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Managing a conveyor carwash: Exceptional performance

March 08, 2011
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Exceptional managers are just that; they are the exception, not the rule. the rule. And, more importantly, exceptional managers cannot even exist unless they work for an exceptional owner.

Ownership of any business creates a system in which a manager operates. If the elements of the system do not support high performance, then a high performing manager, who has joined the company, will either stop performing at a high level or leave. And, needless to say, low performing organizations don’t usually grow high performing managers internally.

Organizations that never see any examples among their managers of exceptional performance sustained over a long-term period need not be confused. Their systems simply won’t attract, retain, and support these types of managers.

So, what are the elements that do foster exceptional performance? There are three main factors that I have observed in my career.

Purpose and profit
There is really only one purpose for any business or organization: to serve their customers. Don’t get me wrong, profit is extremely important. But profit is a requirement, not a purpose. Carwashes, like any business will define how they are going to serve the customers in their own unique way, but if they don’t see their reason for being in business as serving their customers, it’s pretty easy to lose your way.

Every business struggles with balancing the need for profit with the buying motivations of their customers, as well as its own internal organizational needs. The challenge is to articulate a vision for the business that encompasses all three groups: customers, people in the organization, and investors (owners).

A clearly articulated vision that is customer-focused can be a powerful tool in motivating the organization to accomplish all of its objectives, including profit. Purpose can motivate the people to do the work at a high level of performance, which in turn generates a large profit, and a large profit motivates investors, who deserve the highest consideration, because they put their hard-earned capital at risk. But, focusing solely on profit rarely creates a high performing organization. It is how you make that profit that makes the difference.

The second key element an organization needs to have present to attract and keep exceptional managers is a reward system that recognizes the level of performance that you want. What kind of rewards? In order of importance they are the following:

  • Appreciation: Sincere appreciation from the person a manager reports to is a minimum expectation for a manager performing exceptional work.
  • Financial: Like any business or sports organization, unusually good financial performance needs to be rewarded financially, or eventually, these managers go to where they will be rewarded.
  • Feedback: Exceptional performers want feedback on how to do the job better, as well as accurate feedback on what they did well.

Growth
Exceptional managers want to grow professionally. The easiest situation to offer exceptional managers room to grow is when a company is adding locations. Because of this physical growth, the organization will have a need for people to move up in position and responsibilities.

If the organization is not growing in size, the owner must identify, measure, and guide the managers to improve in the areas that can grow. For example, at a single location full-serve carwash a task that would represent a lot of growth opportunity would be to expand the express detail business into a big enough unit that it requires its own manager. Somehow, some way, growth objectives must be found and worked with in order to keep an exceptional manager engaged.

Technical knowledge
Exceptional managers are at their location early conducting a rigorous preventative maintenance program that includes a thorough dry check and wet check of every piece of equipment and chemical dispensing unit in the back room and in the tunnel. Done correctly and efficiently, this takes about a half hour. Future problems are identified, daily records are kept, and consistent equipment performance is maintained. The result is huge savings in equipment purchases over time, as well as greatly reduced down time due to equipment malfunctions.

In addition to these checks, the exceptional manager will also train his assistant manager(s) to perform the program, and on the exceptional manager’s day off, the location will run as well as technically as when he is there.

One of the toughest jobs an owner or company operations manager can have is getting most managers to do the above maintenance every day. Exceptional managers not only do it without being prompted, they want to know how to do it better.

Production
Under the direction of an exceptional manager, the carwash’s employees will perform their tasks the same as whether or not a manager is watching them. The reason that they do is because they believe that the way they have been taught is the most efficient for them and serves the customer best.

At an average location, if you don’t closely oversee production work, slippage in performance starts to occur within hours. At a top performing location it is several days before erosion occurs if the employees are not being overseen. The difference is critical because in the latter scenario a GM can take two days off, and when they come back their unit is still under control.

Managing customers
An exceptional manager recognizes that a customer complaint is an opportunity to really impact positively on the customer. In order for a manager to have the power to resolve issues on the spot, they, of course, must be empowered by ownership to take care of any problems that they encounter.

In addition to how the high performing general manager handles customer complaints, she also develops a positive relationship with her customers. One of the factors that motivate customers to frequent a carwash often, especially in a flex- or full-serve carwash, is the feeling that their business is appreciated and that people in the business (service advisors, cashiers, detailers, managers) know who they are.

The result of the above behavior is increased customer frequency. Getting a carwash is a feel-good experience created more by the interaction with the people on the site than the chemicals applied to the vehicle.

Managing employees
In this area of responsibility an exceptional manager is constantly teaching and training people, not only specific tasks but also how to train people on these tasks.

As a result of this constant training and re-training, existing employees assist management in the training of new employees. Assistant managers not only can train, but are very skilled at training. In effect, a general manager performing at a very high level can effectively delegate many key tasks because the people reporting to him or her have been fully developed.

When a manager has the situation where everyone on the property knows how to show other people how to get the job done without their continuous involvement, they are then able to turn their attention more to the customers and ensure their satisfaction, as well as trouble-shooting problems that occur every day at a carwash. They are freed up to manage the business and not be constantly involved in fighting fires.

Administration
An exceptional manager will have trained their assistants to be able to perform all of the administrative tasks that he is capable of doing. There is no fall-off when the general manager is off for the day.

There are several other smaller signs that a high performing manager is at work at a location. The GM will be extremely efficient at performing their work. They will rarely, if ever, be found performing administrative tasks at the wrong time, like, for example, on a busy day. And, they will periodically purge the files of outdated or unnecessary items (surely a rainy-day task if there ever was one).

Exceptional managers also exhibit a financial understanding of the businessThey can read a profit and loss statement and, more importantly, they understand what actions they take or don’t take impacts on the bottom line profit. Obviously, ownership needs to be sharing these numbers regularly in order for this financial acumen to be developed.

Service advisors and cashiers
Very few general managers have the skills to coach service advisors to high levels of revenue-per-car performance. A manager who can achieve these levels of performance should be considered truly exceptional in this area.

To do this a manager has to be able to recruit the talent to perform at a high level and for that to happen the carwash has to be able to pay these people (on an incentive basis of course) what they are worth. Again, the system has to be present for the manager to have any hope of recruiting who they need to be able to do their job.

A high performing manager can have phenomenal success with turning their cashiers into a very potent sales force. They need to know how to coach and motivate cashiers extremely well. These kinds of performances don’t just happen.

Passion
There is one additional characteristic that I see displayed in the top conveyor carwash general managers. They have a passion for the carwash business. For whatever reason, they really love the business. As a result they are passionate about learning everything they can, and they really want to know how to get better.

Two particular areas in which this passion represents itself are equipment and people. Because the equipment functioning well is so critical to the success of the carwash, these managers want to know everything about it. They become what are often referred to in the computer business as “techies”. They just get into all aspects of the equipment.

Because there is an inherent amount of turnover built into the business, it takes a very special manager to care about their people. How this represents itself with a high performing manager is they are able to continually treat new employees as though they will be with them for a long period of time even though the odds are likely that that will not happen. They don’t develop the attitude that their production workers are just tools to get the job done.

This attitude represents itself in the area of training, because a manager with the right attitude with their people still takes the time to explain to people why they do what they do, as well as how to do it.

Exceptional managers have a real passion for excellence, both technically and with their people. And, they only exist in exceptional organizations.


Steve Gaudreau has worked as a consultant and trainer with more than half of the top 100 conveyor carwash companies in the industry over the last 20 years. If you would like to receive a complete, unabridged version of this article, please email him at steve.gaudreau@hotmail.com.

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