Several months ago, I wrote about crafting a car wash manager job description for running the day-to-day operations. Today, I’d like to talk about human capital and the investment needed, financially and otherwise, to find and retain a good manager — one who can become a force multiplier for your wash in terms of positive customer takeaways.

“Any company trying to compete must figure out a way to engage the mind of nearly every employee.”— Jack Welch, former CEO, General ElectricDelivering a customer experience that differentiates your wash from the competition may begin with equipment, marketing, and technology, but ultimately ends with a skilled manager, trained to enhance and support your organization’s brand. I’ve written a lot and advised colleagues about what I consider to be the core traits of a quality car wash manager — hands-on, customer-focused and entrepreneurial in spirit. But where do you find them?

While online classifieds, job fairs, and on-site signage are all good ways to advertise for new talent, they tend to elicit canned responses from potential candidates. In other words, they are giving you answers they think you want to hear rather than their true thoughts and skills they bring to the table. I prefer to see the qualities I’m looking for in person, and I’m always prepared to capitalize on opportunities that present themselves.

For example, I once found one of my best managers while shopping for a set of tires for my truck. My first stop was at a big-box retail store with a temptingly low price. But when I got to the tire section, there was nobody at the counter to help me — and no way to get anyone’s attention — so I walked outside to the garage and found the manager.

He said it would be “about 10 minutes before I can drop a car from the lift to help you.” I got the impression that my buying tires was an inconvenience to him that day — not the type of manager I’d invite to work for my business.

I politely said I had some other shopping to do and would come back, but immediately made a beeline across town to another tire store that I knew specialized in selling tires only, albeit at a higher price point. When I got there, I noticed a man in a clean dress shirt and slacks huddled with two other workers. I overheard him instructing them how to put a new shipment of tires into the store’s inventory system.

Right off the bat, I was impressed with this individual’s concern and involvement in the training of his employees.Search for managers capableof delivering a consistently superb customer experience.

“Can I help you sir?” he offered as soon as he observed that I was in the store. The service level in the span of an hour between both places was like night and day. A few minutes later, I had a quote for four new tires in my hand, confident that I got a good deal even though the price was slightly higher than the previous store. I thanked him for his attention to detail and constructive suggestions and asked him what he liked most about his job.

Technical skills can be taught, I thought, but the passion to cultivate satisfied customers not as much. When he answered that he likes working with customers most, I continued with questions about how he got into his current career and where he hopes it’ll lead him — in other words, I just conducted my first interview with this manager candidate.

He met my initial criteria, so I advanced to the next step and I handed him a business card, a gift card for a free wash, and the lead-in question: “What do you know about the car wash industry?”

He said that he didn’t know much, other than his own personal experience from getting his car washed at a place near his home.

My point is that you must be prepared to reach into your pocket when you meet a potential managerial candidate. Do you have a supply of free wash cards readily available? Have you prepared a series of interview questions to qualify potential managerial candidates you encounter? What 30-second elevator pitch have you crafted to sell your business to a prospective manager? Be concise and to the point here.

For a manager, who first and foremost loves delivering a great customer experience, managing a car wash, especially the newer formats — with pay stations and equipment automation — can be a dream come true.

Stick to the main talking points:
• They will likely be managing fewer staff
• There is typically less handling of cash
• There is little or no inventory to manage

Next, let them know that your business automates most of the mundane tasks and allows them to focus on what they love — and you need — satisfying your customers. Now close by talking about the growth opportunities specific to your business, and boom!

If they aren’t left with a burning desire to embark on a career as a professional car wash manager, then it’s likely they may not be cut out to become a professional car washer.

Managers in our industry need to have a mechanical aptitude, and career moves from auto parts or other industrial retail outlets are an obvious choice, but I’ve also hired managers from restaurants and even once from a pet store.

What I look for is individuals who are used to not just surviving, but thriving, in a fast-paced retail environment because they tend to be highly organized and are able to adapt to changing conditions on the fly.

The expectation is that when you bring this type of individual into your wash, they will more easily adapt to running the business and deliver an excellent customer experience, resulting in repeat business and more growth from word-of-mouth referrals.

One thing I do not recommend is poaching from another car wash. This isn’t just an ethical choice of mine, it’s good business. You’re looking to introduce someone to our industry, help them discover their passion for it, and carry that enthusiasm into maintaining your brand experience for your customers for years to come. On a side note, treat them right and proactively manage their growth in your business or you may discover you trained a great manager for your competitors.

Formal education isn’t a prerequisite for a managerial position, but being capable of operating the business professionally is, including the ability to defuse the occasional unhappy customer.

Those aren’t the only traits I consider, but the ability to turnaround a negative customer experience is definitely one of the most important to me as an operator.

In the end, we are a customer service industry and ensuring customer satisfaction should be first and foremost on the mind of every one of us in the business. Hire a leader who thinks from a customer point-of-view and you’ve likely hired the right car wash manager to grow your business.

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