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Managing a conveyor carwash: The basics

October 11, 2010
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Managing a conveyor carwash is a complex and challenging position mentally, physically, and emotionally. The intricate nature of the job, combined with the enormous short-fall in formalized training that exists for conveyor managers, has created a lack of awareness in the industry of what it actually takes to become a superior conveyor carwash location manager.

Actually, the argument could be made that, after a half a century of evolution, the difficulty of this job and the lack of training are some of the reasons there is not a single conveyor carwash chain of 100 locations or more that exists in the U.S. today.

Technical knowledge
There are several hundred working parts in a conveyor carwash that require knowledge of specialized equipment and chemical distribution systems that are not only separate pieces of equipment that need to be understood, but also their interaction with the equipment in the tunnel is important.

In addition to equipment and chemicals, knowledge of the specialized computers and software that run the tunnel and provides management reports is also required. There is also some fundamental knowledge of electricity and plumbing that is needed.

Production work at a carwash is every bit as technical as the work with the equipment. In addition, complexity is added because human beings are involved in the equation.

Let’s begin with an express exterior wash and the task of guiding on a customer’s vehicle to the conveyor track. This task seems fairly simple until you realize that the person has to be very observant to catch in advance any potential safety problems. The attendant also has to be able to communicate non-verbally with customers driving their vehicles, and these customers are sometimes on cell phones or otherwise distracted.

When you get into flex-serve or full-serve carwashes, the tasks become much more varied and complex. Prepping the vehicle, vacuuming the vehicle, driving vehicles onto the conveyor, express detailing services — all of these tasks require specific procedures, training, and constant monitoring to be performed correctly.

My purpose here is not to delineate all the tasks, but to clarify that the manager’s job has more to it than might otherwise appear to be the case. Managers not only have to be able to correctly perform all of these production procedures themselves, they also have to be skilled at training and re-training.

Managing customers
Even excellent conveyor carwashes receive complaints from customers every week. And that brings us to the greatest skill needed for interacting with customers — resolving conflict about damage (real or imagined) to a customer’s vehicle. To resolve these types of complaints successfully requires considerable skill at handling people in an emotional state, thorough knowledge of a clear company policy on damages, understanding of what would or would not cause damage in the tunnel, knowledge of what documentation is needed by your company or insurer in order for a damage claim to be processed, and good relationships with local autobody and autoparts stores.

Managing employees
How does a manager learn to motivate people to perform at a high level of energy and performance when the wages are low and the working conditions are difficult? It is not an easy task.

The basics required are to be able to conduct an effective interview, make good decisions on whom to hire, be able to orient and train new employees effectively, and most importantly treat employees with respect.

A conveyor carwash manager also needs to ensure his staff follow procedures, are in compliance with the appearance policy, show up for work when scheduled, and administer progressive discipline when required.

Managers must be able to establish good relationships with their employees and know how to coach and counsel their people to do their best on days when it is a challenge for them to do so.

There are several administrative aspects of a conveyor carwash manager’s job that might not actually generate revenue, but will reduce cost as well as future problems.

One of the most important aspects in this area is the cash control. Accuracy and attention to detail help prevent internal theft, as well as avoiding frustrating hours spent tracking and correcting mistakes.

Employee files with all of the correct government forms are a necessity to withstand a Department of Labor or Immigration audit. Having safety information in writing and posted in the proper areas is another entire area of compliance that not only reduces accidents and injuries, but is also necessary to withstand an OSHA audit.

In addition, most carwashes have their own internal paperwork that is required to process payroll and commissions, document hiring, pay raises, and termination, handle damage claims, order chemicals or equipment, and be able to submit requests for equipment repair.

Service advising and cashiering
At a basic level GMs need to be able to put the right people in place from an appearance and customer-friendliness standpoint. Managers need to hold service advisors accountable for a certain level of sales, as well as holding customer complaints to a minimum level.

Managers also require a little more skill in order to handle cashiers effectively. Customers tend to ask cashiers about everything, and if customers have complaints, cashiers are the first person to whom customers pass that information along.

I think the reader would agree that a carwash manager’s job is not an easy position. What has been described in this article is just the basics. Next month we’ll discuss what an above-average manager’s performance at these tasks would look like.

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. He can be reached at

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