Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Getting results with proper training

Training, if effective, can produce significant financial returns.

May 8, 2012

Most training is not very effective. By "effective" I mean that an individual who is trained can perform a task with greater skill and efficiency than before the training.

If effective, training can make any carwash a lot of money. If an attendant at an exterior express carwash is trained on how to load vehicles properly, then more cars can be washed at peak hours, and the line can be kept short and moving along, which, in turn, attracts more customers onto the property. If an attendant at a full-service carwash is taught how to process the vehicle quickly, as well as maintain quality standards, throughput during busy times can be increased. Service advisors at flex- and full-service washes can be developed to increase revenue per car by several dollars. A self-serve attendant who can be trained to sell tokens, explain how everything works to customers, and keep the place spotless, will increase customer visits.

How do you make this all happen? Not through just training but through effective training.

There are three major factors that determine whether or not training achieves its intended results:

  1. The variables of the training, itself
  2. Management follow-up
  3. Organizational support

Training variables

The three variables that any training is comprised of are:

  1. Content
  2. Instructor
  3. Delivery

What content means is simply that every detail of whatever task you want employees to perform needs to be in writing. The training needs to be in writing for several reasons. First, the starting point before you even begin the training is to set every detail in writing as to what exactly your process is. Until the task is in writing you don't actually have a set procedure. What you have is every individual manager and employee's version of what they think the procedure is. You can't enforce what is not clearly defined.

The second reason for having every step of every task written down is that it is difficult to get employees to understand that company procedures and organizational requirements exist and are to be followed. Otherwise, the perception is that what they're being asked to do is just what the individual manager wants them to do and not the best way that the organization has decided the task is to be performed in order to satisfy the customer. In order to have an impact on the employee as to the importance of following the procedures, it is necessary, during the initial training, for employees to see that these procedures are actually in writing.

And third, when a process is in writing and being followed correctly, the opportunity for continuous improvement exists organizationally, because management can begin to improve upon a process only if it is clearly defined.

The instructor

At most carwashes, the instructor is the manager or assistant manager and, in some cases, a supervisor or lead employee. Whoever conducts the training must first be knowledgeable about whatever it is they are training on. And they have to be skilled at whatever task they are asking a trainee to perform.

Although this requirement of skill and knowledge may seem obvious, my experience is that many managers are very often not that skilled in some tasks like, for example, selling extra services, performing production procedures exactly as they are supposed to be done, or handling customer complaints. As a result, even with a procedure in writing, if the manager does not know how to perform a particular skill correctly, it is unlikely that the training will be effective. "Do as I say and not as I do" usually does not get the job done in the area of training at a carwash, which is a very hands-on business.

The delivery

The third variable of the training is the actual delivery of the content by the instructor. Even with written content and an instructor skilled at performing the specific tasks to be learned, there is a process of delivery that needs to be followed in order to optimize the implementation of any training. The following seven step process has been tested and utilized successfully at hundreds of carwashes over the past 15 years. Use this system and you will dramatically improve your training.


There are three parts to this step. First, explain the overall objective of the particular procedure. Second, clarify the standard to be achieved utilizing this procedure. Third, and most important, explain the significance of the task in relationship to the overall result that the customer wants.

The reason that connecting to the customer is so important is that it provides motivation for employees to perform their tasks well. Also, employees often care more about avoiding any negative feedback from customers than they do following the boss' instructions. In addition, an organization wants people to work for them who want to give the customers what they want and take pride in delivering a good job for that customer.

The above may sound like a lot of information to be conveyed, but it can actually be quite short and simple. Let's say, for example, you run a full-service carwash and are about to teach a new employee how to vacuum a vehicle correctly. You could cover all three parts of Step 1 by saying something like, "Our purpose in vacuuming a vehicle is to thoroughly clean the floors, seats, and backs in the vehicle within 1.5 minutes for a two-person team. This work is so important to the customer that the No. 2 complaint from customers at a full-service carwash is insufficient vacuuming." What was just described takes about 20 to 30 seconds. In that short period of time, you have clarified the task, set the standard, and provided motivation by explaining the importance of the job. This is an example of training that is both effective; i.e., accomplished its purpose and efficient; i.e., it doesn't take much time.


After relating the purpose, review all the tools, equipment and resources that will be used to perform the task. Explain how these resources operate and how they need to be maintained.

Building on the above example, a new vacuumer would be shown how the vacuum turns on and off, how the vacuum claw is to be used, how the mat machine works, what tools are used for cleaning up the area, etc. The concept is to provide basic orientation on these resources before beginning to work with them and before training people on how to use these resources.


Walk through and talk through all the activities needed to perform the procedure correctly. Again, using the above example, a trainer in a steady, unhurried manner would open the door of the vehicle, simulate vacuuming the vehicle while talking about what is being done as it is being done. This process is not done in real time or with a real customer's vehicle.

