Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Building a solid workforce

October 11, 2010
Question: I am in the final stages of planning my new detail business. How do I hire and train the right employees?

Employee development must start by betting on and investing in your detail manager. Every organization has people problems, and this issue will simply not disappear. Trying to develop a solid detail work force can be an overwhelming proposition. But, by developing and maintaining a competent detail manager, you are concentrating your effort where you will have the greatest impact and get the most for your money. By the way, experience shows that a good detailer is not necessarily a good manager.

Certainly I do not advocate having the carwash manager or owner babysitting the detail manager by checking to make sure detail employees are doing their job. This type of micro-management is expensive, time-consuming and prevents your detail department from having better people. You need to develop better detail manager by hiring correctly, paying them better and not hovering over detailers who are not doing the job.

Babysitting the manager also inhibits the development of their leadership ability, because they are not encouraged to think and make their own decisions, without approval from the GM or owner. Such stringent supervision actually enables poor manager performance and keeps them from developing into better leaders.

The basic ingredients
Building a better detail organization, particularly managers, starts with two basic ingredients. First, you must have the right people with adequate potential. Secondly, you must train and communicate with those people so they feel like they are part of the carwash company and perform as team players.

Finding the right candidates will require honest evaluation on your part. Start by looking within yourself and your carwash business. Are there really any career opportunities within your operation that will attract good people to work for you?

I once had a dealer interested in our consulting business, and he mistakenly thought of me as just a numbers guy who would give him the numbers to make his detail department profitable. While I discuss numbers because success and reality start with numbers, I spend most of my time helping with detail marketing and general business development.

The focus on numbers is for a variety of reasons. Carwash operators who are not financially successful with detailing are directly impacting their entire operation. If you, as a carwash operator, are not making enough money in your detail operation, it is difficult to pay top dollar to hire good people.

Too many operators use the half-a-brain theory. They hire someone who is not what they want but what they can afford — someone with half-a-brain. They figure they will pair this person with someone else with half-a-brain and get a whole brain. The problem is that the two empty halves tend to merge, and you end up with a brainless crew.

Some operators try to promote from within. But you still must have people with the potential to be promoted to detail shop manager. If most of the people you hire have a poor driving record or no license or dropped out of high school, how can you develop them into managers? Take the time to evaluate each of your workers to see who has the potential to be a manager. If most of them don’t, how can you successfully promote from within?

Training and communication
Many operators try to undertake an extensive manager training program that requires a lot of time and effort. Unfortunately, such an enormous task tends to kill the effort. The goal of training should be to improve internal communication, change the person’s perception of the job and make them feel like a part of the entire company. What you actually teach is not nearly as important as the fact that you have some type of program.

Rather than trying to develop a comprehensive course, here are some tips for helping your detail manager feel like they are part of the company.

Paperwork. Detailers are not good at paperwork, so how can you help them? Most companies do little to help detailers do a better job. Hold a general meeting about the paperwork and review the forms. Then, set times for your bookkeeper to go over paperwork issues one-on-one. In addition to training the manager this helps nurture the relationship between the bookkeeper and detail manager.

Job procedures. Critical job times are the beginning and end of a job. At least start with some standard procedures for each detail job. Also, review how you want employees to handle complaints what they can take care of, whom they should call and so on. The manager needs to be aware of the scope of work issues.

Safety. Safety training is a must. Your insurance company, association and even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can provide information on your training practices. Don’t forget to have MSDS for every chemical in the shop and a document signed by every employee that they have read and understand them.

Customer presentation. Ask a customer to speak to your detail staff about what it is like to be a customer and what they are looking for from them. This does not need to be elaborate. The customer can share their expectations and possibly some horror stories he or she has encountered in other shops.

Problem solving. Take a job, or several smaller jobs, and have your manager put the numbers together for a potential time estimate. Get the detailers involved in the time estimate. Problem solving is always easier to do in groups. Don’t embarrass people, and have fun with the process. This can be a great way to review the analytical skills of your manager and detailers.

Communication skills. Take a shot at training in the areas of communication, problem solving and human behavior skills. These issues can be difficult to teach. Communication is an internal habit that has been developed through an individual’s personality, lifestyle, family and many other issues and won’t quickly change. This is an area that can be difficult to teach without the help of a professional.

R.L. “Bud” Abraham is president of DETAIL PLUS Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR, and a nearly 40-year member of the car-care industry. He is also a member of the International Carwash Association (ICA) and Western Carwash Association (WCA) Board of Directors and can be contacted at: