Auto Laundry News - April 2012

Train Right — Improve Retention and Reduce Turnover

By Keith Duplessie

The biggest challenge for every detail business is not just finding good people, but keeping them once you find them.
Many successful companies, like McDonald’s, you might think, would have 100 staff percent turnover. Not really; it’s more like 30 percent turning over three times. If they had 100 people to start, they would still have the same 70 they had before. They would have just hired for the other 30 positions three times. That’s pretty common. See if that is true in your detail business. The 100 percent turnover in most retail businesses is really among the 30 percent of the people who keep moving on. Of the group that turns over a lot, you will find there are three reasons they do not stay:

  1. Their own profile of what they were looking for and what the job had to offer do not match. In most cases, this is the number one reason they leave.
  2. They were seeking an opportunity and it was not there. That is, they wanted more than just a job; they wanted a future and a career.
  3. They are good producers, and what they were being paid was not up to what they perceived they were worth — a compensation problem.

Turnover in the car wash industry can be attributed to one of two things:

  1. The kind of position the wash is recruiting for (part-time, flex schedule, or minimum wage)
  2. The fact that the wash does not enhance that position at all

However, this can also be a case of the car wash operator having to hire fast, which is another common problem in both car washes and detail businesses.

It is well known among experts that if you hire when you have to, you are hiring out of urgency, and, as a result, you are more likely to make a poor hiring decision.

The bottom line is a business needs an ongoing recruiting and retent-ion program, 24/7. Recruiting is a full-time job. Even when you do not have an immediate opening for someone, keep in touch with potential hires.

To summarize:

  • Recruiting should be a full-time endeavor.
  • If you’re recruiting when you have to, you’re hiring out of urgency, which tends to drive up your turnover levels.
  • If you hire out of urgency, you probably are not devoting the time it takes to effectively orient new hires into the business.


Retention is a staging process. For example, if retention numbers are going to improve, you have to break down the retaining cycle into 90 days, the first six months, the first year, and then three years. Those tend to be the turnover points and, therefore, should be the staging points in your retention program.

The majority of people will turn over in the first 90 days. So, what can you do to ensure that certain things happen in those first three months that will reduce the turnover rate?

The most important thing in those first 90 days is orientation and training to a person’s specific function. The quicker you get employees comfortable and confident in their job, the better chance you have of retaining them.

If you spend the first 90 days teaching them what you and your company is all about, rather than what their job is all about, turnover tends to rise. You need to create a situation where new employees become comfortable with the stress and challenges of their position.

For example, if you do not immediately teach a detailer how to effectively deal with upset customers, and continually coach them during this initial period, then the turnover rate will be high. That is because you are missing the “stress points” of the job. For example, if you are hiring a person to answer the phone they need to learn a great answer to five questions. However, more than likely, you’ll try to teach them everything about paint finishes and chemicals, rather than the five questions every customer will ask when they call. As a result, they will not be prepared for, nor feel comfortable with answering customers. This is an important part in the 90-day indoctrination program and it dramatically affects whether they get through that first staging point or not.


Employees have to have feedback. Management not telling them they are doing a good job, or coaching them through those situations where they are uncomfortable with the job, and providing positive reinforcement, are further contributing factors to high turnover. The interaction and mentoring that goes on during these first days, coupled with positive, pat-on-the-back (“I really like the way you did this”) reinforcement, is a huge part of why people stay. That kind of attention is usually a make-or-break factor during the employees first days on the job.

You must also do what you said you would do during the hiring process. If you tell them this is the way it is, then that is the way it should be. Because people hope that when they are hired for a job, they’ll experience the promise. In other words, what you say is what you do. That builds trust. If you say you are going to put them in an orientation program that will start next Monday, and they do not start for a week and a half you are building a foundation for turnover. Promise and deliver.

Another factor that is critical in retention in the first 90 days is the “buddy system.” Pair new employees with somebody whom they can get along with and is in a leadership position. Detailers who have been with you for a while and have proven themselves to you will be a good influence on a new employee.

Create “leadership windows” to test employees. Give them an opportunity to volunteer for tasks and watch their leadership abilities. Those kinds of people are matched with a new employee so the new employee has a co-employee, or “sponsor” with this type of attitude about the company, which becomes very significant in terms of managing the new employee’s attitude. What typically happens is that a buddy system will happen anyway, but the employee will pick the “buddy” if you do not. Moreover, they will find a co-worker who agrees with every lousy experience they have, who reinforces their idea that maybe this is not a good match, rather than the positive expectancy that comes from better employees. Being proactive here will help you breed the type of attitude you are looking for in your organization. “Success breeds success,” as the saying goes, so put some thought and effort into this.

Another important component during the first 90 days is weekly feedback. A spark becomes a fire that becomes devastating when what could have been handled is not handled and becomes a problem.

Have weekly one-on-ones for at least 15 or 20 minutes, talking about three things:

  1. A performance standard — not a job description. In other words, what was expected that week and how did they do?
  2. Questions they may have about any aspect of the job or workplace.
  3. What is going to happen the next week?

There will be a significant change in attitude among people who find out that they are really in a 90-day orientation program earning the right to be a member of the team. They are more diligent, more committed, seek to have their questions answered, and approach the one-week reviews differently because they know that this is building an opportunity.

A challenge you have is to determine what competencies you want the employee to be able to exhibit at a rating level of 7, 8, or 9 at the end of 90 days. To achieve this, take the 90 days and time sequence their learning process so that each week there is one more thing they learn. Then, at the end of each week, if they have learned it, they pass on to the next competency. This way, in the third week, they are working on number three and they are competent at a 7, 8, or 9 level on numbers one and two. If not, they spend another week on number two. That is what we call vertical integrated training or orientation.

You cannot afford not to do these things. The cost of turnover is just too high. In some companies it’s as little as $1,000, but in others it’s as high as $8,000 — when you figure in the cost and time of recruiting, advertising, interviewing, hiring, and training you spend over a 90-day or six-month period.

Some detail business owners think that it is not that bad. It is because they did not calculate missed sales due to that person not being up to speed, the customers who were driven away, and the phones that were not answered. That is a soft cost, but over time it is huge.

When employees reach the 12th week, your turnover could drop 40 percent to 50 percent because of this orientation program. Second, you now have an employee who is able to do the things your average employee is doing, with no other learning. This is not, “Hire now and maybe in a year you’ll get to where we want you to be.” No, it is 90 days, or you are not here — because we cannot afford you.

The big question from new hires is, “What if I don’t prove myself by the end of the 12 weeks? What if I’m not ready?” You will know that before he gets there. They will know this job is not right for them, and you will know the opportunity is not right for them before they get there. It is a two-way street.

You do not move from step to step at any company today without having to pass through these points. In addition, at the end of 90 days, if they succeed at each step, employees become members of the team. Make the 12th week an event, pat them on the back, put their name on the wall, and take away the trainee badge. At that point, you can drop back to a one-month performance objective for the next nine months.

Keith Duplessie is technical services manager for Portland, OR-based Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems. You can reach Keith at

Home | About Us | Contact Us | Media Kit | Editorial Calendar | Events | Links | Archives

Auto Laundry News is published by EW Williams Publications Company
2125 Center Avenue, Suite 305, Fort Lee, NJ 07024-5898, USA Phone: 1-201- 592-7007 Fax: 1-201-592-7171