Your Next Car Wash Manager - How to Find Hands-On, Customer-Focused, Entrepreneurial Leaders
By Anthony Analetto
I recently touched on hiring challenges as this pandemic evolved. From the responses I’ve received, it appears I struck a chord. Financial incentives, work-life balance, skill development, and career advancement have become the starting point for the most entry-level, guide-on attendant. So, what happens when you need to find a manager? The leader you need to be a force multiplier for the rest of your team.
Good managers and good leaders know it’s never about the role, it’s always about the goal. Delivering a customer experience that keeps the customer coming back is the goal.
Elements of it may be equipment, marketing, and technology, but ultimately how the customer feels when they leave your wash is what drives repeat business.
Define the Core Traits You Need
When it comes to core traits, some operators focus on technical skills: a person that can identify mechanical failures, proactively schedule and plan maintenance, and resolve customer complaints without drama. Other operators focus on finding a team leader: managers that create a team, inspiring staff that show up when scheduled, and cheerfully do what’s required. While others focus on candidates that actively market the wash: greeting customers, developing relationships within the community, and looking for opportunities to help grow the business.
Regardless of what everyone else is doing, remember, many roads lead back to the manager. This person is the core of the day-to-day work environment at your wash. Their traits, their style must be similar to what you want your wash to portray.
Don’t limit you focus. Prioritizing one facet of a successful manager doesn’t always cut it. It’s best to find a manager that’s hands-on, customer-focused, and entrepreneurial in spirit. Usually these people are gainfully employed and appreciated by another employer.
Hunt Staff in the Wild
The first line of attack is online classifieds, social media, and on-site signage. All are good ways to advertise for new talent and potential candidates. But I prefer to observe and see the qualities I’m looking for in a person. This can happen at the grocery store, restaurant, gas station, etc. So, if you do see someone that you feel is a good fit for your management position, be prepared to capitalize on the opportunity. Hire the right person and hire them fast.
I once found one of my best managers while shopping for a set of tires for my truck. And I’ll admit that auto parts stores and service centers are some of my favorite hunting grounds for top talent. But I’ve also helped former pool cleaners, valet attendants, HVAC service personnel, waitresses and waiters, and countless store clerks ranging from dry cleaning to home improvement stores discover the rewarding potential of professionally washing cars for a living. The only place I won’t hunt is at another car wash, where the staff already knows what an amazing opportunity our industry provides.
Hire for Attitude
I’m not ashamed to identify potential staff based on clothing. I can’t help it. Neat uniforms worn with pride. Clean pressed shirts that are tucked in. Attentive grooming. Professional looking footwear. What can I say, these things just catch my eye. It’s one of the potential indicators of what matters — attitude. Hire for attitude, train for skills.
The goal is to evaluate behaviors of potential hires when they are unaware. What are they doing that shows they genuinely care about the company they work for and the customers they are serving? Are they easily and willingly helping a customer solve a problem or make a better choice? Or are you witnessing them help a colleague perform their job better?
Here’s a perfect example: I recently needed a plug. The home improvement store website showed three in stock. With none on the shelf, I found the nearest store employee and I was told that the “inventory must be off.” This employee also seemed rather annoyed that I bothered him with a question. I checked my phone and found another store nearby with nine available. Sadly, they too had none on the shelf. I, again, located a staff member, and this time I was genuinely shocked. The staffer apologized and assured me the inventory tracking was so accurate that they must be in the store. This person searched in boxes on upper shelves and called for help from another team member. When none were found they opened their POS, found the item at another store, and called to have someone confirm before I drove there.
I was impressed. And once you find yourself impressed with an individual’s concern and involvement for doing their work, it’s time to move to the next step.
Interview in Secret
I thanked the store associate for his help and asked him what he liked most about his job. Technical skills can be taught. The passion to cultivate customer satisfaction, not as much. When he answered that he likes working with customers, I continued with questions about how he got into his current career and where he hopes it’ll lead him — in other words, I just conducted my first interview with this manager candidate.
He passed my initial criteria, so I advanced to the next step. I handed him a business card, a gift card for a free wash, and the lead-in question: “What do you know about the car wash industry?” He said that he didn’t know much, other than his own personal experience from getting his car washed at a place near his home.
If you’re hiring, always be prepared to have your contact information ready to hand a potential candidate. Have a supply of free wash cards available.
Practice your sales pitch. Be prepared to sell your business, and our industry.
For a manager who loves delivering a great customer experience, an express-exterior car wash has a lot to offer. Every day is a different day: there is a great combination of frequent and new customers; there is a lot of opportunity in the business; and the working hours pass fast. An express car wash automates most of the mundane tasks few managers enjoy. It’s a dream come true for someone that enjoys satisfying customers.
Sell the Career, Not the Job
Close your interview by talking about the growth opportunities specific to your business and the industry as a whole. If they aren’t left with an excitement to work in car wash and they don’t see the opportunity presented, then it’s likely they may not be cut out to for the role. You’re looking to introduce someone to our industry, help them discover their passion for it, and carry that enthusiasm into maintaining your brand experience for your customers for years to come. For me, customer service etiquette, an entrepreneurial spirit, problem solving, and appreciation of the customer is what I’m hunting for.
The Silver Lining
The labor and product shortages we’re experiencing does present opportunity. Automation is a natural outcome. Higher wages mean a business has no better return on investment than to transition to less labor.
It’s also making a lot of people rethink what they are doing for employment. Some want to be closer to home, less of a commute. Some want stability. Whatever the reason, people are willing to step out and see what else is available. The reality is workers like to work. The companies that respond to the shift and go out to hunt for talent, will be the ones that come out on top.
Good luck and good washing.
Joining the company in 2000, Anthony Analetto serves as the president of Sonny’s CarWash Equipment Division. In this role, Anthony leads the innovation of new products to drive client success and oversees all operations, engineering, and supply chain management. Washing cars for more than 30 years, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain prior to joining the company.