunate enough that my brother and cousin came and found me and sent me out to Minnesota to Hazelden Drug Treatment. I went out there for the normal 30 days, and then I went to a halfway house for six months which turned into two years. I have been sober ever since for 25 years now.
When I left Minnesota, I came down to Florida because it’s where my mom lived, but I really had nothing. Once I had a clear head and was sober, I just had to figure out what to do to make it again.
Where do you think you got that drive to go out and get things done from such an early age?
It was partially money motivated, but also because I always tried to make my dad proud. Some of the things that I focused on might not have been the right thing or the right priorities, but I feel that’s where the motivation came from.
When you have nothing, and really nothing, once you get that leg up and start being a little successful and having the things you want and need, you’re so afraid to go back to where you were. It’s that fear that keeps me moving every day.
How did you start Oil Can Man?
I dropped out of school in ninth grade, so I didn’t have a lot of schooling and without a lot of schooling it’s not easy to get a good job. I came up with the idea of doing mobile oil changes, because I knew it was always a pain in the butt to go to a Jiffy Lube or something similar. I had zero experience with doing oil changes, but I knew it was a good idea. So I went and filled out some applications at Jiffy Lube and Oil Change Connection.
I actually applied at the oil change places to learn how to do oil changes, so that I could start my own mobile business. I didn’t want to work at Jiffy Lube. There is not a lot of real opportunity out there unless you make an opportunity. Unless you want to go and work for $8 or $9 per hour, you have to figure it out.
After about 10 different applications, I never got a job. I never got hired, so I said, “You know what, I will just figure out how to do it myself.”
How did you learn the additional business and automotive skills to perform the job?
I bought a book called The Backyard Mechanic, and with an old broken-down van, I would basically go to people’s houses, knock on doors, or go to corporate parks and walk into businesses, and then I would open a book and say, “Okay, this is the power steering fluid. This is the brake fluid.” I was using Pennzoil, because they had a 1-800 filter line so you could call them and they would tell you, “Okay, it’s this filter” and walk you through everything. In the beginning though, it was a disaster because every car is different. But I knew that it was a good idea, and I had to make it work.
I would be up at 6AM going to businesses, while all the trucks and drivers were there trying to get oil changes. Then during the day, I would go to corporate parks or supermarkets and hand out flyers. At night, I would go back to the corporate parks and put flyers on all their trucks so they would see it the next morning. I did this seven days a week. It definitely took a while to get going, but I knew that there was a need for this and I could make it work.
How were you able convince people to use you versus a well known company such as Jiffy Lube?
It definitely was the price, because I would set the price similar to Jiffy Lube. Also, the convenience was a huge factor. No matter what, it’s an hour by the time you get in and get out. It’s funny because all my customers back then really thought I was the world’s best mechanic, and they would ask all these questions. I really didn’t know nearly as much as I portrayed myself to know, but over the years you learn.
What was the biggest fear you had to overcome when portraying yourself as being more knowledgeable than you really were?
It was fear and terror all the time, because every time you’re doing a vehicle that you haven’t done before, things are different. For example, one time I had a customer with a brand new Mustang. He just put 200 miles on it, and he wanted to get the break-in oil out of it. At that time, I had a pump with a gun that I would set at 6 quarts. Well, I didn’t realize that on the new Mustangs, you had to pull the dipstick out first because if you didn’t, an air pocket would form. So here I’m pumping the oil in this guy’s brand new car, and the oil starts shooting out. I panicked, and the gun starts shooting oil over the engine bay. I thought he was going to kill me.
I’ve had so many situations like that, but you live and learn. Back then, you didn’t have the internet like you do now so you research everything. I would never say no to anything. Whatever it was, I would figure it out; and if it was something I couldn’t figure out, I’d have someone help me that could figure it out.
Tell me how you evolved from doing oil changes door-to-door into a multi-million dollar empire?
