What’s it worth to you? Ever hear that expression? As a kid, did you trade marbles, or maybe baseball cards? If so, you may have asked the question yourself to a friend when he said he wanted your prized rookie baseball card or perfect “Cat’s Eye” marble. “What’s it worth to you?” You would then usually try to negotiate the most value you could for your prized possession. So how does this relate to car washing? Let’s take a look.

Last week, I was speaking to a multi-unit operator about the upcoming ICA tradeshow in Nashville. Most of his washes are within driving distance to the convention center, so I asked how many of his managers would be attending the show. I was taken aback by his response. He wasn’t sure if he would send any of them. He was focused on the costs of doing so — room and board, travel, and opportunity cost of having them away from the washes for a couple days — rather than any of the potential benefits. Had I asked him, “what’s it worth to you?” he wouldn’t have had the slightest idea. He’s not alone.

Nearly all car wash owners/operators train their people to some extent, and many invest significant resources to do so. And yet, they generally don’t have any idea whether they’re getting any real, transferrable business value from training. The return on teaching new employees the specifics of their jobs, maintenance procedures, and repair troubleshooting are relatively easy to quantify and measure — downtime and poor customer service cost money. But most operators struggle to gauge the return on investment in areas such as leadership, communication, performance management, or lean operations. Truth be told, it’s difficult to measure. You could survey customers on their satisfaction before and after training investments, or track profits, but the effort involved is high and, in most cases, correlation does not indicate causation. So what’s the answer? Easy: just rephrase the question.

Early in my career, whenever I asked myself what it was “worth” to send select managers to tradeshows or other training events, I almost always concluded it wasn’t worth it by the time I added up the costs. Fortunately, an industry mentor taught me a different way to think about it. He told me to ask myself, “What’s it worth to give your managers pride of ownership?” The words sunk in. I certainly had valued employees who consistently demonstrated pride of ownership in my business. They were the kids that worked as long as it took to make emergency repairs without complaint. These were the staff members who worked independently to learn my business inside and out. They were the guys I trusted to do the right things when I wasn’t there. I knew exactly what these employees were worth: they were absolutely priceless, and rare. If sending a couple managers to a tradeshow or other training event could instill pride of ownership in my business for even a fraction of those that attended, then the investment was well worth it. Armed with that insight, it’s easy to start planning ways to cultivate pride of ownership amongst your staff, and few investments will pay off more handsomely.

Schedule Formal Weekly Meetings

In the car wash industry, the word formal can mean different things to different folks. I know some operators who hold their weekly meetings in a boardroom complete with projector and white board. Another had the entire management team meet every Wednesday night at a local steakhouse for dinner. Regardless of which venue or setting you choose, there are two non-negotiable rules that must be followed. The first is that any meeting must be scheduled at least a week in advance. Important events are always scheduled and this simple act establishes its importance. The second is that you must have a formal agenda in place and communicated before the meeting begins. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Usually there are three sections to any effective meeting agenda. First, each manager will review the reports and numbers from their location on a simple “green, yellow, red” scale, for “on track, of concern, and off track,” respectively. Ideally you’ve established key performance indicators (KPIs), and the managers detail the actions being taken to correct any that are in the red. Second, open the floor for the attendees to suggest additional agenda items or quickly outline issues they are having that they’d like feedback from the group to help them solve. Some of these conversations will create action items or tasks that have to be completed by an established date. Third, review the action items from the previous week to confirm all were completed or are on track. That’s all there is to it. One note of caution: never lose sight of the fact that the purpose of this meeting is to cultivate a shared sense of ownership in the success of the business. Everyone who attends should leave with a feeling that he’s a part of something bigger than himself.

Reward Top Performers with Training

Salary and bonuses are of course a vital incentive to cultivate and retain top performing staff, but they’re not everything, especially for employees who demonstrate pride of ownership in their work. Your tangible feedback that their efforts are recognized and valued can have a powerful impact on elevating performance, and nothing does this more effectively than investing in their continued professional development. Sending top performers to offsite training does more than improve their knowledge and skills; it elevates their status within your team, and makes them role models for other team members. Car-wash-specific training is of course valuable, but it’s not the only option. Consider courses in customer service, staff management, and even computer skills if they are compiling reports.

Send Top Performers to Tradeshows

Sending your top performers to an industry tradeshow can cultivate knowledge, enthusiasm, prestige, and pride of ownership better and faster than nearly any other investment that you can make directly in your staff members. Don’t send anyone to a tradeshow, however, without a plan and specific goals. Generate a list of booths and seminars you want them to attend, people they should meet with, and information to bring back. Work with them to include things that they believe would be valuable, as well. Remember, your goal is to make them feel ownership of the process and your business. Personally, I like to keep it simple. Whenever I send one of my managers to a tradeshow, I instruct them to bring back no less than five ideas they found on the tradeshow floor to improve our business. They then have to identify “the one thing” from the five that they feel would have the biggest impact and write a plan to implement it. It’s a beautiful thing when your staff not only feels pride of ownership, but also acts like owners planning ways to make your business more successful.

So now we’re back to where we started. Ask yourself again “what’s it worth” to send select managers to tradeshows or other training events? “What’s it worth” to hold formal weekly meetings? Whether it’s a prized rookie baseball card, a perfect “Cat’s Eye” marble, or investing in developing the staff in your business, it’s amazing how much easier it is to invest wisely once you know what something is worth to you.

Good luck, and good washing.

Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as president of SONNY’S The CarWash Factory, creator of the Original Xtreme-Xpress Mini-Tunnel, and the largest manufacturer of conveyorized car wash equipment, parts, and supplies in the world. He can be reached at Aanaletto@SonnysDirect.com or at (800) 327-8723 ext. 104.