2009-05-22 / Business

Gregg Gaskins of Express Oil Change

By John Temple Ligon temple@thecolumbiastar.com

After 17 years in Birmingham with Nidek Medical Products, mostly in their respiratory products division, Gregg Gaskins was recently holding the title of vice president and chief operating officer. He was also holding his maximum allowable number of shares of company stock.

It was an opportune time for a move into something else and maybe to somewhere else. Gaskins kept his shares of stock and his place on the company board of directors, but he moved his family to Columbia to start a small chain of locations with Express Oil Change.

Targeting a total of no fewer than five locations and no more than eight, Gaskins already runs two Express Oil Change centers in the Columbia area: 6306 Garners Ferry Road on the north side between WLTX-TV and I- 77; and 5308 Sunset Blvd. just inside the Lexington town boundary.

Gaskins was born in Knoxville, Tenn., while his father was in the U.S. Army. Gaskins and his younger sister Debbie moved with their parents to an American Army post in Germany for two years.

The family relocated in Birmingham when Gaskins was six. He entered the first grade at Jonesboro Elementary School in Bessemer, a suburb of Birmingham. And still in Bessemer, he graduated from Jess Lanier high School, where he played varsity golf. In fact, he started the school's golf team as a mostly self- taught 2 handicap.

In his junior year, Gaskins was the fifth best high school golfer in the state. In his senior year, he damaged his hand and couldn't play.

Soon after graduation, Gaskins moved to New Orleans to work for Bayou Steel in its minimill at nearby La Place.

After seven years with Bayou, Gaskins shifted to U.S. Steel back in Birmingham, this time with its new slabcaster plant. And after three years at the slabcaster plant, Gaskins moved out of steel and into medical products with Nidek.

Not long after joining Nidek, Gaskins reintroduced himself to Robin, a high school friend, and they married 17 years ago. They have two daughters: Kelsey (17) and Taylor (14). Kelsey is a junior at Dutch Fork High, while Taylor is in the eighth grade at Dutch Fork Middle.

Kelsey is looking into journalism schools, and Taylor is already talking up sports medicine.

Kelsey is a voracious reader, knocking down books by the week. And she is an authority on movie classics.

Taylor is a long distance runner, competing in the 5k (3.1 miles) as a team member at Dutch Fork Middle but also at Dutch Fork High, where they are state champions.

In 2004, Gaskins engaged the people at Express Oil Change in discussions at their Birmingham headquarters, pondering business opportunities and potential locations. Greenville (S.C.), Tampa, and Charlotte all looked promising, but Gaskins and his family fell in love with the Columbia area.

Mastering the Express Oil Change model, Gaskins has recently changed the engine in a customer's Ford Expedition for about $4,000, but smaller engines can be replaced for $1,500. His shop serviced a 1991 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow II well beyond an oil change, staying on the telephone most of the day with the Atlanta Rolls dealer to call in the parts. Point being, Gaskins and his Express Oil Change offer full- service mechanics' bays for just about every repair and upgrade.

The oil change, though, is his stock in trade. Express Oil Change is quick - under 10 minutes - and convenient. The customer stays in the car.

For fun, Gaskins has kept up with his high school golf, and he has 600 hours in the air. He holds an IFR license, which qualifies him to fly nights by instrumentation. He sold his Cessna 172 XP, but he is shopping for a replacement plane.

He and Robin ride a Harley Road King, a 2006 1600 cc motorcycle he bought new. Just before moving to Columbia, they rode their bike from Birmingham to Sturgis, S.D., and back, 4,400 miles in 10 days.

Gaskins and his family have quickly developed two traditions now they're firmly ensconced in central South Carolina. They spend most every Sunday at Gateway Baptist Church near Irmo, their home, and they spend Christmas in the North Carolina mountains, their second home.

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