The biggest factor I would come across all the time was that people would say, “Well, do you do brakes, or do you do any other type of repairs?” I’d have to say no in the very beginning. Then they would say, “Well, I’ll just have the oil changed when I get my brakes done, because I need brakes anyway.” So at that point, I made deals with mechanics after work. I would work all day, and at 6-7PM when the mechanics got off from their day job, I go pick them up and we go do the mechanical work until 12-1AM.
Eventually, we started getting a few small fleet accounts, because we never said no to anything and we would never let them go anywhere else. Whether they need brakes or windows, we’ve always just been there for anything they need and grew from that. Larger fleets came, and then we got into diesel trucks, and it was the same thing.
Awhile back, I was trying to find someone to make decals for my boats and personal stuff. I couldn’t find anybody dependable, so I bought a print machine and started doing my own stuff. We started offering that service to some of our clients, and with that we got into light bars for security vehicles. Now we have our own light bars manufactured overseas. Basically, anything a fleet needs, they call us – whether it’s a sales car, a straight truck, a semi, a forklift, a crane – anything they need for their vehicles, they just have to call us rather than five different companies.
How were you able to maintain your trustworthy reputation while also managing the tremendous growth of your company as a one man show?
That was a hurdle, and to this day, our customers deal directly with me if they have any issues. If the answering service calls one of my techs, and my techs don’t call back quickly enough, I’ll get a call. We still do it that way, and because of that and the trust we have built, people know that whatever they need that I’ll be there.
Fleets and companies give us more and refer us more. I never advertised in Yellow Pages, I don’t have any salespeople; all of our business is word of mouth. Customers are either seeing our trucks or talking to somebody.
Has your business always been based off of referrals or did you have to go out and canvas new clients and business opportunities?
In the beginning, I did have to push a little bit. I would always do sales calls myself, and I would always be the one to knock on the doors. But because of the niche we have and what we do, we get busy pretty quick. We’re always, always busy; we don’t have slow days or slow times. It’s not nearly as difficult as it used to be, but you always have to push to get that business and once you have it, you have to keep it.
Fortunately, we are able to maintain a good reputation, and I do whatever it takes to keep our customers happy. If there’s ever a question or they are not happy about something, I tell my customers, “I’ll throw an invoice away rather than have you guys upset over it.”
Tell me about the business ventures you are involved in now besides Oil Can Man, and how you were able to expand to totally different verticals without any prior experience.
We offer exotic car wraps to our existing clients, but to tell you the truth I actually try and keep it to a minimum. My guys would love to be wrapping Ferraris all day, but I feel that as soon as you make your business the things that you enjoy and are passionate about, it takes away the passion a little bit. So I’d almost rather not do too much of the high-end exotic car stuff, because that’s what I really love.
I’m also the first franchisee of BurgerFi. It was started four years ago by my friend John Rosati, and the first one was built on Lauderdale-By-the-Sea. I was the first franchisee, but the fourth store to open down in Aventura. That is where I’m really putting a lot of my effort right now: to open additional stores.
It’s really a cool concept: everything is all natural, grass-fed beef without hormones. We cut the potatoes every morning; it’s a lot of work, but it is by far the best burger I’ve ever had in my life. It’s really a great opportunity. Owning a franchise is very different than anything else I do, and the biggest challenge has been having to follow rules and follow somebody else’s structure and the way they want things done.
Since you actually knew the founder of BurgerFi, were you able to give your input and ideas of how things could be run from an entrepreneurial standpoint?
Believe me, I do give a lot of input (probably a lot more than they like). A lot of things they do, I get my way, but the problem is the other franchisees are business people with their own ideas as well. For any change they make, they have to change all the stores, but that’s really been the toughest part for me. Sometimes I want to do a certain type of marketing, but they feel that’s not really the way to go. It’s one of those things where they’re trying to keep something uniform, because the formula is working. The BurgerFis are doing fantastic, so they don’t want to make a lot of changes.
What do you think has attributed to the explosive growth of BurgerFi?
