Over the years there have been numerous articles on building and operating a successful car wash. They point out many of the important issues like demographics, traffic count, location, layout, equipment, and chemicals, as well as a strong marketing and financial plan. However, one element is often overlooked — building a team and fostering teamwork at the wash.
I have been very fortunate during my career in this industry to have worked with many talented and successful teams. Due to those experiences, I have often been asked the secret to building a successful team. Thinking back on those experiences I think that there are many lessons that could be used today to create a solid team and a teamwork atmosphere.
SETTING GOALS AND KEEPING FOCUS
Today there are many challenges to operating a successful wash. I think the greatest challenge is to set goals and maintain the focus to achieve them. In addition to setting goals there must also be standards and actions to meet them. While it takes a good team to work together, something has to keep that team on track. Focusing on goals does that. Ultimately everyone involved must gauge the success of their individual efforts by how well they work toward the goals that have been set.
While it is obvious that a wash’s primary goal is to operate profitably, to be successful that goal must be clearly defined with specific activities to achieve success. Setting achievable goals for sales and profitability are also essential for developing a good team and teamwork. Probably the most important element for establishing a good team and for it to work effectively is having a leader that shares the vision, is focused on the goals for the wash, and can effectively communicate those goals to all team members as well as putting them into action. In most cases that will be the owner/operator but it could also be the manager.
Even if you have a strong team leader, from time to time team members may waver and lose focus of the wash’s goals. When this happens goals should never be questioned in that atmosphere. Although that may sound a bit dictatorial it is important to spend all efforts toward achieving goals rather than questioning them. Methods and actions designed to attain goals may be somewhat flexible but the goals themselves should not be. It is essential that all team members know what is expected of them, be productive members of the team, and not question the goals that have been set.
At the same time it is very important to create an atmosphere that encourages positive actions while allowing each team member to maintain their individuality. It is important for them to enjoy and take pride in their work and even at times have some fun doing it. All team members must also understand that there will be times when working hard as a team will be required to achieve the goals that have been established. This does not mean that each team member should not have the opportunity to grow and to maintain their identity but as a team there will be times when it is essential that they set aside their individuality to combine their efforts to achieve common goals.
SETTING UP YOUR TEAM
When designing your team there are several people that you may not normally think of including. Your equipment and chemical suppliers (if you use local ones) can be very important elements on your team. They may also be able to assist in training employees that you do not feel comfortable doing yourself and possibly offer marketing assistance in the form of product rebates or supplying available marketing aids or programs. Keep in mind these people may have more contact with those you hire than you realize. It is important that they understand how you want to operate and that they support your efforts to develop a car wash team. They may even be a good source of potential employees as long as those employees would be loyal to you rather than them.
Unless you are proficient at marketing efforts, it would be wise to include either someone who is a marketer or a company that can design a marketing program consistent with your wash’s goals and operating procedures. Finally, unless you do your own books, a good accountant that understands how your business operates and can do more than just crunch numbers could be a valuable team member.
Once you have organized your team, it is a good idea to get all the management team members together formally/informally in one place periodically if feasible. This would be a good time to review goals, check up on your progress, renew the team’s efforts, and strengthen the bond among the team members.
One of the more critical decisions you will make is hiring staff. Putting together a good team dictates hiring people equipped to do the job at hand. This may sound logical but it is not always the case. Hiring friends or relatives is only a good idea if they are suited for the work you need to have done. When word gets around you are hiring, expect to be contacted by former or present applicants from surrounding washes.
Hiring experienced people is not always a good practice depending on what their “experience” has been. Don’t assume that since they come from a successful wash they were a part of that success or that they will make your wash successful. Make sure they will become good team members that will perform their jobs as you want them done — not as they have done them in the past. It is impossible to always be right so, instead of trying to defend a bad hiring decision, be open and honest with yourself when someone is “just not working out.” It may be hard to let someone go, but the consequences of keeping them on are far worse.
One of the big concerns is what to pay employees. For years the standard for entry-level employees was whatever McDonald’s employees or similar type workers were paid. While that might be a starting point, I think there are few tasks at a car wash that relate to fast food. While it might be fair to start entry-level employees at that rate, the potential employee’s work background should be taken into consideration rather than sticking to an established wage schedule. In order to keep quality employees, you need to make sure you pay them competitive wages for the work they perform.
