I need to provide some backstory to understand my latest revelation about the car wash industry. Sitting in a hospital cafeteria after visiting a friend, I chatted about kids, future career paths, and AI with two doctors who asked to share my table (no other seats were available).

            A story about AI-powered computers headlined the news broadcast in the background. I joked about how algorithms combined with a few sensors would likely replace doctors someday. I was shocked when they agreed. Neither was certain that medicine, or any knowledge-based profession, for that matter, would be a stable career path for their high-school-aged children in an era of AI-powered disruption.

            This led to the revelation that professional car washing may be one of the hottest career paths out there right now. Our internet-proof, recession-resistant, real estate-based industry isn’t just an attractive investment strategy. It’s also an incredibly stable career path for precisely the same reasons.

            AI-powered software will likely outperform many legal professions long before it replaces a skilled car wash manager. Algorithms may eliminate many single-focus accounting jobs, but they will unlikely disrupt the growing demand for qualified car wash service techs anytime soon. Predicting a renaissance in the demand for skilled tradespeople and service jobs in the coming years is easy. And the more divergent the skills required to do a particular job, the less likely it will be replaced by automation.

            Have you ever considered how many unrelated tasks must be completed at a car wash by a single employee on any given day? Water, electricity, chemistry, point-of-sale, HMI, pneumatic, plumbing, equipment, operation, repairs, accounting, management, staffing, marketing, customer service, and site maintenance. It’s not that any single task is complex, just that so many loosely related tasks require combined knowledge and physical skills from a single individual.

            Finding and training those needles in the haystack of potential employees will become increasingly crucial to your success. Guiding them to see the dynamic car wash industry’s stable and long-term career growth potential will help you keep them on your team.  

Attracting Top Talent

            Artificial intelligence will continue to improve car wash operations, reducing our reliance on human labor. Over time, a successful car wash may need fewer staff, but each remaining team member welcoming customers with a smile will need a broader set of skills learned on the job than ever before.

            But how does a car wash operator attract their unfair share of top talent? Benefits such as salary, paid time off, and healthcare are apparent. However, another benefit that’s often overlooked is your company culture. The most dedicated and passionate employees can usually afford to be selective, and they actively search for great companies to work for.

            Have you read every online review a former employee has left about their experience working for you? Are you aware those reviews exist and may block the best candidates from considering employment at your wash?

Build a Meaningful Culture

            When employees leave, and they will, every car wash owner/operator should ensure that they leave genuinely believing they just left a great company. It’s your job to do everything in your control to cultivate a hopeful chance that if they feel compelled to trash their experience working at your wash online, they preface it with the statement, “It’s a great company, but…” Your ability to create that belief that you are a great company that values staff can work as a forcefield that may cause staff to pause before quitting or damaging your reputation with a negative employment review.

            Be bold in your vision, and make it happen. I’ve seen owner-operators go to great lengths to make their staff feel valued and appreciated. Some provide snacks and drinks in break rooms, while others solicit ideas from staff members and review numbers and accomplishments at monthly team meetings. Many invest time to talk with their employees about company values and everyone’s importance in delivering a premier customer experience. Others keep a supply of gift cards to thank staff members for their exemplary performance. Nearly all invest in comprehensive onsite and off-site training programs for key employees.

            Remind your staff that you have a mission and that they are vital in making it happen. Whether you’re focused on cultivating customer loyalty, supporting the community, preserving the environment, or simply ensuring all customers leave with a smile, make sure the staff knows it, and believes it. Do this well, and it’s more likely a past employee will treat you fairly in an online employment review or recommend you to a friend. Even if they despised a manager, hated cleaning out the conveyor pit, or felt they deserved a higher salary.

Promote Your Culture Online

            It’s not enough to tell and train onsite employees why your company is a great place to work; you must promote that message everywhere you can online.

            I’ve seen many washes do a great job of this on their social media pages, but that’s just the start. Do an online search for “top 5 employer review sites” right now. Does your company profile page on each website project what a great company you are to work for? Have you taken ownership of those listings to promote a culture that a prospective employee would be excited to learn more about? This isn’t just an advertisement to customers and prospective employees; it’s likely the last chance to remind a dissatisfied employee that you’re a great company before they leave a negative review.

Provide a Total Compensation Package

            Competitive benefits can mean different things across generations and between markets. You’re not only competing against other car washes. Every business surrounding you is a competitor; finding the right balance that resonates most with potential employees is the objective.

            Flexible schedules and free car washes are some benefits many may find attractive. Paid time off (PTO), 401(k) retirement plans, and healthcare insurance may be more relevant to others. For anyone thinking the insurance cost is too high, consider that 89 percent of workers employed at companies with three or more workers are employed at a firm that offers health benefits to at least some workers.

            The best employees are looking for a place to grow. I have already established that the car washing industry is poised to grow in potential and stability. However, what about each employee in your organization? Offering a competitive compensation package and a great culture will get you far, but the next step is having a solid career and personal development plan for each car wash role. By encouraging a stronger emotional attachment to work and creating a culture that values quality and quantity in production, you can turn over fewer employees and produce long-term team players.

            You may never be able to predict what lies ahead completely. Still, you can take steps to stay at the forefront of the changing economy by fine-tuning your benefits to attract and retain the best employees and leverage ever-changing technology to remain relevant. In a world where everything is subject to change without notice, you may find your “great company” forcefield to be the most reliable tool you possess to attain your unfair share of the great opportunities that lie ahead.

            Good luck and good washing.

Joining the company in 2000, Anthony Analetto serves as the president of Sonny’s CarWash Equipment Division. In this role, Anthony leads the innovation of new products to drive client success and oversees all operations, engineering, and supply chain management. Washing cars for more than 30 years, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain prior to joining the company.