Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Training detail employees

October 11, 2010
Selectively hired employees and a good manager are of no value if you don’t have an excellent training program in place. Auto detailing is a labor intensive business, and therefore the success of the processes and systems you have still depends on the person who performs the tasks. While there are equipment and organizational advances that will assist to make the worker more efficient, detailing is still a “hands-on” business that requires consistent training.

Principles of mass production
Some years ago an article appeared in Harvard Business Review discussing the problems of service businesses:
  • Inefficiency;
  • Inconsistency from one employee to another;
  • Inconsistency from one product or service to another; and
  • Inconsistency from one customer to another.
These problems plague service businesses, claimed the author. Sound familiar?

It was the author’s contention that as long as service industries continued to view their businesses in humanistic terms they would suffer from these inherent problems. What was needed, he contended, was a more rigid, technical system. The author called this the application of the “technocratic” Principles of Mass Production to service businesses.

In short, this simply means to establish a system of mass production in the delivery of your product or service to the customer. How? Eliminate all employee discretion in the performance of a job. That is, give them no choice in how a job is to be performed. With detailing then, you must provide a very detailed, step-by-step description of the job and how it is to be done using which tools, supplies and chemicals.

McDonald’s assembly line management is probably the most successful example of a service business applying the “technocratic principles of mass production” to their business is the hamburger giant, McDonald’s. Anywhere you travel from Maine to Mexico, Tokyo to Texas a McDonald’s burger, fries and milkshake are exactly the same. Prepared, packaged and delivered exactly the same way, by the same type of personnel doing the same thing from store to store, country to country.

What McDonald’s has done is set a standard for the type of employee they want, selectively hire and then, most importantly, train them according to a well-defined set of procedures for every job and stick everlastingly to them. Part of the training is an indoctrination period to help the employee understand the program and procedures. If they pass this trial period they are consistently reviewed and coached in the McDonald’s system.

Bottom line, the entire program is that the employee has no discretion in the performance of the job. It is all spelled out in simple, clear steps to be followed. No thinking, just learn it and do it, time after time, after time.

Job procedures
In detailing the key factor in maximizing your labor is to establish procedures for each job to be done and put these on paper. The procedures ensure consistency from employee to employee and from vehicle to vehicle. Of course, this only works if the procedures are strictly followed. You or the shop’s manager must constantly review your employees’ performance and adherence to procedures.

Remember, when training an employee you must provide the initial impetus to make that person want to be productive. If you start an employee out properly you will build a positive foundation for their good work habits. Most employees do have a productive attitude when they begin a new job. They want to make a favorable impression and learn to be productive. It is up to you to build on this attitude.

If you have an employee who can’t produce it means:
  1. They don’t have the desire;
  2. They don’t have the job knowledge; or
  3. They haven’t been given the job knowledge.
Identifying the reason for failure and then evaluating your own performance as a manager (or your manager’s job performance) is as important as reviewing your employees.

Establishing policies
To begin, you must let the employee know what the general company policies are in relation to these most important areas. These areas should all be addressed in your manual:
  • The requirements for employment;
  • Standards of conduct;
  • Training process;
  • Any expected schedule or protocol for company meetings;
  • Uniforms;
  • Pay and payroll procedures;
  • Terms for advancement and raises;
  • Work schedule; and
  • Rules for termination.
These will be the heart of your success in the detail business and you must stick to the guidelines you have established.

Establishing jobs and procedures
Your next task is to identify a set of procedures for each and every job performed in detailing.

The detail jobs we have established are divided into five main categories:
  • Exterior cleaning process;
  • Interior cleaning process;
  • Buffing, polishing, waxing process;
  • Final detailing process; and
  • New car get-ready
The outline followed for each job is simple:
  • First, the purpose of the job is described, what it is the detailer is attempting to do. Simple as this seems, many employees really don’t know, or bother to care, when they are doing something.
  • Second, the areas of concern are identified. For example, for the Engine Clean, it is noted to inspect the underside of the hood, edges, battery, etc.
  • Third, the equipment to be used is listed. (In another section of the manual each and every tool, accessory, etc. is identified and defined.)
  • Fourth, the chemicals to be used are listed (also covered in another section of the manual).
  • Finally, a simple list of steps to be followed is provided to do each job, or what we call “procedures cards.”
Man power and time standards
With job procedures in place you must set time standards to be followed in performing the job. Because labor is the largest expense in the detail business you can only control labor by controlling performance of the employee. The chart will provide a formula to follow in calculating labor requirements.

By correlating the services to be performed on a given day with the man-hour standards the manager can calculate the number of employees required for the day. Normally the manager should not perform any detail work. Therefore, in addition to full-time employees you’ll need part-time people. Keep in mind you may also have the opportunity to book drop-in business, so you should always have access to part-time labor that can be called in.

The key to employee time performance is giving clear instructions on when you want a particular job done. Instead of saying, “Hurry up and get this done,” be specific; “I’d like this done in 15 minutes, or by 11:30.” This type of instruction leaves nothing to interpretation, it is very clear.

Applicable to all shops
The concepts discussed here will work in all detail operations, large or small. However, in a typical shop it will be more difficult to implement because of the use of squeeze and spray bottles, portable vacuums and cumbersome electric tools. But do not use that as an excuse for not setting standards and procedures for your employees.

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 Western Carwash Association Board of Directors. Abraham can be contacted