A lot of celebrities are getting involved, like Mike Miller from the Miami Heat. He has two open now, and he just bought ten more. We have Albert Haynesworth, the football player, who has one in Tennessee. A lot of other high profile people have stores opening, and I think a lot of it has to do with who you know.
Tell me a little bit about some of the other businesses that you’ve been involved in since The Oil Can Man has been successful?
The other one that actually evolved more than Can Man is R&G Auto Solutions where we liquidate fleet vehicles for our clients. When one of our fleet customers buys a new vehicle, we will wrap it, install light bars (if needed), and maintain them for the life of the vehicle. When it comes time to upgrade their fleet and get rid of some of the older stuff, we will go in and evaluate which vehicles they should get rid of by either condition or money they’ve put into certain vehicles. Then we’ll bid on them; but usually we end up buying the vehicles from them ourselves, strip them down, take the wraps off, recondition them, and then resell them.
What advice do you have for someone who might be stuck on the idea that a plan is necessary in order to succeed?
If you have an idea, just go with your gut. Don’t think too deeply about it, because normally what you are worried about or thinking about is not going to happen anyway. You waste a lot of time and a lot of energy procrastinating. If you have it in your heart that you could make it work; then you can make it work, and you’ll figure it out.
Let’s talk a little bit about the fun side of things. Can you tell me about how you got into fast cars and boats?
My dad always had crazy Corvettes with big motors, and he raced boats back in 1979 with one of my best friends, who was my dad’s best friend back then, John Rosatti. So, I always just had that need for speed.
What “dream cars” have you had?
My first “dream car” that I bought was a BMW 850. I thought back then that was like the coolest car. Then I went through several Porsches, and I got my first Murcielago in 2004. I’ve had six or seven since then. I’ve had a lot of other stuff in between, the Ferraris and everything else, but the Lamborghini has always been my favorite since I was a little kid. I had that poster of the Lamborghini Countach with Farrah Fawcett on my wall. When I was able to get my first one, I just treasured it so much, and to this day I just love getting in the car. I drive them every day.
What other cars in your collection do you like very much?
I just got a new Rolls Royce Wraith which I really like. It has the comfort and the speed. It’s the sporty hair blowing; it’s everything. I also have a bunch of trucks and a SportChassis. But the Lamborghini is by far my favorite. I was planning on building a Lamborghini boat for a couple of years when I saw the Mercedes boat, and the Mercedes boat to this day is the world record holder for world’s fastest pleasure boat at 193 miles per hour.
I really wanted to do something crazy, so we came up with the theme for the Aventador, and the amount of work in designing it was incredible. Marine Technology built it for me, and we actually got permission from Lamborghini to build it, because they didn’t want a lawsuit. They knew it would get a lot of attention, so they were very helpful and gave me parts for the boat. My plan was to unveil the new Aventador Roadster (which wasn’t out at the time) with the boat at the Miami Boat Show last year. The Boat Show is in February, and in November Lamborghini called and said, “Listen, we have a problem. The Roadsters aren’t going to make it in time, and we know you have a deadline because you have this whole plan to get everything done.” But there was another option. The owner of the dealership had an Anniversary edition on order (and I hadn’t even heard of the Anniversary edition at this point), and he said I could have that car which was one out of only 100 made. As soon as I saw the car, I absolutely fell in love with it.
What are some tips you can share with today’s new aspiring entrepreneurs?
First and most important, just say no to drugs. Secondly, follow your gut. If you have a dream, just go for it and do whatever it takes. Don’t take no for an answer; no matter how many “no’s” you get, if you really believe in it, you can make it work. I remember when I was first starting Oil Can Man I told my mom about it, and she broke my heart when she told me “Ah, you don’t want to be a grease monkey.” My heart was already in it, and I had a bigger picture in my head. I wasn’t thinking I was going to be a “grease monkey” oil change guy. I didn’t know I was going to have Oil Can Man like it is today, but it was almost her telling me not to do it that motivated me that much more, and I fed off that.
We really appreciate Gino for sharing his incredible story with us. You can find more information about him below:
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