Professional Carwashing & Detailing

How to hire and retain good employees

The detail business is labor intensive and dependent on top quality workers.

September 28, 2012

A marquee outside a fast food joint doesn't herald the latest special, or boast the number of burgers sold. Instead, it states: "HELP WANTED. $X an hour."

Across town at a McDonalds, inducements are even stronger. "JOBS," the sign says in large red letters. '”Name your shift. Bonuses. Uniforms. Free meals. $X an hour to start."

The rate per hour will vary from $7.25, the Federal minimum wage to $8.55 in the state of Washington (highest in the nation). The result, however, is the same. An employee market for jobs, in spite of the down economy.

The three big troubles

What does this mean for the detail industry? This is a question that most operators in the business can already answer. Trouble, with a capital T. And, what exactly are those kinds of troubles?

Trouble finding employees. Why should an employee want to work in a relatively dirty job that is physically hard and pays low wages?

Trouble keeping them. Even in today's job market, it is very difficult to keep personnel, for the same reasons it is hard to find them.

Trouble motivating and keeping them productive. A transient worker who can find another job for more money isn't as likely to be motivated in their job and it is more difficult to keep them productive. This may be an oversimplification, but if you get any group of business owners together, especially those in the service industry, be it detailing or carwashing, you will hear a common complaint: It’s difficult finding and retaining good employees, even in today’s economy.

What's the solution?

For many doomsayers the solution is to wait it out. "The things will change and things will get back to normal." That’s being extremely naïve. When do things ever go back to normal? And what is normal?

Maybe, just maybe, a difficult labor market is a blessing in disguise. A blessing that will force an upgrading of an industry that really needs upgrading.

Think about it. The detail industry, for the most part, is about where carwashing was after World War II. A dirty, back alley business that employed dirty, back alley people. Or at least that was the public's perception of the industry.

The auto detail industry generates a similar perception today. Is this unfair? Look at a typical shop. Work is done in a back alley, garage, warehouse or other such location. They are ill-kept, dirty, dark, and totally unappealing and owned or operated by ill-kempt, unshaven, people. In short, it is a place a customer wouldn't want to patronize. So why should somebody want to work there?

Maybe we ought to think a little more about the employee and the quality of the workplace we provide. If we did that, we might solve our problem. If we upgrade the work environment and work conditions, we would attract and then keep good employees. At the same time, good employees generate confidence and this would create a more appealing place of business for the motorist.

While some readers might disagree with my logic, many others who do operate a "good" business know this logic is correct. Success in business, just as with failure, is not due to a single cause. There are multiple causes. That is, there are many factors that influence success or failure.

What good employees want

Most professional recruiters will tell you that to attract and retain "good" employees at any level requires that attention be paid to several important factors. Time and time again, it has been clearly proven that companies from the corporate IBMs to the local gas stations attract and retain their employees by insuring that these factors are attended to:

  1. SAFETY: The one number criterion for selecting a job is "Is it safe?" Think about it. How many of us would take a job, at any pay that would jeopardize our safety and health?
  2. SECURITY: The second most important factor is job security. If an employee takes a job and makes a commitment, he wants the security of knowing that the employer will provide him the same commitment.
  3. ADVANCEMENT: Another key factor in hiring and retaining good employees is the opportunity for advancement in the company, both in position and salary .Who wants a dead end job?
  4. MONEY: Many tend to feel this is the most important factor in a person's choice of a job. But while salary may weigh heavily on a person's final decision to take the job, it is not the only or even the most important factor. Only after a person is sure that the job is safe, secure, and that he or she can advance, do they address the wage.
  5. "HOW MUCH DOES IT PAY?” I know there are many readers who will say, "That sounds good, but the people we hire only want to know how much per hour or how much per car?"

All five factors above are absolutely on target. There are thousands, even millions of potential employees whose only concern with a job is, “How much does it pay?" This is the point. It is these kinds of people that we don't want to hire. If they aren't concerned about their safety, security, and chance for advancement, they really don't want a job. All they are looking for is work and a paycheck. That is why the detail business has such a high turnover of employees. The industry, in general, tends to attract and hire these types of people. And as long as it does, it will have a problem with labor.

Upgrade your standards

As stated earlier, in order to hire and retain a higher quality person you will have to upgrade your working conditions. Many will say, "But, I can't afford to upgrade my operation nor the level of personnel. It is not justified and it is just too expensive."

How then can you justify to the customer that he should leave their $30,000 to $100,000+ car with you?

The future of the detail industry lies in our providing the retail customer with a quality service at a fair price. This fair price will be based on the quality of both your operation and the personnel. In short, the customer will pay $150 to $200+ for a complete detail if he is confident he has taken his vehicle to a qualified, reputable business that has knowledgeable, reliable and trained employees.

But you will not be able to hire and retain qualified people if your working conditions are poor and your pay is low. It is also very unlikely you will attract retail business with scruffy, ill-trained personnel.

Retail/wholesale: It's all the same

Some would say my comments relate only to the retail detail business, and that a wholesale shop doesn't have to worry about appeal, look, the facility, and the look of the employees.

Maybe that is true of the appeal and appearance. But for employees it is the same both for wholesale and for retail. Ask any auto dealer or owner/operator of a wholesale shop how easy it is for them to hire and retain qualified personnel and they will tell you they have the same problems you have as owners of a retail detail business.

Our business is labor intensive and is dependent on the employees. If they are good, we will prosper. If they are not, we will suffer ― wholesale or retail. If we hope to hire and retain good employees, we have to set our standards a little higher and provide the type of work environment and pay what "good" employees require.

Keep in mind, the customer will pay for quality. The $150 price tag once a year is a small cost for a $15,000 to $100,000 vehicle.