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How I’m Crushing It

Costa Kapothanasis, Costa Oil—10 Minute Oil Change

IG: @costakapo

Constantine “Costa” Kapothanasis sounds like a practical man. The first-generation Greek American from Portland, Maine, won a Division 1 baseball scholarship to a college in Maryland. Forced to give up the sport professionally after a shoulder injury, he moved on to earn a master of science in finance. After graduation, he worked for several large financial companies, but nothing stuck. “I either got fired or was almost fired from every job.” He chafed against bureaucracy. Not only did these large firms force him to follow strict, cumbersome protocols that to him seemed inefficient and counterproductive, but also their restrictive social-media policies hampered his side business of making custom, hand-carved baseball bats. Bank trading hours were 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and Costa found himself missing opportunities because he couldn’t respond right away to potential customers on Twitter, which was enjoying its heyday. It didn’t help that, as the years went on, friends from his baseball days made it to the majors and were making millions playing the game they loved, while he was sitting in a cubicle. Many years went by in which he avoided watching baseball on television.

He needed to plan an escape, so while still working for the financial firm, he sold the assets to the baseball bat business and bought a quick-lube, a place where you take your car for a fast oil change. It wasn’t the most glamorous or exciting business, but he saw it as an investment in a “quasi-utility,” almost like electricity or water: in a car-dependent country with few mass transit options, most Americans will eventually need an oil change. Then, as was almost inevitable, he got fired. It was fantastic! “Getting fired was this amazing thing for me. My quality of life went through the roof. I never realized how much of a weight was on me, and now it was gone, and it put me into high gear to do something with the business.” Costa went all in on his quick-lube company, which he named Quick Change Oil, but his strategies weren’t all that effective. Direct mail. Search-engine optimization. An iHeartRadio commercial that was before its time. He wasted a lot of money. He found himself about eight months later alone in the store on New Year’s Day, 2016, because he had given his employees the day off. Sales were not great, and he was in a tough spot. Nothing was going on, so he was reading a book called Crush It! The more he read, the more he thought, Man, I need to do this.

No more direct mail, no more SEO, no more commercials. Instead, he took to YouTube, and in between cars and after work until two a.m., he taught himself about Facebook ads. “I didn’t want to storytell incorrectly. I didn’t want to miss an opportunity.”

By February, 100 percent of his marketing budget was devoted to Facebook ads, and he was immersed in social engagement and creating content. He used Twitter searches to find any vehicle-related conversations that would give him a chance to talk to people. From Chevy Cobalts to Porsches, he photographed his customers’ cars for Instagram, tricking the images out with photo filters to make them look snazzy and sharp (customers like seeing their cars online so much, he doesn’t have to ask them for permission anymore—they ask him to do it first). He started putting out educational videos to help inform potential customers about the ins and outs of their cars. “We have put out videos on the different types of oils, the difference between a full-synthetic and a conventional, on when you should do an engine flush. And we’ve gotten lots of feedback. People will type messages like, ‘This is the first time anyone has actually explained to me what the purpose of my air filter is.’ I truly believe that the most educated customer will always pick us.” Less than a year after that New Year’s Day when he sat in his empty shop wondering how he was going to jump-start his business, he had six store locations and was under contract for two more, spread out over several states. Today he’s busy running the business, keeping his social-media engagement up and staying genuine, creating content, and appearing on various financial TV and radio shows to talk about his journey. He was even invited to speak at a university entrepreneurship program. He and his wife are talking about starting a family. He’s been working on building his personal brand, too—in 2017, all the businesses were renamed Costa Oil—10 Minute Oil Change.

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