Signage is always a hot topic in the world of professional car washing: which signs make you money, which don’t, how much is too much — it can all be a bit overwhelming sometimes. One sign in particular, however, doesn’t get the attention it deserves. In fact, it’s a sign that we all have in common but probably don’t think enough about: Now Hiring All Positions. Now you might ask, “What’s so special about this sign? Without it, we wouldn’t have any employees.” True, every car wash needs its attendants, managers, shift supervisors, and detail specialists, and there’s nothing particularly wrong with using a “Now Hiring” sign to attract talent. The problem is that persistent hiring can be a sign of chronic turnover — a condition that plagues our industry and eats into our hard-earned profits each year.
Just how much does it cost the average car wash operator to lose an employee? This figure can be pretty difficult to quantify, since it won’t exactly appear on an income statement. Some experts estimate that companies can expect to spend up to half of the departed employee’s annual wage in activities surrounding attracting and training a replacement capable of bringing value back to the business. Naturally, the true cost will depend on skill and responsibility levels of the employee being replaced: a maintenance-certified shift supervisor who is popular with his or her staff might be more difficult to fully replace than an attendant who joined your staff earlier this year.
Now, some turnover is to be expected since your employees will relocate, move up, change careers, or simply fail to fit in at your car wash. We all have stories about “the one you let get away” and “the one who couldn’t leave quick enough,” but what about the shift supervisor who quietly performed all duties without any fanfare until the day he picked up and left for another job? How difficult and/or expensive was it to find and train a replacement? Further, could their departure have been prevented or delayed — and if so, how?
The unfortunate truth is that too many car wash employees leave because they’re either frustrated or they’re simply disengaged. While it may be easy to let a disinterested employee go, a more productive course of action that could save you both time and money would be to diagnose and fix the problem to retain them. Fortunately, there are a few easy things that you can do right now to avoid having to post that Now Hiring sign. Let’s take a look.
HIRE THE RIGHT CANDIDATE
Though it might seem counter-intuitive, curbing employee turnover starts before the employee’s first day on the job. Consider what makes a model attendant or supervisor — energy, dependability, and demonstrated desire to actively learn, just to name a few — and create an “employee profile” that can be used as a benchmark to compare candidates during the interview process. Don’t be afraid to decline to offer a job to candidates you feel may “deserve a chance” — after all, it’s your business, and if they don’t measure up to your benchmark, they’re likely to disappoint you by failing to meet your expectations.
EQUIP NEW EMPLOYEES FOR SUCCESS
Proper training helps your employees to perform better at their jobs, increases overall job satisfaction, and will reduce friction among your staff members. If an employee is left untrained — or worse, training is delegated down to a peer who is not qualified to perform the training — they might have difficulty early on as they go about their daily job. Too often, this leads to confusion and resentment. An untrained, resentful staff member can be toxic to your business. Their negative attitude and tendency to shirk responsibilities will bring down the rest of your team, and when left unchecked, will slowly destroy your customers’ experience at the wash.
Don’t wait to train your new staff members. If you lack the ability to train them internally, take advantage of one of the several available options through consultants, manufacturers, and other training providers. Ensure that everybody receives the necessary safety training to reduce the risk of accidents, and then teach customer service and other skills as they apply to individual roles at your wash. Training your employees pays dividends through improved job performance, less confusion, and — of course — better employee retention.
INVEST IN THEIR DEVELOPMENT
Regardless of the job level, responsibilities, amount of experience, or hourly wage, your employees are going to tend to perform better when they’re engaged and satisfied with their work. You can help build this engagement by orienting your existing employees towards their personal goals such as learning or career advancement (tip: most people have career goals beyond their current job). Be sure that you have made the time to sit down with your employees to outline the structure for their personal development. This can take the form of a long-term goal, such as to manage or own a business, or something more tangible, such as a certification with a piece of equipment. By simply paying attention, you can help formalize these goals and set your employees on a path towards achieving them.
I’ll admit that I’ve met a few operators who are skeptical about establishing personal development plans like these. Most often, they say that their staff members will just take advantage of the free development, leaving once their credentials have improved. It’s true that this sometimes happens but, in my experience, a good personal development program is a strong retention tool and non-wage benefit. Engagement builds loyalty, and in turn, loyalty builds pride. Employees who are proud of where they work are much more likely to provide the type of customer experience that builds loyalty and keeps good customers coming back time and again.
In the world of professional car washing, we have to balance many things to build a competitive advantage: customer experience, service quality — and signage. These things are all important, but don’t underestimate the impact of an engaged team of employees striving to do better for your business, and for themselves. Operational excellence standards and competition forces us car wash business owners to consider the ways that we can maximize the benefit that we earn from every investment — including those in human capital. True, it takes both time and resources to hire the right staff, to train them, and to invest in their personal development — but these can be some of the most rewarding activities for you to take on. Happy, confident, and productive employees lead to satisfied returning customers, higher profits, and maybe even a little more real estate for a different kind of sign.
Good luck and good washing.
Anthony Analetto has over 35 years’ experience in the car wash business and is a partner at SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory. 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 AAnaletto@SonnysDirect.com.