Cell production is a form of team work that helps ensure worker commitment, as each cell is responsible for a complete unit of work. Cell production divides work into cells where each cell is managed to achieve goals such as quality, efficiency, and waste reduction.

I was introduced to this concept about 20 years ago by my mentor who, at that time, was promoting flex-serve as an alternative to the traditional full-service business model.

Prior to that, my experience with production was line-type operations including working in a steel manufacturing plant and a full-service car wash. What such operations had in common is division of labor.


Division is the separation of a work process into a number of tasks with each task performed by an individual person or group of persons. To illustrate, consider the in-line process and number of individual work stations that comprises the full-servi

Figure 1 – Aftercare Cell Equipment

conveyor operation. These include greeter, drive-on, vacuum, prep, in-store cashier, towel dry, drive off, and detailers plus supervision and management needed to direct and control things.

Historically, full-service operators relied on the chase capacity strategy to control things. This strategy implies the workforce level is adjusted to produce the output levels needed to match demand requirements, period by period. In other words, production is varied as demand varies.

For example, a full-service conveyor typically needs between six and eight employees to open for business. By mid-morning, 14 to 17 may need to be scheduled. During peak times, several more would be required to round out the crew.

However, unforeseen changes in the arrival rate of customers, a turn in the weather, absenteeism, and other factors can create situations when there is a shortage of staff or too much idle labor.

A shortage can lead to production bottlenecks that reduce car wash output and customer satisfaction (i.e., longer enter/exit time). Whereas excess idle labor increases costs and lowers profits.


The flex-serve model solves this problem by adopting the exterior-only car wash process. The transition to “stay-in-the-car” allows full-service operators to eliminate several work stations including greeter, drive-on, towel dry, drive-off, and inside cashier.

Customers can choose to exit the property after the car wash or proceed to a separate after-care facility where assisted-services are offered.

An after-care facility can take various forms such as a canopy covering several parking spaces, a brick-and-mortar structure containing service bays, or converted self-service vacuum parking spaces. Here, each vehicle parking space is treated as an individual production cell.

Cells are staffed in teams of either two or four persons. This process layout allows the manager to control manpower and material supply more precisely.

Another benefit of cell production is the emphasis on teamwork. When work is divided up among team members, the work gets done faster, and it makes the business operate more efficiently.

Cell production allows for 33 percent fewer employees. Ask a car wash operator what their biggest competitive advantage is and most will say it’s their people and their team’s ability to communicate and work together effectively.

Cell production allows team members to see how their efforts contribute to something that produces end results instead of just the completion of a single task. Working towards a common goal in this manner also builds morale.

Equipment and material-supply requirements for cell production include centralized vacuum, air, and solutions plus towels and detail supplies. Other equipment requirements are point-of-sale terminal and cash drawer, intercom system, and surveillance cameras.

In the final analysis, cell production allows for 33 percent fewer employees as compared to production that takes place in a line such as traditional full service.

Perhaps its greatest advantage, however, is the manner in which it promotes teamwork. Teamwork is what allows workers to move as quickly as possible while making as little waste as possible.

Bob Roman is president of RJR Enterprises — Consulting Services (www.carwashplan.com). You can reach Bob via e-mail at bob@carwashplan.com