Auto Laundry News - January 2011

Catch a Rising Star — Seven Things You Can Do
to Uncover and Cultivate Employee Passion

By Anthony Analetto

Is it really 2011? Is it already time for another set of resolutions? 2010 has come and gone. Twelve months of tightening chemical usage, shaving utilities, and cutting back on staff has hopefully come to an end. With a new year comes new optimism, and now is the time to start preparing to become more competitive, or to take advantage of an uptick in wash volume. But where should one start looking to make the most of the New Year? First try to uncover and cultivate the passion in the rising stars at your car wash.

Last week I had an eye opening experience. A group of friends and I chartered a boat and went sail fishing off the Florida Keys. Six guys on a boat, four of whom, including me, were sail fishing “rookies.” By noon, all four rookies had each caught and released a 6- to 7-foot sailfish ranging from 35 to 75 pounds. You would have thought that we were the most excited people on the water, but we weren’t. While I stood on the bridge watching the crew, all my attention was on the first mate. Here’s a guy who had been sail fishing since he was six years old and probably caught and released over a thousand fish in his life. But as he stood there, passionately giving a play-by-play of how the fish spit out the first bait we threw at it but took the second, I hollered down jokingly, “You act like it’s the first fish you’ve ever caught.” The kid just held up his hands, which were still shaking with adrenaline, shrugged, and said, “I always get this fired-up sail fishing.” A better first mate and future captain, you couldn’t hope to find anywhere. What struck me, and why I’m writing about the experience, was that at the same time this first mate was giving us the time of our life and earning our loyalty for any future trips, the captain’s attitude towards the first mate was doing the opposite.

I watched in amazement as the captain reamed the first mate out in front of us — after the kid had given us clear instruction and won our favor. While wondering how nobody but us, the customers, seemed to realize what a superstar this kid was, and how that might apply to car wash management, our trip took a negative turn. In an attempt to land our fifth fish, one of the guys in our group had an accident that cut our trip short. Heading back to the dock, cringing in anticipation of a frustrating experience to get everything sorted out, the owner of the boat met us at the dock. Before we could even open our mouths, she apologized and said that there was no charge for the trip whatsoever. Her demeanor and attitude towards the situation were incredible. After making sure our friend was taken care of, she gave us all the insurance information we needed, and then offered to take the rest of us back out fishing at no charge. She radiated customer service from the minute we backed into the boat slip. Suddenly it became clear where the first mate learned some of his people skills.


The first mate was a reflection of the owner, a fact that the owner of any service business should pay careful attention to. 2010 was a rough year for many of us. It’s all too easy to get into a negative or pessimistic rut. Remember this as you search for your rising stars — make sure they have someone’s positive attitude to reflect.

But what is so important about employee passion? Why focus on finding, retaining, and promoting rising stars at your business that radiate passion to your customers? Because the smiles of those key staff at your wash earn the trust and loyalty of your customers that correlate to higher average tickets and repeat business. Their positive attitude raises the performance of those around them. That reduces the demand on the owner to constantly be at the wash to maintain and monitor that the staff are adhering to the customer service standards that he has established. If you’re to become more competitive, you need to find, train, and develop talented people in order to succeed.


Normally when we think we need something new, we look for just that — something new, a new hire of a better caliber who will give you what you desire. In reality, your shining star is more often right under your nose. Look around. See who’s smiling, and who’s picking up the trash. Try to remember when you last had a conversation with them and get moving.

Now let’s take a look at seven things you can do to cultivate employee passion:

1. Lead by Example
People talk about “leading by example,” but what exactly does that mean? It starts by setting clear and consistent expectations. The second, and often harder part, is living up to those expectations in such a way that those you wish to lead can see and remember. Many years back, my oldest daughter was planning to attend an out-of-state field trip while still in school (she’s since graduated college). My wife and I were nervous, trying to prepare her for every decision she might have to make to be safe. Quickly realizing there was no way we could do that, I did what I thought was the next best thing. I told her if you’re ever not sure what to do, ask yourself “what would dad do?” and do that. It may be a silly analogy, but it works. Once your employees can ask themselves “what would you do?” and have the correct answer to their situation, you’re pretty far down the road to leading by example.

2. Inspect What You Expect
As obvious as this one seems, it’s remarkably easy to forget to do. In the hectic schedule of running a car wash, the tendency is to tell a staff member what you expect to be done and forget about it. Later you find that after doing the job a few times, they quickly fall back into the habit of skipping the task. The truth is that people crave attention, no matter how small. When you give an employee a task, make sure to go back and inspect that they did it correctly. You’ll be amazed at how that extra few minutes will pay you back with a job performed at a higher level for a longer period of time.

3. Train
It can be frustrating. You demonstrate to one of your staff how something is supposed to be done, walk away, and watch in frustration as they do something completely different. Demonstrating, however, is not the same as training. When you invest in developing a training program, you are creating documented procedures to organize activity and impart information and instruction to elevate perform-ance. It includes demonstration, practice, and evaluation of comprehension.

4. Put it in Writing
Policies, procedures, beliefs, and goals should all be in writing. This doesn’t mean you have an operating manual in your drawer that no one but you knows about or has ever seen. Get signs printed with your beliefs on serving the customer and put them where everyone can see them. Create developmental plans with your top performing staff that establish realistic goals and monitor their progress, in writing, whenever they make achievements. Document your training processes. Writing out your expectations makes them more important to your employees and helps them go about their duties with greater enthusiasm and passion.

5. Praise in Public
When someone does something well, don’t just let them know, make sure everyone around recognizes their accomplishment. They will take pride in their job and thank you by showing greater passion in their work.

6. Incentivize
Don’t limit incentives to formal bonuses based solely on revenue objectives met at the car wash. Get creative to deliver small incentives to every “rising star” at your wash. When I used to manage several washes, I would
occasionally place an empty cup or other piece of trash somewhere on the property where everyone could see it. Without saying anything, I would wait for the first person to pick it up. Then I would walk over, give them a $10 bill, and thank them publicly for their attention to detail. Sure enough, not only was trash picked up more conscientiously, attitude improved because the staff knew that I cared about their efforts.

7. Believe
This one ties in closely with leading by example. If you believe you must deliver a consistent product to your customers every single time, your staff is more likely to step up to the task.
If you believe you must deliver an enjoyable experience to every customer who enters your property no matter what, your staff will try harder to meet that expectation.


It’s a new year, with new opportunities to grow your business. In the hopeful hustle and bustle of delivering a clean, dry, shiny car to your customer that 2011 will bring, don’t overlook that the power to truly improve your wash starts by cultivating your best employees. Once you master the steps of elevating your staff, your job is simply to notice the ones that smile wider and work harder, uncovering your next rising star.

Good luck, and good washing.

Anthony Analetto has over 28 years experience in the car wash business and is the president of SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory’s Equipment Division. Before coming to SONNY’S, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain. Anthony can be reached at (800) 327-8723 x 104 or at

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