Economic woes trip up N.H. oil change business

The owner of three New Hampshire oil-changing businesses filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Dec. 1 in an attempt to keep them going and salvage 15 jobs.

Kerner’s Quick Lube in Merrimack and Exeter and Mobil 1 Lube Express (formerly Lube King) in Hampstead, will all continue to operate, stressed Phil Kalf, a Rhode Island man who with his wife is the sole owner of PCK Holdings I and II, which holds the businesses.

“When I bought these things, I turned them around. I made these places jump. But with this economy, nobody can do anything,” Kalf told NHBR. As money got tight, people put off regular oil changes, he said.

According to the filings, PCK has less than $100,000 in assets but owes more than $500,000. Its largest creditors include disputed claims of Key Bank ($317,817) for acquisitions funding, $231,000 to Robert and Wendy MacFarlane of North Carolina, at least $112,000 to Windward Petroleum and more than $80,000 to Citizens Bank to purchase lube equipment.

Kalf said he bought the properties in 2006 after selling off a successful trucking business that he had started from scratch, specializing in transporting equipment for the high-end yacht industry.

Things were going well until July 2007, when “it turned off like a switch,” he said.

It was not just his business. He saw two Chevrolet dealerships fail recently.

“Fifteen years ago, you’d give your right arm to own a Chevy franchise, and right now they are walking away from them. That’s absolutely insane.”

Kalf filed for personal Chapter 7 bankruptcy back in October, and he said he let a $500,000 house be taken by the bank so he could salvage the companies. He said he started his trucking yacht business in 2001, “when the economy stunk, and I can make these work when the economy stinks too. I have nowhere to go but up.”