As the activity is walked through and talked through, the most important areas to be paid attention to would be pointed out. For example, in vacuuming a vehicle, the most important areas to get clean are the driver's floor, seats and back. This is because it is the first area the customer sees and is usually the most important area to be vacuumed from their standpoint. A procedure that takes 1.5 minutes in real time would usually take at least 3 to 5 minutes to provide an overview of this procedure.


Now, the instructor is finished with the preliminary steps and is ready to speed up the process. In this step an instructor gives a complete demonstration of the procedure in real time without speaking. In the demonstration all the steps need to be completed correctly and within the time standard.

After the demonstration the people being trained are asked if they have any questions. It is also important to ask a few questions of the people being trained to confirm their understanding of the skills that were just demonstrated.

Step 5: USAGE

In this step training participants use the procedure just demonstrated in real time without the instructor speaking to them.

The instructor should carefully observe all the steps performed and, if necessary, make notes on a small pad to refer back to later. Timing the practice runs should not begin yet. Only after all the steps are being performed correctly is it wise to take out the stopwatch and begin timing trainees on the time standards of performance.


After each time the procedure is performed, the instructor should stop and coach the trainees on what was observed, starting off with positive feedback to reinforce the parts of the procedure that were performed correctly. Then, correcting any areas that were not done properly. Trainees can be reminded that there will be mistakes made because they are just learning.

It is often better to correct one or two areas at a time. If there are many areas that are incorrect, then the procedure can be broken down into smaller parts and only one area at a time will be corrected. Always correct behavior. Avoid making it personal. For example, if training on the vacuuming procedure, say, "It is more efficient and easier on your shoulder to use long, even strokes with the vacuum claw instead of short choppy strokes." This would be correcting behavior as opposed to making it personal, as in, "You're vacuuming all wrong, because your strokes are too choppy."


Continue training on any areas not performed up to standard. That means that Step 5 (Usage) and Step 6 (Coaching) will be repeated several times before Step 7 occurs.

Step 7 is dramatically different from the previous steps, because all of the training has taken place off-line through Step 6. I define off-line as working on a vehicle that is not a customer's vehicle and is usually in an area of the facility not being used for customers.

After each vehicle, trainees need to be coached with praise given for correct performance and corrective feedback for any mistakes made or steps omitted. Step 7 is completed when a person is able to complete the procedure being trained on correctly three times in a row. In other words, if someone is doing only every other vehicle correctly, they are not completely trained yet.

One of the biggest mistakes made, and it usually occurs in Step 7, is that managers do not expect people to follow procedures perfectly when they first start. In fact, that is when it's most important to make sure that employees do follow the procedure exactly as demonstrated. The benefit of pushing for a high level of performance at the beginning of someone's work with the carwash is that not only does better performance occur, but a lot less corrective feedback is needed later.


After the initial training of an employee is completed, the next major factor is the follow-up that occurs afterward. There are three key ideas to remember regarding follow-up.

First, once a trainee starts working on line, the peer influence of other employees takes over. What this means is, if the other employees are not already performing the procedures correctly, whatever training has been provided will erode quickly. The converse is also true: if employees are following the procedures correctly, this fact will usually have a very positive impact on the new employee doing the same.

Second, once someone is trained to perform a procedure correctly, the next process that must occur to ensure that the training sticks is that the supervisor or manager must continue to coach and hold people accountable to use whatever procedures they were trained to perform. Training will quickly wear off unless there is on-the-job follow-up to make sure new skills that are learned become habitual on the part of the new employee.

Third, any basic initial training is just that—the basics. In any job there is always more to learn about any particular task. In the carwash industry the constant change that occurs in vehicle design like how to start a car means that learning is forever.

Organizational support

The third major factor that determines the effectiveness of training is organizational support. The entire organization must support the training, and this support represents itself in several ways.

First, it takes quite a bit of effort and skill to get the organization to agree to and put in writing what the consensus is about the procedures, processes and policies that will be followed and enforced throughout the organization. Having performed this task many times for many organizations, I know that this is not an easy task. Necessary, but neither quick nor easy.

Second, an organization has to allocate the time in human resource costs in order for new employees to be properly trained. The carwash industry, like most industries, tends to train people on the fly and on-the job. Employees deserve to be well-trained before they are asked to perform a task. The organization benefits not only because that task is performed better right from the beginning, but also a good employee is a lot more motivated and is likely to stay with you longer.

Third, in order for all of this training to occur properly and for the organization to receive the benefits of doing so, supervisors and managers need to be trained on how to train. Very few managers in any business are trained as trainers. Training a new employee correctly is one of the highest leveraged activities that a manager can perform in terms of return on investment on their time. Yet, most companies do not provide this management development opportunity. Why? Because, since most training is ineffective, ownership does not see the value; so are reluctant to spend the money or time to develop their managers in this area. Training does not make you more profitable as a business — effective training does. Train your managers correctly on how to train, and when they begin to train your employees effectively, see your car counts go up and your revenues improve.

Steve Gaudreau, President of SGA, LLC, is a management trainer, consultant and writer who has served the carwash industry for over 20 years. He is the author of the best selling industry book Creating Exceptional Managers and the developer of the seminar of the same name. He can be reached at