Many years ago, one of the most successful carwash chains in the country ran an ad to attract employees. After many successes and more than his share of failures, the owner finally reverted to using an ad format used by the U.S. Marine Corps: “A few good men wanted.” He then described the physically demanding aspects of working in a carwash and that basic training for the job would be similar to the Marine’s. The ad proved successful and this owner had a fair share of talented applicants and recruits from which to pick.
Over the past few years in the carwash industry, much attention has been paid to understanding what drives an employee to perform well. Our workforce pool draws from at least four or more socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds than a decade ago. We have generation X, Y, baby boomers and others who fill out applications, and they all have different needs.
Each has its own set of “hot buttons” that will attract, retain and allow them to become productive team players in our business. Knowing what buttons to push, though, is not always easily defined by employers because there are so many from which to choose. Fortunately, there exist human resource recruitment organizations that, for a small fee, can help you in your quest to find the right applicants for the job.
Levels of Service
Certainly, a self-serve carwash—where motorists wash their own vehicles—dictates the least amount of skills. Labor is primarily housekeeping and maintenance functions. In many cases these services are provided by the owner. But for operators overseeing multiple sites, a larger staff must be hired.
For self-serve sites with approximately six bays, a single person putting in 30 to 40 hours a week is the norm. If you need others, besides yourself, look for retirees interested in part-time employment. The advantage of pulling from this pool of workers is that a senior’s psychological and fiscal needs are usually less, and part-time employment is often appealing. Stability, reliability and loyalty are, especially in this case, more important than the strength of many younger employees. Most senior workers will seemingly adopt your site and, in doing so, lay the foundation for building, retaining and servicing your customer base.
As you look at other forms of carwashes, the need for a larger or more skilled work force becomes necessary. I happen to be a full-service carwash operator. Motorists who come to my facility have their vehicles cleaned inside and out. We do windows and vacuum, in addition to providing all amenities of a large detail facility. Hence, my needs are greater and far different than the self-serve operator.
I physically take possession of the customer’s vehicle, and my employees are in and out of it several times over the course of providing all the requested services. The skill level of my team runs the gamut of newbie to highly professional. I can pull from either level, as necessary.
After all, when a $200,000 Ferrari or Lamborghini is in for a wash and detail, you can imagine the angst—both of our management team and the vehicle owner himself. In any case you can’t and won’t put a vehicle, regardless of cost, in the hands of an unskilled person. It’s just good business to have the most talented team possible.
Besides the normal challenges of finding and retaining employees is the challenge of training. We all want a knowledgeable courteous staff, and we understand that an untrained employee is not efficient. Employees need education in performing services correctly and safely. Skip the training and you’ll only shortchange your business.
Carwash customers know their vehicles. Moreover, they can spot someone who is not experienced and knowledgeable. An untrained service advisor can cause havoc, loose money and drive customers from the site.
So how do you provide your customers the best service? You hire the best team, and create sophisticated training and testing modules. Much of the training will come from your supplier; the balance is available through associations or consultants who specialize in carwash management.
No matter how you look at it, your success as a carwash operator rests on the abilities of you team. Your ability to hire, train and retain the best team possible will directly reflect on your bottom line. Moreover, it will make your own job as owner/operator less laborious.
Fred Grauer is the president of Grauer Associates and executive vice president, investor market and conveyors, for Ryko Manufacturing Co., a carwash-equipment manufacturer in Grimes, Iowa. He has made a lifelong career of designing, selling, building and operating carwashes. He can be reached at [email protected].