Lately, it seems like every business owner I talk to is struggling to recruit and retain employees capable of consistently delivering a quality customer experience.

It’s not surprising. Every other news story I see is talking about how unemployment is lower than it’s been for nearly 20 years. What’s worse is every time you find a star performer, there seems to be someone trying to lure them away.

Considering that it’s estimated to cost employers about 33 percent of an employee’s annual salary to hire a replacement if they leave, you’re looking at spending $10,000 to find a $30,000-per-year employee. That’s a significant reason to look at how you recruit and retain top employees.

As an industry, we must come up with actionable strategies to not just recruit quality employees but to also set them on a solid career path that keeps them engaged with our brand and committed to serving our customers.

Craft Your “Great Company” Force Shield

Benefits such as salary, healthcare, paid time off (PTO), and retirement are obvious, and I’ll address them in greater detail next, but first I want to highlight an equally important and far more affordable benefit that’s often overlooked: your company culture. Have you read every online review a former employee has left about their experience working for you? Are you aware that those reviews exist and may be blocking the best candidates from considering employment at your wash?

When employees leave, and they will, it’s the job of every owner to ensure they leave with the genuine belief that they just left a great company. Employees leave for different reasons:
• Dissatisfaction with the work
• Desire a different career path
• Seek a role that pays a higher salary
• Dislike the personalities of co-workers and managers

But when they leave, 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 force shield that may cause staff to pause before quitting or damaging your reputation.

So how do you make that happen? I’ve seen successful owner-operators do everything from providing snacks and drinks in break rooms to soliciting ideas and reviewing numbers and accomplishments at monthly team meetings — often with catered food. Others I know keep a supply of gift cards on hand to thank and reward staff for exemplary performance, and nearly all invest in comprehensive training programs.

Crafting interactions with staff is fundamental, but it’s also important to let them know you are a great company by sharing your purpose and values, at minimum in the form of a prominently displayed mission statement. 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 staff know that and believe it.

Promote Your Culture Online

It’s not enough to tell and train onsite employees why you’re a great company, you must promote that same message everywhere you can online. I’ve seen many washes do a great job of this on their social media pages and feature a solid description of the benefits of employment on their website, but that’s just the start. Do an online search for “top five employer review sites” right now. Does your company profile page on each of those websites project what a great company you are to work for?

Have you taken ownership of that page 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 employers; it’s likely the last chance to remind a dissatisfied employee that you’re a great company before they leave a negative review.

Deliver Competitive Compensation

Numerous resources cite salary as the leading reason employees leave companies. Hopefully, you’ve done some homework and are up to date on what is considered a competitive salary in your market. What I want to focus on here is the complete benefits package.

Competitive benefits can mean different things across generations and between markets. Every business surrounding you is a competitor and finding the right balance that resonates most with potential employees is the objective. Flexible schedules and free car washes are a few examples of benefits Millennials may find attractive. PTO, 401(k) retirement plans, and healthcare insurance may be more relevant to others.

Speaking of health insurance, many I speak to are shocked that nearly 70 percent of employees are offered health insurance benefits from private-sector employers, more than a few of which are car washes. You must do the research, calculate the numbers, and know where you stand compared to other businesses going after the same candidates.

More numbers to be aware of are that about 79 percent of Americans work for a company that sponsors a 401(k) retirement plan and 57 percent of full-time employees are offered a PTO plan.

The takeaway here is that it’s important to find the balance of benefits most relevant to attract and retain the best candidates in the job pool that’s available to you.

Offering a competitive compensation package and a great culture will get you far, but the next step is having a strong career and personal development plan in place for each role at your car wash. Having a plan that encourages a stronger emotional attachment to work and a mindset that the quality of work matters is key to turning over fewer employees and producing long-term team players.


Attracting, grooming and retaining quality employees will always be a moving target, especially in a hot economy.

Some factors will always be out of your control. But at the end of the day you must have a strategic roadmap in place to support your growth regardless of what’s going on in the job market. If you have a robust compensation program in place, part of your plan may be to reduce your reliance on labor through automation as you look to scale to more locations.

If you suddenly find yourself unable to fill or keep key people, evaluate competitive offers in your market, adjust your compensation package as needed quickly, and develop a long-term plan once you’re stable.

Keeping ahead of a changing economy, fine tuning benefits to attract quality employees, and then leveraging an ever-changing online world to remain relevant can be challenging to say the least. The only variable that’s entirely within your control is the company culture you craft. Build it and promote it with care. In a world where everything is subject to change without notice, you may find your “great company” force shield to be the most reliable tool you have to support your continued success.

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