When interviewing any potential employee, the following basic guidelines should be used as general rules to help you make your selection. You might even want to keep a “cheat sheet” to make sure you cover all the guidelines you have chosen to set down when interviewing a potential employee. Ask whether the individual:
• Is physically capable to perform the duties
• Generally exhibits neat appearance and courteous behavior
• Is a good listener
• Is able to express him or herself well (not a good talker — a good communicator)
• Expresses a desire to learn more about car washing
• Is able or interested to work as part of the “team”
There may be several other traits you prefer as well as these but, remember, this person will represent your wash to your customers and even to a certain extent to fellow employees. Does the person you hire represent you the way you want to be represented? Will they be a good fit with the rest of the team?
In a previous article (Auto Laundry News, February 2014, page 48), I discussed at length the importance of training and elements of a good training program. Any wash employee should be well trained and supervised before being left on their own to make sure the training has taken hold. It is also important that training is on-going with periodic reviews and updating of procedures to be followed. Good teamwork may require repeating the same procedures over and over.
It means working toward achieving the goals for the wash. Your training program should instill this in every employee you hire.
MAKING IT ALL WORK
When organizing and leading a team, an individual’s abilities must be identified and used to their advantage within your organization. At the same time, taking this into account, you must understand that success in one role does not always translate to success in another. If you have hired well, let the individual use their skills and abilities to do their job. Keep in mind, if you make them accountable, you must also allow them to “do it their way.”
If you want something done a certain way you have the right to lay it out that way — but, if you do, you also assume much of the responsibility for the result. Nothing stifles enthusiasm and growth more than holding someone accountable for something they did under your direction. At the same time, team members must realize they will be held accountable for their failures as well as their successes. If they are given specific instructions they should follow them. However, ultimately the burden of accountability in those cases would be much less than if they were performing a task on their own.
Everyone has an ego and personality traits. It is important to recognize those factors when assigning tasks and responsibilities, making them assets rather than liabilities for the team effort. When egos or personalities inhibit the efforts of a team, it is the role of the team leader to recognize this and deal with it. Nothing destroys a team more than internal conflict. When it arises, it must be dealt with immediately.
While a structured incentive program and/or pay schedule can be an asset to improve performance, there should also be room for some “special, unexpected perks” in the workplace. Sometimes such events can yield positive results both for the team or individual team members. Ordering in pizza or burgers for the whole team on a day when the work is especially challenging can make the team feel appreciated. Holding an employee group event like a Christmas Party, summer picnic, or outing to a local attraction helps reinforce positive feelings among the group as well as toward ownership. Giving special recognition to an individual team member must be done carefully. If not done properly and for a good reason, it could negatively affect the team. That being said, giving a team member something special like a reward, gift card, or even time off in recognition of superior performance can go a long way in building a team effort by showing that you recognize excellence in individual achievement as well as the team’s.
BE PATIENT BUT KEEP THE BALL ROLLING
Everyone would like to see immediate results for their efforts but that is not always the case when building and maintaining a team. You must have the confidence and faith to continue your efforts even during those times when expectations are not being met or results aren’t the best. At those times it may be time to review your goals or work a little harder and smarter rather than a time to regret what the team is turning out. Any changes you may decide to make must be made carefully and only when it is apparent current actions are not achieving the desired results. In the end you should be looking for continual growth and reaching your goals as being the number one consideration before making any changes.
In today’s marketplace many washes are struggling through tough economic times. This often causes owners to question every expense and effort that they feel will not produce immediate gain. While that might seem like the way to go, it may be very shortsighted and not very realistic. To be sure, budgets must be designed to be cost effective and basic expenses have to be covered. There is no doubt that profit needs to be made to keep the doors open. Without goals and team efforts, operating on a day-to-day basis may allow you to stay in business in the short run but may do a great deal of damage in the long term. For long-term success and growth there is no substitute for maintaining a strong team effort. It also means giving enough time for all your efforts toward a team approach to work.
Putting together a team and making it work takes careful planning. It means setting realistic goals, keeping focus, hiring effectively, on-going training and supervision, and, maybe most important, having patience to let it all work together. The end result will be a well-run, profitable wash — something well worth working toward and waiting for.
Ron Holub is an industry veteran who has worked at many levels in the car wash industry including car wash management, owning a distributorship, and working for and managing major chemical companies. He currently does consulting in the areas of marketing, training, and management in the industry.