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Hire your best detailing staff

September 15, 2010
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At Car Care World Expo™ 2010, I was talking with an operator who was complaining about the inadequacies of the employees in his detail operation.

“They’re all a bunch of ‘C’ players,” he told me. They claimed to be experienced but they knew very little, especially when it came to paint correction. About all they can do is wash and vacuum a car, and not very well,” he further explained.

On and on he went, and, the longer the operator ranted, the more animated he became. After about 10 minutes I interrupted him and asked, “From what I’m hearing, these guys sound like a pretty sorry bunch. Gosh, who in the world hired them?” He then went silent.

Hire quality from the start

No doubt when they were hired, the operator believed he had solved his problems with these “experienced detailers.”

What happened? How did these experienced detailers who seemed to be the best thing since sliced bread turn into chopped liver in such a short period? Did they get lazy? Had they become unmotivated in some way? On the other hand, maybe they were unqualified for their positions from day one which is often the case.

The fact is this operator’s frustration had more to do with him as a manager than it had to do with the detailers. This operator had stepped into two common traps I see made at carwashes when it comes to hiring personnel for the detail department. Without a doubt, bad hiring causes problems and costs the carwash entirely too much money and stress.

The initial trap

The first trap an operator falls into is assuming that an “experienced detailer” means a competent employee. When they hire a person who has stated that they have detail experience they assume it means they do know how to make a car look like new again. Most of the time this is not true. All it means is that they might have worked somewhere else doing detailing. It does not mean they had any real training or that they are competent at detailing.

The biggest false assumption made is that an “experienced detailer” has had any training in how to detail. Many people who claim to be experienced detailers learned to detail by copying the behavior of someone they worked with. Unfortunately, most often the person who is being copied is not anymore qualified either.

Sometimes, but rarely, do you find that those with prior detailing experience worked for a shop that provided adequate training. If you do, you might be in luck. But, most operators aren’t that lucky. The rule is that a good detailer should be working because they are so few and far between.

Always ask potential detail employees specific questions about their detail experience. Find out if they have had any formal training and where. Ask them if they have used a high-speed buffer and understand compounds, pads, and paint finishes. Ask what they do to gain more knowledge about detailing.

When you assume a detailer will be effective because they say “detail experience” on their application, you are looking for problems.

Yet, hiring a detail employee, regardless of previous experience, is only the first step.

The second trap

The second trap to avoid is neglecting to properly develop your newly hired detail employee, that is, help them continually sharpen their detailing skills.

The operator seems to assume that because they were detailers somewhere else, they will be effective detailers for them.

After all, isn’t that what you are paying them for? But, how can the new detailer be effective in your carwash if you don’t provide them the opportunity to succeed? Carwashes have to provide their detail employees with an opportunity to succeed and grow.

Hiring detail employees = baking bread?

What does baking bread have to do with hiring qualified employees? Well, good employee development starts with choosing the best ingredients (candidates). Second, your job is to skillfully prepare the mix. The process of developing a good detail employee starts with choosing the right candidate — a person with potential that can be developed.

Using stale ingredients to make bread makes for stale bread. If you hire a detailer who does not have the ability to develop, you will end up with a stale employee, a subpar performance and much needless frustration.

In making bread, the major ingredient is flour. By itself, the flour cannot turn itself into bread; it is inert and only has the potential to become bread. To become bread it has to be combined with other ingredients and be skillfully managed. Similarly, the people you hire to work in your detail department have the opportunity to be effective detailers. But, their past experience, no matter how successful they might have been, is no guarantee they will succeed in your carwash. It simply indicates they have the potential.

A huge mistake is when a manager abandons their responsibility to continually develop detailers. Remember, it is the baker’s responsibility to make the bread, to both add the required ingredients and to skillfully mix everything for a great tasting result. Whether you are an owner or general manager, it is your job to hire good people and provide them the opportunities to develop the skills they need to grow within your carwash operation.

Prepare for hard work

Have you even considered how much work goes into making bread? The dough has to be kneaded to work out the air and get it ready for baking. It has to be formed into the shape it will take and allowed to rise. It takes careful handling, gentle heat, and time. The same is true with finding and developing good detailers.

First, hire the right employees — not people with good skills, but people with good values with the potential to grow. Believe it or not, the process takes careful handling, a little heat and time. Throwing an employee into situations they are not prepared for or beyond their skill level is like taking raw dough and tossing it into a bread pan without kneading it first. It will have no strength or form, and it will be full of air. Kneading bread is like coaching detail employees. Both are hands-on activities requiring a firm yet perceptive touch. Rushing either one of these activities will give you a disappointing result.

The next step in baking bread or developing a detail employee is to appreciate that it takes time and heat. Dough will rise not without a little time and the application of gentle heat. So too, you must give detailers time to develop skills that are specific to the job. The gentle heat part comes when your candidates face real time detail situations. And, just as it is with the process of baking bread, this stage takes patience — a stumbling block for many carwash operators who want to serve the customer now, and collect the money.

The waiting game

For most operators it is easy to be long on heat and short on patience. Just as with bread, adding too much heat can bring everything to a screeching halt.

The final step in making bread is to bake it. Raw dough is all you get without the heat, more time, and your hands-on experience. It is the same with developing detail employees. You cannot learn to manage people by simply reading books. All you learn about is the topic of management.

And you can’t develop good detailers overnight from behind a desk. You learn to manage people by being in the trenches. It requires your hands-on attention, your time, and your patience.

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