When it comes to establishing a high-performing and memorable brand, many lessons can be taken from Mister Car Wash. The company stands out not just for its size, though it is America’s largest car wash operator with 246 car washes and 34 express lubes in 21 states; nor for its growth rate, though it is the fastest growing car wash operator, adding 25 washes in 2015, 46 in 2016, and potentially 54 by the end of 2017. First and foremost, Mister Car Wash stands out, according to those who work there, for how well it treats its employees.
Here are eight tips from Mister Car Wash on creating, building, and maintaining a brand:
#1 Treat Your Employees Well, They’ll Be Your Biggest Fans
When they turn on the lights, open the lanes, and fire up the wash tunnels every morning, managers on duty at Mister Car Wash locations from Spokane, WA to Seminole, FL have one goal in mind: to make every customer that day feel good by delivering a clean, dry, and shiny car, every time. To consistently deliver on this promise requires the enthusiastic and orchestrated efforts of an entire team, 8,000 strong.
“Talent recruitment, training, and retention are all very important aspects of the brand equation for Mister Car Wash,” explains brand manager Megan Everett. “Our employees represent our brand every day so it is important that we recruit, train, and retain the best employees who can represent our brand, translate our values to our customers, and provide a quality experience,” Everett said. “We take pride in the success of our employees, just as much as our employees take pride in their work. At Mister Car Wash, we care for one another and our customers, we work hard together to provide the best experience for our customers, and we have fun doing it.”
#2 Be a Committed Leader
Creating an exciting workplace culture starts at the top, and people at Mister Car Wash agree they are fortunate to have a worthy role model in CEO John Lai.
“I’ve worked for a lot of CEOs and I’ve never seen anyone like John,” said Casey Lindsay, vice president of mergers and acquisitions. Lindsay had never even heard of Mister Car Wash before the company recruited him four years ago from Chicago, where he worked for the world’s largest hearing-health company. It took only one meeting with Lai at Mister Car Wash headquarters in Tucson to convince Lindsay he’d found the right match.
“The guy’s dialed in. He’s 100 percent committed, he’s dedicated, he lives and breathes everything about this business and he’s such a strong leader. You know there’s something special going on when the top guy lives and breathes it. That was the biggest eye opener for me,” Lindsay said. And it doesn’t stop there. From the CEO to the entire management team, Lindsay says he’s surrounded by a whole flock of leaders who walk the talk. “The whole team is committed, passionate, and dedicated. Everybody wants to help each other succeed in this business and to help ultimately make sure Mister Car Wash succeeds. It’s just a healthy culture; everyone’s committed to the same goal.
Everyone is aligned and incentivized in the same direction.”
#3 Strive for Consistency
According to brand manager Megan Everett, one big challenge that a company can face in maintaining brand integrity is achieving consistency. “It is so important that our brand communicates the same message in advertising, social media, sponsorships, and digital and printed marketing materials, for example. It is important that we are all on the same page and emulate the brand the same way,” she said.
For a company like Mister Car Wash, which is expanding primarily through acquisitions, achieving consistency between physical plants is an added challenge. According to Everett, Mister Car Wash updated their core stores and will continue branding all stores for consistency. “We are excited for all our locations to have the same look and feel and be easily recognizable to customers,” she said.
As Mister Car Wash continues to add locations, maintaining consistency will be an ongoing challenge but it is one that Mister Car Wash is prepared to meet, according to Sarah Ross, vice president of integration. As the first face that many new employees encounter at Mister Car Wash, this 15-year veteran of the company takes her role very seriously and she enjoys it.
One might think that a well laid out physical plant, modern equipment, and signature products are what make a great car wash. Sarah Ross says when Mister Car Wash acquires a business, it’s the people of that business that get most of the attention. “I would say honestly, the tunnel improvements can be done in a week, and other physical changes are relatively straightforward. The people side takes much longer. Actually, that work is never done.”
#4 Don’t Compromise on Integrity
Naturally, when Mister Car Wash acquires a business, the first thing people want to know is if their jobs are secure. Ross explains, “We spend a lot of time building trust. It’s all about integrity. We tell new employees what we’re going to do and then we do it. We reassure them by sharing our own personal stories and they feel more at ease after learning about our own longevity with Mister Car Wash, because longevityis proof that this is a place where people want to work, where you can have a career. The most rewarding part of my job is returning six months after introductory meetings and seeing the same faces and they’re all smiling because Mister Car Wash has lived up to its promises. That is a very good feeling.”
