The Laredo, Texas franchisee switched gears from an international career in the foreign service to owning a successful Grease Monkey business alongside his wife, Amy.
When Robert and Amy Rodriguez opened their Grease Monkey franchise in Laredo, Texas three years ago, they had never actually been business owners before. The parents of toddler twin girls, they found themselves ready for a fresh adventure that would help them put down roots and focus on spending time together as a family. The one-stop automotive maintenance franchise was a perfect fit.
Raised in South Texas, Robert Rodriguez moved back to his birthplace of San Antonio as a young man to attend St. Mary’s University. In the midst of pursuing a degree in business administration, he studied abroad in Austria for a summer—and got hooked on the idea of working overseas.
After graduating and working in financial systems for a couple of years at a Dallas consulting company that helped businesses prepare for the infamous Y2K scare, Rodriguez decided to fulfill his desire to travel the world by joining the foreign service as a computer specialist. Rodriguez then lived overseas for a total of 15 years, holding positions such as Consular Officer and U.S. Diplomat.
“I got so much out of everywhere I lived,” reminisced Rodriguez. His first two-year assignment was in the north-central African country of Chad. Next, he transferred to Frankfurt, Germany for two years, then moved to Ottawa, Canada. It was there that he met Amy, an American expatriate from Vermont. The couple married shortly after Robert’s assignment in Canada was up, and he then headed to his next post in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
The married couple would be reunited soon enough. Amy landed a job with Homeland Security in Laredo, Texas, and after a couple of years, Robert was able to secure an assignment in Mexico, right across the river from Laredo. He worked this final assignment for three years before officially resigning from the foreign service to focus on creating a stable family life.
Rodriguez said that even as a kid, he always had a plan to open up his own automotive repair business in retirement. “I remember helping my grandfather fix tractors at his ranch,” he said, noting that his affinity for tinkering with cars bears similarity to his aptitude for working with computers. “I also worked with my other grandfather, who ran a plumbing company in Austin. I would help maintain the vehicles, change their oil and wash them in the evenings. They paid me, so I got some spending money. I was very mechanically inclined, always taking things apart and putting them back together.”
While working abroad, Rodriguez was able to live minimalistically and save up to eventually scratch his entrepreneurial itch. After leaving the foreign service, he began investigating automotive-related options, keeping in mind that he wanted to work for himself and that he wanted a simple business model to contrast with his experience working within the massive administrative structure of government.
It wasn’t long before a Laredo neighbor brought up Grease Monkey. “There are around 60 Grease Monkey locations in Mexico, and they raved and raved about their experience visiting the location in Monterrey,” said Rodriguez. “They said, ‘You should open something like that.’”
Rodriguez jumped online and saw that management was making a big push to bring on new franchisees to expand the Grease Monkey brand. After a great meeting with the leadership team, the Rodriguezes traveled to Denver, Colorado for Discovery Day. They decided becoming Grease Monkey franchisees was exactly what they wanted to do.
“Laredo was a market that was very much in need of a high-quality car wash and oil change service, and Grease Monkey recognized that as well,” said Rodriguez. “From the start, corporate was very supportive of us, putting us in contact with different companies for financing, and we were able to make it work.”
Construction began on the Laredo Grease Monkey store on October 1, 2015, and built out quickly, with the location opening on February 27, 2016. As the owner of the first conveyorized car wash and the second franchise oil change option in Laredo, Rodriguez said there was a lack of local expertise and support networks available to him. That’s where Grease Monkey’s best-in-class franchisee support came in.
“Grease Monkey has been great. As we were building, our regional franchise developer told us how to get uniforms, furnishings and everything else. They have those relationships with suppliers and companies to help get you started. Without them, I’d still be trying to figure out how to process credit cards—I’d have a cigar box filled with money,” laughed Rodriguez. “Their expertise is invaluable. I can text or call when something comes up and get an answer immediately.”
Servicing around 1,300 cars every month, the Laredo Grease Monkey is now the 10th busiest store in the U.S. “It’s amazing what we can accomplish with our team,” said Rodriguez. “They’re fantastic. My wife and I work hard to respect their time and pay them well. And they pay that back to us. They work hard to represent us and work well with customers.”
In fact, Rodriguez’s Grease Monkey has become a local staple in Laredo. “We have a lot of great customers and we know them from around town,” said Rodriguez. “They are friends, family and coworkers of Amy. They’ve been great about supporting us from the beginning.”
Family life in Texas is also suiting Rodriguez well. The twins, Arya and Metztli, are now the 6-year-old sisters to a baby brother, Jacob. Rodriguez feels grateful to have the flexibility to spend time with his family without having to stick to a traditional 9-to-5 schedule. “I can take them to the doctor, or I can go with them on a school field trip,” he said. “It’s really nice to be able to do that.”
Though working with automobiles was originally Rodriguez’s long-term retirement plan, he’s glad to be realizing that dream now. “I love the fact that someone can bring their car here, and we can change the tires and put on a new belt, but we can also wash it and change the oil, polish their vehicle, pretty much anything the customer wants. They can come back to a brand new car,” said Rodriguez. “I enjoy getting into the pit, changing oil, checking fluids and performing inspections. I don’t see it as a job, I see it as something I enjoy doing. I love coming in every day.”