We all have hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars invested in our carwash businesses, but at Autobell, we consider our employees our greatest asset. Our employees are the first and last points of contact with our customers and the true lifeblood of our business.
In the full-service carwash business, our company is only as good as the people running and working the business. The best locations and equipment that money can buy will never be fully effective if the folks working them are ill-trained, apathetic, substance abusers, dishonest, or lacking in necessary customer relations skills.
Recruiting, training and retaining employees at Autobell are vital, continuous components of our business. But our main focus is training, because proper training can significantly influence recruiting and retaining employees.
Training program success
In 2005, we made a major long-term commitment to substantially enhance our training programs by creating the position of Management Development Coordinator. We hired Pedro Briceño, a former Autobell manager, school teacher and assistant principal to run the department. Briceño’s charge was to develop and continually execute a professional management training program for the managers of Autobell's 47 (and growing) carwashes.
The interest in and success of the program have been phenomenal. Over 300 managers and prospective managers have begun the program, over 75 have completed the intensive course, and nearly 60 have graduated with certificates. These numbers continually grow.
Briceño has developed, and continuously tweaks and adjusts, an eight-module training program for managers that includes:
- Customer Service;
- Sales, Safety;
- Angry Customers; and
- Claims, and Coaching and Training.
At least four other modules are being developed.
We know that when managers are better trained, their employees are better trained, and we therefore experience less turnover, more productivity, fewer accidents, and an overall better working atmosphere. Once our employees adopt our business culture and become entrenched in our systems and attitude, they are usually quite happy and productive.
Training has a trickle-down effect that begins at the top. It is attitude, systems and procedures that have been time-tested and continually refined in this company since my grandfather founded Autobell in 1969. Autobell wants its employees to enjoy their work.
Training gives knowledge. Knowledge breeds confidence. Confidence improves enthusiasm. Enthusiasm creates more sales and makes for happier employees. Happy employees make happy customers.
Knowing that employees are our greatest asset, we treat them as such. In addition to professional training, and teaching them about the carwash business, we offer competitive pay, a friendly work environment, flexible scheduling, and convenient hours, as we only are open during regular retail hours. We have stringent hiring guidelines and strict uniform policies. We are a drug-free workplace that pre-screens all employees and randomly tests managers.
Moreover, we provide our employees with the best equipment, chemicals, and R&D technology possible from our sister company Howco, Inc., distributors of carwash equipment and supplies in all or parts of nine eastern states and Washington, DC.
Annually, Autobell awards educational scholarships to numerous qualifying applicants from our employee ranks. Since it’s inception in 2000, our program has awarded 154 scholarships totaling $106,100 to deserving employees.
We also involve our employees in some of our environmental efforts such as our “creek walk” and “adopt an island” activities where we monitor and keep designated areas free of trash.
Additionally, we have various management bonuses and employee incentives that award tickets to professional sporting events such as the NFL Carolina Panthers, the NBA Charlotte Bobcats, the PGA’s Wachovia Championship, and at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
Annually, we hold the Autobell Olympics, wherein the best two or three (manager’s choice) employees from each of our carwashes compete in specific carwash skills. It’s a very popular and successful event that also includes lunch and various video games. This brings the finest Autobell employees together for camaraderie, competition, and a day of fun.
One desirable situation we can offer many employees is that, since we have several carwashes located in college towns, often employees who begin a job with Autobell in one town are able to transfer to an Autobell in their college town, and vise-versa.
Communications with, for and about the employees is also vital to employee relations.
We have weekly staff meetings at each carwash and monthly manager meetings in which all types of information are shared with employees, including: new stores coming on line; personnel and human resource issues; marketing initiatives and activities; secret shopper results; and numbers pertaining to same-store sales, cars-per-man-hour, and average gross profit.
We also have a popular quarterly employee newsletter that is mailed to all employees’ homes. This gives others in the home (spouses, parents, siblings, and children) the opportunity to also read the newsletter and learn more about the business and employees of Autobell Car Wash. The newsletter includes numerous employee photographs and focuses on employee and management accomplishments, management promotions and features, new stores, policies and employee offerings, and operations and accomplishments of the various geographic regions of our company.
We feel the more that people — employees, customers, vendors, media, municipal officials and the general public — know about Autobell, the better for our company.
The people element of our business — employees and customers — is clearly the most important one. They are both crucial to our survival and must be recruited, educated and cared for in the most efficient and effective manners possible. Fortunately, treating and mining gold from the people element begins with a very simple and poignant principle — The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Carl Howard is the Vice President of Autobell Car Wash. Autobell Car Wash is America’s second largest full-service carwash company with 47 stores in 22 North Carolina, 1 South Carolina, and 4 Virginia municipalities. Founded in Charlotte in 1969, it is owned and operated by the Howard family.