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(WGHP) — Talk about humble beginnings.

C.W. Strickland was a chain-smoking, third-grade-educated tobacco sharecropper who could barely read or write.

But a gifting decision he made in the early part of the last decade helped turn a fledgling idea into one of the nation’s more compelling business success stories. It was truly the gift that keeps on giving.

But before you can appreciate the gift, get to know C.W.’s grandson.

“My grandfather had the biggest heart,” Justin Strickland told me recently. “He was hard on the outside, very soft on the inside. We were really close. I stayed at his house every summer and went and ate dinner with him regularly.”

Justin Strickland was born and grew up in Thomasville. In 2011, he was working a minimum wage job as an oil change technician at one of the quick lube companies that now happens to be one of his competitors.

He wasn’t satisfied with what was happening to the customers.

“I just felt like it could be better. I’m in the pits, and I can literally hear what they’re saying,” he said. “They were frustrated at the high-pressure sales techniques. They were frustrated at your typical automotive stigma like ‘they’re going to sell me something I don’t need.’”

So Justin took a blank sheet of paper and drew out a plan for his own quick lube business.

But like any business that starts from the ground up, he needed money to get started. None of the banks wanted to loan him money. His grandfather learned of the dilemma.

“He called me one night. I think it was on a Thursday back in 2012 and just said, ‘why don’t you come over and eat dinner with your grandmother and me tonight,’” Justin said. “I didn’t think anything about it because that was fairly common.”

But that evening, C.W. showed his grandson his treasured knife collection upstairs in the home: something he had done many times before.

“And we’re going through them (the knives) and we’re sharpening them and he’s asking questions about the banks and what have you. So I just told him it doesn’t look as if it (the new business) is going to happen right now,” Justin told me.

And then C.W. offered the gift that would change his grandson’s life. He told Justin he wanted to take out a $35,000.00 home equity line of credit on the home in High Point they were sitting in and give the money to Justin to fulfill his dream.

“He said, ‘sit down and write a check for whatever it is you need and let’s go start it.’ Knowing in my head that $35,000.00 was not enough money, I was pushing back hard.”

But C.W. eventually convinced him to take the money.

“And his comment was, ‘I don’t want anything. If you can make the interest payments to where we don’t lose the house, that’s good enough.”

Things started to move quickly.

Justin would open his first quick lube business on Merritt Drive in Greensboro later that year. He called it “Tater Bugs,” using the nickname of his young son, Tate.

C.W. couldn’t have been happier.

“He would come to our location in Greensboro, go into our lobby, grab a cup of black coffee and sit right in the lobby and start smoking inside. And Mark (Mark Agan is the company’s vice president who has been with Justin from the beginning.) and I didn’t have the gumption to tell him, ‘you can’t smoke inside.’”

So Justin bought a bench and placed it in front of the store with an outdoor ashtray beside it.

“We’d sit him down on that bench. And he would sit there four or five, six hours a day. And the customers would come in. And he would talk to them and just shoot the breeze with them. He did that several times a week.”

Tater Bugs would grow to three locations before Justin sold it in 2016 and used the money to establish the first Strickland Brothers 10 Minute Oil Change in his hometown of Thomasville.

The “Strickland Brothers” are his two sons, Tate and Beckett.

Fast-forward to today.

Strickland Brothers is now a multi-million dollar company with well more than 325 corporate and franchise stores in more than 20 states with plans to open 200 or more within the next two years. It also has a sprawling corporate headquarters on the 10th floor of the Winston Plaza building in downtown Winston-Salem.

“What we do is not rocket science,” he told me. “At the end of the day, we pull drain plugs. We change oil filters.”

They also offer lubrication if needed, state inspections, and have enough supplies of necessities like air filters, light bulbs, and wiper blades to get the customers in and out within 10 minutes.

Strickland Brothers doesn’t service transmissions or flush radiators like many of its competitors. It goes back to Justin working that minimum-wage job.

“I understand the importance of transmission services, brakes, tires, tune-ups and all these other things. But I do think sometimes it can be subjective and very opinionated on whether it (the customer’s car) needs it or not.”

He even has a plan to service the electric cars of the future.

“They (electric cars) don’t have oil filters. But they do have air filters, tire rotations, and wiper blades. We are certainly going to be conscious of and ready to evolve to service electric vehicles.”

The business is also placing a big emphasis on a different type of service, one Justin calls “servant leadership.” It’s one of the company’s core values along with humility, ambition, reliability and professionalism.

Justin’s proud of the fact Strickland Brothers has provided much-needed resources (a million dollars worth) to local charities and other organizations.

And there’s a family connection here. A big emphasis has been placed on Alzheimer’s services and research (Alzheimer’s complications took his grandfather’s life in 2014.) and Autism. (Justin’s son Tate is on the Autism Spectrum.)

“He is absolutely brilliant,” Justin said as he described Tate to me. “(But) he would be picked on pretty regularly at school, especially elementary school. He didn’t have a lot of friends and it hurt his feelings a little bit.”

So Strickland Brothers has partnered with the Winston-Salem Foundation to supply local elementary schools with “Buddy Benches.” They’re placed on playgrounds. Children in need of companionship or playmates are encouraged to sit on the benches. Other children are then encouraged to go sit with them, speak with them and offer to include them in their play groups.

And those are not the only benches Strickland Brothers produces.

Outside each Strickland Brothers store sits a “Paw Paw’s Bench” in honor of the grandfather who made that gift a few years back but didn’t get to see how successful the company has become.

It’s definitely come a long way from its humble beginnings.

For more information on Strickland Brothers 10 Minute Oil Change, click here.