Ross adds, “I believe in this company and what we’re trying to do. To sell new employees on who we are and what we have to offer isn’t a stretch when it’s the truth. We’ve worked hard over the years to build a reputation of integrity in what is still a relatively small industry. We have built substantial systems to make it as easy as possible for a seller, their employees, and ultimately their customers. Their brand has integrity too and we just want to expand upon that and take good care of the business they entrust to us.”
#5 Apply What You Learn and Learn A Lot
Economy of scale provides Mister Car Wash certain brand advantages over single-store operators, one of them being the sheer volume of business acumen it has gleaned from each and every business it has acquired.
“Given that our growth has been primarily through acquisition, we’ve been able to snowball all the best practices and create an even stronger organization,” said Ross. “We can take those synergies, good ideas, and small touches and replicate them out to all the stores.”
#6 Expand When You Can
There’s nothing wrong with being a one-off brand, as long as you make it the best brand it can be. But if you can also enhance that brand through strategic expansion, you can grow your fan base and thereby improve and strengthen your brand. And that doesn’t only help you as an owner, it helps your employees, too.
As Casey Lindsay explains, “Helping the company grow from a location standpoint gives our employees opportunities to grow. It’s personally gratifying to position ourselves as the employer of choice, but it’s equally important to me to be creating opportunities for current employees to grow within our business, too. As we expand into new markets, it’s making our brand stronger.”
At the present growth pace (adding approximately three states per year), Mister Car Wash will be in all 50 states within the next 10 to 15 years, Lindsay projects. “We didn’t build this brand overnight. We’ve been building it since the mid ‘90s. We’re building the business, the culture, simplifying systems and processes, and supporting our people who work at our locations first and foremost, which ultimately leads to a great customer experience. We’re people focused, we’re operations focused, and we just want people to enjoy everything about Mister Car Wash.”
#7 Inspire People to Shine
Employees who feel appreciated tend to be happier at work and happier, period. Mister Car Wash shows employee appreciation not only in standard ways, such as competitive wages and benefits, but also in training, career advancement opportunities, and branded programs like Inspiring Futures and Shine Together. Through Inspiring Futures, Mister Car Wash distributes school supplies and scholarships every year to eligible employees and their families. Shine Together is an annual employee appreciation celebration where Mister Car Wash managers stop their daily routines to take a moment to thank and appreciate the hard work, dedication, and commitment that employees exhibit every day. Employees are recognized for their efforts in front of peers and get to enjoy a day off site with coworkers and family, and celebrate the efforts they put in every day.
“Being able to close our stores early and having the opportunity to put together something truly special says a lot about Mister Car Wash and its commitment to its employees,” said Josh Peugh, regional development manager of Idaho. “It reminds us all that we work for a great company that truly cares for their employees. Creativity is encouraged and we are able to extend our thanks and acknowledgment to our teams in unique ways.”
All employees value being valued. “I just feel it is a great opportunity for us to bond together more as a team. I know when we feel that our effort is appreciated and valued, we are more energized to work even harder,” expressed employee Brandon Berreth after last spring’s Shine Together appreciation event.
Casey Lindsay boils it down: “Inspiring people to shine is our mission at Mister Car Wash. If employees are smiling and engaged, customers are going to shine as a result. They’re going to feel a warmth as soon as they pull onto the property. We can’t deliver the customer a good product and a good experience if we’re not taking care of our people and our facilities first.”
#8 Get Outside Perspective
It’s one thing to check out what your direct competitors are doing, but don’t stop there. Look outside your industry for ideas and inspiration, too. Mister Car Wash finds inspiration in many different places.
Megan Everett admires brands like Starbucks, Chipotle, and Shake Shack. “I admire the simplicity that each of these brands has and enjoy looking at their marketing collateral, social media profiles, and involvement with the community,” Everett said. “My team is constantly looking outside our industry for inspiration; we have so much to learn and enjoy studying and analyzing different brands and seeing what we can learn from them and how we can apply different techniques to our brand.”
“I tend to appreciate brands that are visionary, that have strong management teams in place and deliver a great customer experience,” said Casey Lindsay. “Amazon, Apple, Southwest Airlines have a lot in common. If there’s ever an issue, they take care of it. They’re customer focused. They’re not stuck in today mode. You have to be people focused and a visionary in whatever industry you’re in.”
NOW GO MAKE YOUR OWN BRAND GREAT
Are you excited about making your own brand great? All you need to get started is your first fan — yourself — plus a team of outstanding people ready to back up your idea. Follow the tips shared here by Mister Car Wash and you’ll be well on your way.
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.