Like a car moving through a conveyor wash tunnel, Mister Car Wash is a company in perpetual motion, making systemic improvements on the fly. With 136 conveyor car washes in 14 states, Mister Car Wash is on a fast track to become the most recognized brand in the industry. People responsible for brand management are banking their success on the company’s ability to consistently deliver a positive customer experience. That’s a formidable challenge for any company, much less one that’s acquiring existing locations at such a fast clip. Integration and training are the name of the game. With nearly 5,000 employees already interacting with Mister Car Wash customers every day, company leaders know that human investment is imperative.

Career path progression

Inspiring people to shine is more than a buzz phrase at Mister Car Wash. Managers know if their employees don’t love being there, neither will their customers. That’s why the company is putting so much time and money into creating an environment in which everyone can reach their full potential.

The degree to which Mister Car Wash is investing in its people is particularly evident within the discipline of management training. Eighty percent of current Mister Car Wash senior operations managers moved their way up from entry-level car wash jobs. Mister Car Wash is further nurturing that proud tradition by delineating crystal clear career-path progressions for associates identified as “high performing future leaders” or HPFLs for short.

Seventy procent of training is conducted on the job.

IDENTIFYING HIGH PERFORMING FUTURE LEADERS

Folks in the know at Mister Car Wash headquarters in Tucson, AZ describe HPFLs as employees who “have fire in the belly.” They say HPFLs typically possess a sense of urgency and a concern for the customer. They’re not only accountable, they’re also curious, showing their desire to learn by taking initiative and asking questions. Most importantly, HPFLs are motivated from within, a quality that is likely to show up when the store is slow or when the manager isn’t looking; HPFLs are always the ones who are seeking out their next tasks. Education level is not a prerequisite for HPFLs. They may have a college degree, some college, or no college at all. They may have even been the worst students in high school. Academic prowess doesn’t matter to Mister Car Wash. If HPFLs demonstrate the ability and desire to excel, company executives are committed to offering them both the career opportunities and the training to do so.

MANAGEMENT TRAINING EVOLUTION

The organizational scale that has resulted from the company’s rapid growth over the past few years has paved the way for implementation of some impressive management training programs at Mister Car Wash, and not a moment too soon. After launching field-based Manager-in-Training and Supervisor-in-Training programs in 2012, the company followed up with the launch of Mister Car Wash University in 2014. The three-day training program is designed to further groom company leaders in some of the finer nuances of management and leadership.

According to Mayra Chimienti, director of training and development, associates who are invited to enroll in Mister Car Wash University are flown into Tucson the day before training begins. They’re greeted at the airport by a Mister Car Wash associate and shuttled to their hotel. After meeting fellow students at an evening dinner reception and a good night’s sleep, they’re transported to Mister Car Wash’s spectacular headquarters where classroom training begins bright and early.

Over three days, trainers who are specialists in their fields take turns presenting material from perspectives of human resources, research and development, health and safety, marketing, and operations. With 38 modules in all, the emphasis is on coaching, mentoring, and delivering legendary service. Role playing helps ensure that key concepts are understood and internalized. Cases of Monster energy drinks help keep everyone awake. Lunch is catered in. Group dinners are enjoyed out.

Only 10 procent of training takes place in the classroom and online.

SO, WHAT’S THE PAYBACK?

According to area manager Ben Melendez, Mister Car Wash’s newest level of training has made “a huge impact.” Melendez, who is responsible for eight Mister Car Wash locations, said, “The difference [Mister Car Wash University training] has made in day-to-day field operations has been phenomenal. Our Tucson general managers were the first class to graduate from Mister Car Wash University, and it was amazing to see how excited and motivated they were to go back to their sites and implement what they had learned. The training given to these individuals empowers them with knowledge and skills to do their job well and with a sense of meaning. They exude confidence.”

While it’s too soon to measure the long-term effects of Mister Car Wash University, the prognosis appears good. Sales and customer satisfaction are up. Of the inaugural class of 12 managers who graduated from Mister Car Wash University in late October 2014, two have already received promotions with more expected. The next incoming class of 16 is anticipated in February. Thereafter, Mister Car Wash University is scheduled to be conducted as often as quarterly.

If employees don’t love being there, neither will their customers.

“For Mister Car Wash, human investment is a no brainer,” says Chimienti. “In order to build the brand that we aspire to be requires consistency, not just in policies and procedures but in how we treat our employees and our customers. Our focus is squarely on developing strong teams. Happy employees yield happy customers.”

Happy employees include Melendez, who declares, “I love working for Mister Car Wash. This company has given me the opportunity to work with over 330 amazing people in my region. I give thanks every day to Mister Car Wash for giving me the privilege and opportunity to be a positive force in each and every one of their lives. Mister Car Wash is always looking for ways to give us the tools, knowledge, and support we need to make and keep us the number one car wash company in the nation.”

In return for its sizable human investment, Mister Car Wash receives a loyal employee base, which translates to staff longevity, a rarity in an industry notorious for its revolving door employment.

REDUCING TURNOVER

Perhaps the biggest dividend Mister Car Wash can expect to receive on its human investment will come in the form of reductions in costly employee turnover. Turnover is a statistic that’s closely monitored by top management. In one case, when business managers discovered employee turnover was especially high in a particular store, it turned out that the well-intentioned store manager there firmly believed he was doing the right thing by getting rid of the wrong employees. When he subsequently learned, during a Mister Car Wash management training session, that the tangible costs of hiring the wrong employee was $40,000, the light bulb went off: The problem wasn’t that he was firing the wrong people; he was hiring the wrong people in the first place. This paradigm shift is just one of many “aha moments” trainers say they have witnessed during Mister Car Wash management training programs. How to hire the right people — and why — are among a long list of topics covered by Mister Car Wash University.

It’s important to note that not all Mister Car Wash training is conducted in the classroom. According to Chimienti, 70 percent of training is conducted on the job in the field and 20 percent is conducted via mentor, leaving only 10 percent of training in the classroom and online. Chimienti admits it’s challenging to ask people who are used to being on their feet outdoors to sit in a classroom and cram their heads with information for three days. No amount of Monster drinks would ever be enough. So, to break up the routine, Mister Car Wash University includes a field trip to Tucson stores, where managers in training can see the latest, greatest company ideas at work. They get to see in practice what’s standard and what’s possible, which makes implementation a whole lot easier back home.

Even with as much time and effort as Mister Car Wash has put into development of top notch training programs, don’t think for a second that they’re done. In a learning culture, there’s always something new on the horizon and, as fast as the ink is dry on the training syllabus, changes will be coming down the pike. Just as surely as 16 million cars will come through Mister Car Wash conveyor tunnels this year, you can safely bet that the folks at Mister Car Wash are already thinking of better ways to make ‘em shine.

June C. Hussey is a freelance communications consultant based in Tucson, AZ. She has been researching and writing about extraordinary companies for more than 30 years.