Employee retention is a priority for any business, and car washes are no different. Given that the average cost to replace even a minimum wage laborer can equal 30 percent of the individual’s first-year earnings, the time it takes to find, interview, process, and train new workers is enough to motivate any car wash owner or operator to prevent a revolving door.

With that in mind, here are 10 ways to reduce employee turnover and improve the quality of your car wash company’s culture at the same time.


The Harvard Business Review points out that as much as 80 percent of employee turnover is due to bad hiring decisions, so recruit with high standards in mind.

Set up a defined hiring process that includes pre-employment selection assessments, background checks, and drug screenings. Also, look for people with customer service acumen and physical strength.

Almost anyone can wipe down a car as it comes out of the wash tunnel, but excellent customer service means bringing on individuals who do it with verve. The same goes for point-of-sale staff members who have the choice to either mechanically ring up one transaction after another or make an effort to interact positively with customers.

Also, working in a car wash requires physical stamina, so enlist energetic people who can withstand the strain of bending, twisting, lifting, pulling, wiping, and so forth.

One practice to avoid: hiring walk-ins, even if the need is desperate. Taking the time to recruit and formally interview prospects will help ensure you find employees who are capable and trustworthy.


Once you secure a credible employee, provide a formalized training program to keep him. If you hire someone with no car wash experience, first teach him how to do the job step-by-step.

While it’s important for new hires to learn other aspects of the business, such as the company’s history and how to deliver excellent customer service, starting with the tenets of the job and how to do it well will instill confidence and satisfaction, which translates to better performance. Otherwise, you could end up with someone who goes home every day feeling frustrated and disillusioned — almost guaranteeing a short tenure.


Have all your training materials and systems in place before you start. This will maximize the value of your efforts and reduce time wasted looking for resources after the fact. Not only that, collaterals such as handouts, videos, and books can help the employee expand his knowledge and retain what he learnedin classroom sessions.

During training, establish a culture of high standards regarding both customer service and employee satisfaction. Also, role-play employee-employee and customer-employee interactions. The tension that arises between employees or with unhappy customers is a leading cause of high turnover rates.

Because managers are essential for monitoring and maintaining your company’s customer service expectations, supply them with training updates several times a year, to equip them with the necessary strategies and momentum their leadership position requires.


Setting high training expectations is a vital component of employee retention; so is providing positive reinforcement during the process. It’s easy to criticize an employee for what he is doing wrong but takes forethought and effort to positively reinforce what he gets right.

Everyone deserves a pat on the back or an “atta boy” once in a while, so don’t be too stingy in showing your approval. Often, that alone is enough to keep employees motivated and happy with their place of employment.

That’s not to suggest you never criticize, but be constructive when doing so. When and if correction is needed, do it in private, never publicly so as to embarrass the employee or hurt morale.


Another way to show appreciation for a job well done is by offering tangible rewards, such as a Friday afternoon off, increased responsibilities (with more pay), “employee of the month” recognition, or trophies for hitting performance or safety goals. The better you know what motivates your employees, the more you’ll be able to tailor incentives to fit their needs.

Also, when possible, schedule an event all employees can attend, like a staff party, bowling outing, barbecue, or ball game. It’s a good way for them to develop friendships.

Gallup found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent, and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work.


Good employees are worth their weight in gold, and while you may not have a bag full of it lying around, do your best to compensate workers fairly for the value they bring to the job and company. You will likely find that the amount you’re able to pay is proportionate to the quality of employee you hire.

A good rule of thumb is to survey your local market to find out what other car wash owners and operators are paying and offer a dollar or two more to attract better talent.

In addition to a fair wage, full-time employees will expect good health insurance and other benefits, such as life insurance, profit sharing, and retirement savings plans — all perks essential to retaining quality help.


A Wall Street Journal guide on employee retention suggests periodically interviewing employees who have been with you a while. Ask them why they’ve stayed, what would make them leave, and what improvements would cause them to stay even longer.

Taking into account feedback from trusted employees, continually refines and improves the training process as well as the company culture.


Insperity, a business coaching company, lists bad management and disengagement with employees among the top reasons for high turnover. For that reason, car wash managers should lead by example.

Far from the typical corporate management plethora of meetings, car wash managers should spend most of their time interacting with their staff. When workers feel heard, valued, and trusted, they are less likely to seek employment elsewhere.

Coaching from a manager to encourage productive employee-customer interactions and ensure respect exists between employees helps to shape a positive company culture that can lower the turnover rate.


Both the Wall Street Journal guide and the Insperity list cite employee boredom and lack of vision as contributors to high turnover rates. Setting challenging goals for your employees, which can range from team competitions to individual incentives, can offset these.

The owner, operator, or manager should also make clear to all employees the career path and opportunity for advancement each of their positions holds.


Even though you may not need a new staff member today doesn’t mean you won’t tomorrow. Hiring out of desperation is never a good idea. Instead, develop a plan for ongoing recruitment.

Follow-up with applicants you feel fit the bill and let them know that while you don’t have an opening presently, you would like to stay in contact when the time comes.

Put these 10 recommendations into practice and watch your employee turnover rate decline, enthusiasm climb, and a positive attitude permeate your operation. After all, it’s much less expensive to keep the employees you have than to find new ones.

Jim Utterback is director of marketing for Motor City Wash Works, a supplier of car wash systems, equipment, and service, located in Wixom, MI. You can visit the company on the web at www.motorcitywashworks.com.