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Service First

In the combat zones of Somalia, resourcefulness and mobility became priorities for Sgt. Renee Floyd. They’re also priorities in her post-military startup—a Phenix City auto service she plans to take regional.

“I knew how to manage and supervise soldiers, but managing a business is a different animal,” says former Sgt. 1st Class Renee Floyd.

“I knew how to manage and supervise soldiers, but managing a business is a different animal,” says former Sgt. 1st Class Renee Floyd.

Photos by Vasha Hunt

Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993 on the eve of Black Hawn Down was the last place on Earth anyone would want to be, even a tough-as-nails career soldier. But there was Sgt. 1st Class Renee Floyd, maintaining a fleet of military vehicles. As she was driving soldiers through an area within shouting distance of hostile gunfire, the truck’s fuel line broke. While the soldiers provided 360-degree protection, she removed the tubing from her gas mask and used it to replace the hose.

“In 10 minutes, I had that vehicle up and running,” recalls Floyd, 45, who deployed to Mogadishu when her third child was four months old. 

In 2007, with Somalia and two tours in Iraq behind her, Floyd retired from the Army after 21 years of active duty. Back home in Alabama, she decided to put her resourcefulness and military training as a mechanic to good use and opened BRF Mobile Lube Services in Phenix City. BRF is an acronym for her full name, Beulah Renee Floyd.

Brainstorming a second career in civilian life, Floyd came up with the idea to start a business that brings lube services to the customer. “In the military, I used to think if I could bring the oil to the bays it would be a lot easier than driving so many vehicles to the oil,” explains Floyd, a native of Sardis, near Selma. “And I knew people hate to wait on an oil change.”

Floyd was stationed for a time in California, where she saw similar businesses. But Southerners are baffled by such a concept, she says. “People around here can’t believe it at first, but once they use the service they love the convenience.” A beauty salon owner, physicians, accountants and chiropractors are among her regular customers who appreciate the time saver. In addition to Phenix City, Floyd serves Columbus and Fort Benning and plans to expand to Opelika and Auburn. 

She travels in a van equipped with two 30-gallon fresh oil tanks and a 60-gallon tank hooked to a compressor with a hose that sucks the old oil out of the drip pan into the tank. An oil change is $35 for cars and $45 for trucks, which includes five quarts of synthetic-blend oil, and a check of oil and air filters, fluids, belt, wiper blades and tire pressure.

“I have no overhead, so I can afford to do oil changes for a low price,” says Floyd. She did her first mobile oil change in 2009 and by now expected to have five vans making service calls. But working with limited resources is a small price to pay for owning her business outright, she says. Instead of taking out a small business loan, Floyd invested $36,000 of her savings. In addition to being debt free, she also made sure she would be well prepared. “I knew how to manage and supervise soldiers, but managing a business is a different animal.”

Floyd earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration online from American Military University in West Virginia. Last summer, she attended an entrepreneurial boot camp for service-disabled veterans at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

While playing on a military basketball team, Floyd injured her ankle and was given service-disabled military status. It’s a common misconception that the classification results only from combat injury, she says.  “It’s categorized the same, although soldiers hurt in battle receive the Purple Heart and additional money.

We are on duty 24 hours a day, so if you enter the military whole and leave with health issues you’re compensated.” 

Floyd says she’s in good health and didn’t want service-disabled veteran status. “I have a chiropractor on speed dial, but otherwise I’m doing OK,” she says with a laugh.

When her military maintenance supervisor retired to Columbia, S.C., he too started a mobile lube service business. Their goal is to merge their businesses and center it in Atlanta, where they’ll have a warehouse and dispatch their vans. Her husband, Harold, also retired from the military, works for the Columbus (Georgia) Museum as a security officer and is not part of BRF.

Two 30-hour sessions at the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center in Columbus also helped prepare her for a new career as a business owner. The center conducted two nonscientific focus groups that showed both men and women were comfortable with a female technician and liked that she was a veteran, says SBDC Area Director Lori Auten.  

According to the National Veteran-Owned Business Association, more than 3 million men and women who have served in America’s armed forces have made the choice to start their own business after military service.  Alabama’s proposed “Heroes for Hire” bill gives businesses an additional $1,000 tax credit for hiring a veteran recently home from war. “I’m certainly willing to hire an experienced vet,” Floyd says. “Soldiers capitalize on any situation and give their best.”

Jessica Armstrong is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Auburn.

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