Successful managers know that hiring for their company’s values is critical. They also know that there is no way to adequately prepare a new employee for every situation they’ll encounter on the job except to arm them with knowledge to deploy at the right time. Companies within the car wash industry, despite size differences, share goals and insights about training new team members and rising managers.
BREEZE THRU CAR WASH
Breeze Thru Car Wash is a 16-year-old company with about 200 employees at 14 express exterior and flex-service locations in Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming. Company trainer and safety manager Rhonda Hoffmann says, “We have a robust training program.” In the first two to three weeks of employment, new team members are coached for 11 shifts and follow a syllabus, learning specific skills each day. A manager stays with them to answer questions and ensure they are retaining the lessons. Hoffmann says, “A lot of our training is one-on-one and there is so much value in that.” After this phase, team members use training aids — manuals and other guides — to finish the basic training within 90 days, during which they are evaluated against a rubric. Upon completion, they receive a raise, a certificate, and the title customer service attendant (CSA). For the duration of the first year, they receive advanced maintenance and customer service training.
For managers, Breeze Thru offers coaching classes at its headquarters and is currently working to move away from paper manuals by creating its own online learning management system. “We are now putting emphasis on our management training because those are the most tenured employees. They are the ones who will be staying with you longer, and they’re the ones who are bringing coaching and basic training to the newer employees. We really want to build those people up and prepare them for their futures,” Hoffmann explains.
Tommy’s Express understands the need for leadership development and has been working on it for 50 years. With 150 sites nationwide — 6 corporate-owned and the others franchise-owned — it has a growing need for training resources and a team devoted to creating content. Megan Scheid, vice president of human resources strategy, estimates that there are at least 10 people working in learning and development. She says, “It’s a significant percentage of our brand-supporting corporate staff.”
Tommy’s Express has hands-on training at all sites. Every team member, franchise owner, and manager also use Tommy University, an online portal housed with UKG featuring 200 courses and different paths for each position. It was developed, course by course, by a team supervised by brand president Mike Lemmen, who started out in the industry more than 40 years ago. When onboarded, every new employee receives a code to use the system. Managers oversee and ensure that each person is moving through checkpoints and completing coursework. While courses have been used for some time, full-out development of the university started around 2016 when Tommy’s Express began franchising, growing sites, and teaching operators how to run locations new to its brand.
At Tommy’s Express, franchise business consultants — one for every 10-15 sites — conduct audits to ensure that onsite training is complete, and nudge employees to do additional training when necessary. Team members are even provided guest scripts so they can practice talking to an approaching driver without feeling anxious. But Megan Scheid explains that curriculum is only half of the equation. “Being able to give them a script of what we want them to say to the guest is easy. But getting someone actually willing to do it every time is harder.”
Both Scheid and Hoffmann say most people quickly understand how a wash works, but soft skills such as communication, listening, cooperation, courtesy, and dealing with difficult situations are more challenging to teach. “Car washes are very technical. There’s a lot to learn as far as the equipment, how to run it, and how to manage it. But anyone handy can learn it. I think the hardest thing is the cultural aspect…of really having a passion for it, having the right attitude to successfully run the business and manage people,” says Scheid.
Companies must consider possible knowledge gaps when training, too. “It’s pretty easy to teach people to load cars, and to help someone at the pay station, and to empty the trash,” Hoffmann says, “The harder ones are maintenance skills. We have this assumption that some things are common sense.” For example, someone might not know what a wrench is. “There are employees we bring in who just don’t know these things. We need to teach those skills, and not just, ‘Here’s how you do this one simple task,’ but the critical thinking behind it. Critical thinking in general is harder to teach. It takes more time, but it’s worth it.”
At Breeze Thru and Tommy’s Express, team members generally display the most on-the-job growth after completing their first rounds of training and moving into an independent phase in which they receive advanced training in maintenance and leadership development. It’s at this point that companies begin to see the fruits of their efforts paying off. Hoffmann says, “We would describe our professionalism as responsibility, respect, honesty, and hard work. There’s a rubric we have to grade [new employees] and see how they’re doing and improving. Some people, when they’re first hired, have the basics of being friendly, but maybe they’re scared. Maybe someone’s card isn’t working and they need to take it to another POS, and so they’ll just run away with the customer’s card without telling the customer where they’re going! But we see them later and see how they’ve grown in those interactions. Their professionalism grows.”
What’s important is that over time, the technical and soft skills come together to create a positive experience for the customer. Successful businesses are built on customer satisfaction. When asked which parts of a training program are most important, Scheid says, “Honestly? On all of it. If you listen to our brand president on how to be a successful Tommy’s Express, he will tell you it is not any one thing or any two things, it is the sum of everything.”
CREATING A COMFORTABLE WORKPLACE
Companies everywhere are promoting the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, antiracism, and accessibility and taking care to ensure their training materials help to create a sense of belonging in the workplace. At Tommy’s Express, Scheid says, “We have diversity and inclusion courses that every single team member has to go through. We also focus a lot on accessibility at our wash sites,” such as having wheelchair ramps.
Breeze Thru is similar. It has recently revised its training because the need for accessibility comes in many forms. Hoffmann explained, “One of my coworkers in the past was colorblind, and as part of our training, we had to match colored buckets for certain tasks.” She said that initially, her colleague couldn’t do the training because he couldn’t differentiate the blue buckets from the others. He asked that they write the colors on the buckets so he could participate. “We’ve had a few other colorblind people come through the training since then, and they’ve been able to benefit from that change. By having that awareness, we’re able to implement those changes and be more inclusive.”
Everyone appreciates an opportunity to give feedback on their experience, and this has become the norm for training programs. At Breeze Thru, team members receive a QR code at the end of each training session so they can send their input to company headquarters. Tommy’s Express employees can review training in the manager app.
KEEPING LONG-TERM GOALS IN MIND
Training programs are business investments. They not only give employees skills and show them they are valued, they also reduce turnover and prevent costly mistakes. This is especially important in businesses where there are many stakeholders.
“We do a lot here to make sure that our team members and also our franchise owners are successful,” says Scheid. “Being a franchise puts a lot of weight and pressure on us as a corporate system because there are team members like every company has, but there are also a ton of investors and their families. There are a lot of people relying on our brand and our success. We do a lot to make sure we are responsible to them.” It’s important to uphold the the quality of the brand, she explains. “Everywhere in the country, if you walk into a Tommy’s Express, we want our guests to have the same great experience.”
The same is true at Breeze Thru and car washes everywhere. Training helps ensure that the person who was hired for friendliness and enthusiasm is retained and promoted for taking those qualities and amplifying them with hard work and knowledge gained on the job to become a great brand representative.
Gretchen Matthews founded Chesapeake Quill to help businesses improve their digital and print content. She often presents at the biannual Women in Carwash™ conference and is the copy editor for its newsletter, L.E.A.R.N. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or chesapeakequill.com.