Auto Laundry News - June 2011

Coaching — What did we do right? What can we do better next week?

By Anthony Analetto

Watching a well-run car wash on a busy day is a magical experience. Volume starts to spike, everything starts to click, and rhythm takes control. Employees automatically adjust equipment and procedures to handle the volume. It’s like watching a synchronized swimming event at the Olympics — and it’s absolutely beautiful. Every new investor I’ve ever met that becomes enamored with our industry has first visited one of these magical car washes on a busy day. But the truth is not every car wash achieves that rhythm. I’ve seen new investors — even large corporations — attempt to copy the car wash that inspired them. They’ll mirror the site layout, equipment, wash packages, and procedures. Some hit a homerun. Others miss their projections.

Having copied a business model they saw working with their own eyes, they tend to assume that they built it on the wrong spot, or didn’t market the wash properly. Sometimes that is true. But when you stop and think of the phenomenally successful car washes you’ve seen with poor visibility and non-existent marketing, you realize there has to be other components to winning. In sports we acknowledge that every successful team has one thing in common — a winning coach. Well, the same holds true for your business. So how do you become a winning coach at your car wash? Fortunately, the path to elevating the performance of your staff is easier than it appears.

Create a Game-Day Mentality
People like to win. People like to be part of a winning team. People like to prepare for the big game, go all out for a few hours, and high-five each other afterwards. Before the game, people are receptive to a coach’s input to help them win. After the game, they will again listen to the coach to help them win the next time.

In business, however, we sometimes forget this locker-room lesson. Instead, we often rely solely on monthly sales targets and incentive programs. We assume people are purely rational, and that they will maintain higher productivity, or manage others to higher productivity, in order to collect their financial reward at the end of the period. Don’t get me wrong; incentive programs are an important management tool. They guide your managers to think strategically and work to sustain higher levels of productivity.

Unfortunately, most employees struggle to maintain a sense of urgency for an extended period of time. It’s too easy to think, “We still have time to hit our numbers.” Or worse, they may not be confident that the numbers you’ve established are attainable even if they are. Either way, period-based incentives, although valuable, lack the same energy and enthusiasm of preparing for a game. So how can you create a “game-day mentality” at your wash? Easy. Start with your busiest day. Next, read the rest of this article to see how you can leverage your game day to coach your employees to higher levels — to set record wash days and to raise production, enthusiasm, and customer satisfaction every day in between.

Pregame Warm-up— Communicate Expectations
Assume you’ve chosen Saturday to be your game day. Decide on an attainable and meaningful goal for the day. It could be the number of cars washed, total revenue, or some other combination. For simplicity I’ll pretend you’ve decided to use the total number of cars washed. Look up what your previous best day was. Let’s say, for example, it was 500 cars.

Now hold a meeting with all of your employees together — the team — before the start of the day. You, the coach, will explain some change you made during the previous week to grow volume. This could be an advertisement, new wash special, uniform change, wash improvement, customer greeting, nearly anything. Let your team know what the current record is that they have to beat — in this case, 500 cars washed. Tell them that you believe they can beat that record today.

Paint a pretty picture of what success will look like. Set the prize they’ll get if they beat the previous record. Be creative, it does not have to be money. Keep the prize sustainable, meaning it’s better to offer a moderate prize consistently rather than a huge prize one week and a tiny prize the next, so pick something you can afford if they succeed every week. If you do use cash, give an equal amount to every member of the team. Now that you’re the coach on game day, let’s look at some easy ways to elevate their performance.

Develop a Game Plan
Put your aces in their places. On game day you have to put your starters where they can do the most good. Part of coaching is to elevate staff performance. The other part is getting your top performers to bring up the game of those around them. Don’t just let your best people know what they’re doing well, put them alongside less experienced employees and ask them if they can help you get that person up to speed. With one question you’ll motivate them to do a better job and train your other staff.

Build Confidence
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Although you have set a day’s end goal for your team, in the trenches, working one-on-one with individual staff, you want to keep it small. I remember training temporary staff at full-serves to finish a car. I’d review the whole process, and they would do it with me correctly. I’d walk away, and they wouldn’t get one thing right. When I went back to correct them, I’d only fix one mistake, sandwiched between two compliments. “That was good, I liked your energy, and next time you want to box the windows like I showed you and wipe side-to-side; the windows come out better that way. And also, you did a really good job keeping the towels folded.” Now they might get three or four things right.

A few minutes later, I’d correct one more thing, again sandwiched between two positives. “I noticed you’re wiping the windows perfect which is great, and next time, when you’re leaning down to do the door jambs, don’t forget to hold the other towel in your hand while touching the car. And also, you did a great job starting at the front of the car and keeping the can in your pocket.” This time when I walk away, he’s thinking he’s lucky I didn’t notice the other things he did wrong, and within 15 minutes, he’s doing the job correctly.

The formula is simple and powerful. You did this right, and you need to fix this, and also you did that correctly. The first thing to remember is to sandwich one negative between two positives to motivate your staff to achieve. Second, use the word “and” instead of “but” between your comments. A small change in wording that builds confidence instead of putting your employee on the defensive.

Postgame Show — Get Them Involved
Everyone wants to feel important, but not always for you, their coach. I remember I had a great driver once —attentive, careful, courteous, and interacted positively with customers. The only problem was that he was always trying to wear his pants around his ankles. Every time I would reprimand him, he’d pull them up. Then, over the day, they’d start to slide back down. Finally I went up to him and said, “Don’t look behind you, but three of our regular customers are staring at you. I know they like you and you’re one of the best drivers I’ve ever had. They’re looking at you because your pants are practically around your ankles. If you pulled up your pants so that your appearance matched the quality of your work, they’d respect you more and prob-ably tip more too.” I coached him to view the customer, not me, as his boss. And as soon as I walked away, he looked back, saw the customers, pulled up his pants, and never let them drop again.

Getting your employees involved means giving them ownership of wowing your customers. At the end of your game day, you must bring your team together to ask the following questions:

  • What did we do right?
  • What happened that we didn’t expect?
  • What can we do better next week?

Your goal as their coach is to get your staff involved in creating some new advertisement, wash special, uniform change, wash improvement, customer greeting, or anything that will help them to do better the following week.

Many things can go wrong at a car wash. Imagine the weather turns and it starts to rain. Your team may miss their goal, but this is often the best opportunity to coach. The staff of one operator I know came up with the idea of offering discounted detailing on rainy days. They then independently set up social networking sites and text messaging to promote the services with phenomenal success.

Everyone can be a winning coach. With a little effort and planning, successful coaching can be the secret ingredient to enjoying more of those magical high-volume days that make this business so much fun.

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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