In the competitive labor market, a positive company culture is not just a nice-to-have — it’s a must-have.

            Your company culture is like the wind. You can’t see it, but the effects are very tangible, both good and bad. To recognize a good company culture, it’s essential to look beyond surface-level perks and delve into the company’s core values, mission, and employees’ everyday experiences. A positive culture is often marked by transparency, inclusiveness, low turnover, and a genuine commitment to employee well-being and professional growth.

            If you are not into retaining thoroughbreds and like to surround yourself with donkeys (more on this later), there is no need to read further. A differentiating company culture means going beyond the basics of clean cars and satisfied customers. It’s about creating an environment where team members feel valued, engaged, and part of something bigger. Easier said than done.

            While imperfect, we often would find ourselves conversing with a newer team member, who would marvel at how they had never worked in a place they liked as much as ours. They would ask how this happened; we didn’t know what to say at first. We didn’t put any thought into how it happened. 

            After reflection, we realized we had put great effort into creating our desired culture. The response changed from, “I guess we just got lucky” to “We weren’t lucky; it was through great effort!” The lesson: You must be very intentional if you want an incredible culture that will attract and keep thoroughbreds and chase away donkeys.

Importance of Company Culture

            Company culture is the backbone of any successful business. It represents the values, beliefs, and behaviors determining how a company’s team members and management interact and handle outside business transactions.

            Team members spend many of their waking hours at the wash and want to work in an enjoyable environment. Culture is determined at the top and naturally flows downward in any organization. If you are unorganized and your team sees this, they will probably follow suit. If you act as a servant leader, those you serve will do the same for their direct reports.

Hire Thoroughbreds, Weed Out Donkeys

            This concept is simple: thoroughbreds want to run with thoroughbreds, and donkeys love to be around other donkeys to donkey around. Another simple concept: if you put a thoroughbred in a stable full of donkeys, the thoroughbred leaves.

            You need a culture of team members who want to chase out donkeys and run with thoroughbreds. If you have found that your stable is full of donkeys, you have a lot of work to do. To help figure this out, ask yourself the question, “Knowing what I know about this person today, would I hire them again?” If the answer is no, why are they still working for you? 

            Don’t refer to workers as employees; they are your team. As cheesy as it may sound, when you refer to them as team members, they will be more apt to act accordingly. I agree with Dave Ramsay’s take on this. Employees show up late, leave early, and steal from you while at work. Team members don’t.

            Investment in your team goes beyond competitive salaries and benefits. It includes professional development opportunities, such as training in customer service excellence, technical skills, and leadership. Encourage feedback through regular check-ins and an open-door policy. Recognize and reward team members for their contributions, boosting morale and loyalty.

Foster a Sense of Belonging

            Creating a sense of belonging is crucial. You must ensure every team member feels seen, heard, and appreciated. Weekly meetings with the entire team are an excellent opportunity to accomplish this. During these meetings, you can do team-building activities, celebrate milestones and achievements, look at the company scoreboard, etc. Don’t just do the same thing every week. Try new things in the meetings to keep them fresh and entertaining yet valuable to the team and the business.

            One year, right before Thanksgiving, we decided to share an in-depth history lesson about the Mayflower. Why? It is important to us, and we felt they should know. We weren’t sure how this would be received as it had nothing to do with our business, but we decided to go for it anyway.

            After the meeting, many team members expressed gratitude for the experience and how much it meant to them. This tradition continued each year — to this day, we receive text messages from former team members thanking us for it. We started doing something similar for other holidays throughout the year. Why? It helped us connect with the team and gave everyone a sense of belonging.

            Operators should make it easy for employee ideas to be shared. For the first 76 years of the British cycling team’s existence, they didn’t win. Then, with many small one-percent changes over time, they dominated the sport. If you don’t know the story, look it up — it’s worth your time. After relating this incredible story at one of our weekly meetings, we implemented a one-percent marginal gain program where any team member could submit an idea to make the business or their job one percent better. The ideas flowed in.

            To make this easy, we used an online form that could be filled out by scanning a QR code. Submissions were public, so anyone could see them and give additional feedback or ideas. We worked through fantastic ideas and implemented many of them. This was an ongoing program, and we reviewed new submissions each week. We included the team members who submitted the idea in the implementation process.

            The team loved that their ideas were being heard and implemented. You can’t possibly execute everything, but you will get many ideas from the team that you, as an owner or manager, would never think of. 

Five Keys to Success

            1. Prioritize Safety and Job Training. A strong onboarding process that includes skills and safety training will help your team members know they can ring the bell of success. Without this, they don’t know the expectations. Without it, it’s like playing “guess what’s on the owners’ mind.” No one wins that game.

            2. Build a Customer-Centric Culture. A customer-centric culture benefits both your clients and your team members. Empower your team to make customer service decisions, which can lead to a more satisfying employee and customer experience. Happy team members make happy customers.

            3. Embrace Community Involvement. Get involved in your community. This can enhance your brand’s reputation and make your team members proud to work for you. Organize community service events, sponsor local sports teams, participate in charity drives, and do fundraisers. With today’s technology, you can simultaneously run as many fundraisers as you want — take advantage.

            4. Lead by Example. Leadership sets the tone for company culture. Managers and supervisors should embody the company’s values and set a positive example for their teams. Effective leadership involves being approachable, transparent, and supportive, fostering a culture of trust and respect. Leaders should work to help improve each team member’s skill set.

            5. Measure and Adapt. Conduct team member satisfaction surveys and exit interviews and monitor turnover rates. Even when employees leave on bad terms, interview them — there is truth in how they feel. Be prepared to continually adapt and make changes based on feedback to improve your workplace environment. The one-percent marginal gains program helps with this.

Conclusion

            Building a differentiated company culture requires significant effort but it is doable and worthwhile. You can create a workplace that attracts and retains thoroughbreds and is repulsive to donkeys. A strong company culture is not just about the perks — it’s about creating a sense of purpose, belonging, and achievement among your team members. Doing so will enhance your operations and set your car wash apart from your competition.

David Begin founded CarwashOS, an operations content and consulting company focused on making happy car wash customers, employees, and owners. He was one of the owners of Wild BlueCarwash in Missouri, a past president of the Rocky Mountain Carwash Association and the ICA, and currently serves on the SCWA Board of Directors. He founded “Carwash, the podcast” and is a frequent speaker at carwash association conventions and events. david@carwashos.com

Michael Griggs is an operational consultant for CarwashOS. He ran operations at a multi-chain, high-volume car wash and worked in RV washing industry at high-end dealerships nationwide. His dedication to process improvement, training, and positive culture helps transform businesses into industry leaders. mgriggs@carwashos.com.