Many in the car care industry are finding themselves short of the one thing they need to thrive and grow: workers. The Bank of America recently estimated that 4.6 million workers exited the labor force during the pandemic -– but only half are expected to rejoin. How to coax those badly needed workers off the sidelines remains a problem.

Businesses are being forced to offer higher pay and more benefits to staff up and take advantage of the anticipated improving economy. And, unfortunately, they are competing locally with a slew of big businesses across the country that have been hiking wages and offering enticing bonuses.


Finding qualified workers remains a challenge for car wash, detail, and fast lube operations and is slowing both their recovery and growth. Some employers are increasing compensation, offering bonuses and benefits to attract — and retain — employees. Consider just a few of the strategies in play as car wash businesses search for workers.

Imagine, offering a reward to employees who bring another job candidate onboard. These recruiting bonuses, also known as employee referral programs, foster a sense of trust in existing employees to refer good people that they -– and everyone — will work well with.

Of course, in order for these bonuses to be most effective, there should be some requirements to determine the success of the referral before the bonus is paid. These requirements often include working a set length of time, meeting certain standards, sustaining growth over a certain period, and more.

So-called “signing bonuses,” just like those we’re familiar with in professional sports, are becoming more and more common in industry. Depending on the local labor market, the operation may have to offer a signing bonus to attract employees and convince them to accept a job.

While a signing bonus is usually in addition to the employee’s salary, benefits, and other bonus or commission opportunities, it shouldn’t be paid all up front.

After all, should the worker leave early, recovering the money will be difficult.


While thousands of jobs are available and businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to find workers, many experts say that low wages, specifically the minimum wage, are the problem. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders has a simple solution to the problem of hiring low-wage workers: raise wages and pay decent benefits.

The main argument against a nationwide $15-per-hour minimum wage is that it would make labor too expensive for poorer areas, prompting employers in those areas to shed jobs. So far, a local approach to the minimum wage dilemma seems viable as the increased minimum wages created in many cities and states kick in.


Surprisingly, survey after survey seems to show that it is not money alone that attracts new workers and keeps existing employees on the job. It is the benefits.

No operation can be an employer of choice without a good benefits package. Employees are looking for a sense of security in the form of good benefits and, in many cases, even retirement packages (401(k) is the most common). Helping employees maintain their health and build a stable retirement shows job applicants — and existing workers — the car care operation values them.

Also currently treasured by job seekers — and employees — are flexibility and the opportunity to balance work with other life responsibilities, interests, and issues. Job training, educational assistance, and employer-provided vehicles used for business are among the popular — and often necessary — working-condition fringe benefits offered by many small businesses.


Seeking workers “outside the box” often means job training, and many employers are finding ways to use a job-seeker’s previous job experience to place them in new careers. There are also job training and educational cost assistance programs used for attracting job applicants — and welcomed by existing workers.

On-the-job training provided by an employer is a tax-free hiring incentive as well as an invaluable “perk” for current employees.

Educational assistance and tuition reimbursement are also welcome fringe benefits.

A car wash, detailing, or fast lube business with a formal, written educational assistance plan isn’t required to immediately fund the plan, only reimburse an employee’s educational expenses — up to $5,250 per employee, per year and exempt from tax. Educational assistance doesn’t just include tuition assistance, but also payments for books, equipment, and other expenses related to continuing education.


There are many ways to attract and retain workers. Start with ensuring the car wash operation’s pay scale is competitive and includes fringe benefits such as help with health insurance, flexible hours, occassional parties, help with child care, etc. Although clearly not a one-size-fits-all, the operation must tailor the solution to its situation. The first step may be finding what the employees want.

With workers quiting saying they won’t return to the industry and others saying they won’t work for any amount of money, employers need to approach this challenge with creativity and open ears. Many experts believe the future of the workplace, any workplace, involves “personalized employment,” providing targeted incentives and greater flexibility to attract workers.

Among the more common, tax-free employee fringe benefits are the following:
• Adequate compensation, including benefits
• Flexible working hours and, if possible, location
• Career growth opportunities and options for continuing education and training
• An increased focus on quality of life, including adequate holiday time and, in some cases, help with childcare logistics
• Good working conditions
• Sensitivity to mental and physical health concerns, including burnout, exhaustion, and increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 or one of its variants

Obviously, employers cannot meet every need or anticipate each unique situation. What they can do is focus on results.


In a tight labor market and the need for seasonal and/or year-round workers, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is an incentive for employing workers from one of several “target” groups that may help. There is even a special version of the credit for hiring certain ­disadvantaged youths to work during the summer.

The WOTC is a federal tax credit available to employers for hiring individuals from certain targeted groups who have traditionally faced significant barriers to employment. That means, qualified veterans, ex-felons, summer youth employees, long-term family assistance and long-term unemployment recipients, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients among others.

Available until December 31, 2025, the credit ranges from $2,400 up to $9,600 depending on the targeted group and qualified wage paid to the new employee. Generally, the credit is 40 percent of qualified first-year wages for individuals who work 400-plus hours in their first year of employment.

In addition, there is a special tax credit, a direct reduction of the operation’s tax bill rather than a deduction from the income that the tax bill is based on, for hiring youths aged 16 or 17 who reside in an empowerment zone or enterprise community during the summer. This credit equals 40 percent for the first $3,000 of wages paid between May 1 and September 15, up to a maximum of $1,200 for each qualified worker.


Although there are many people without jobs, it continues to be difficult to fill many of the open positions. Small businesses and businesses that rely on hourly and/or in-person employees face unique challenges as they lack either the resources or the flexibility to meet worker demands.

Fortunately, small businesses have the advantage of being able to provide flexibility and personalization more quickly than larger employers.

It is a proven fact that it is cheaper, in general, to keep a worker than it is to hire a new one. Thus, for hourly workers and workers in positions in which working remotely is not an option, employers can focus on creating short-term incentives and improving the overall satisfaction of a given position.

One evolving method of dealing with the tough labor market involves working without workers. In other words, many businesses are stepping up the automation of their operations. The proliferation of the express-exterior car wash model is a prime example.

The government, particularly our tax laws, provides a much-needed helping hand with the cost of automating. The current tax laws offer a first-year expensing option that allows amounts spent for new (or used) equipment to be entirely written off or deducted immediately. So-called “bonus” depreciation is another option for an immediate deduction of 100 percent of expenditures.

Unfortunately, in order to deduct something, there must be income from which it can be deducted, something many businesses lack. The alternative for those automation expenditures is the tried-and-true depreciation deduction. Depreciation creates a write-off for a portion of those costs annually — when the recovering business will, hopefully, have income that needs reduction.

In order to attract talented individuals to work for the business, as well as to retain qualified employees, employers in today’s job market must often offer increased wages, fringe benefits, and other perks. With the help of professional guidance, the most successful options could well be the ones that cost the car care operation the least.

Mark E. Battersby is an Ardmore, PA-based freelance writer, specializing in finance and tax issues.