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For the past 20 years, Professional Carwashing & Detailing has asked its readers to submit nominations for the Most Valuable Carwasher Award, which recognizes the top carwash employees nationwide. Nominees can be onsite workers, service technicians or even managers from any car care industry segment.
This year’s winner really stood out. Sandra Silvestre, manager of Valencia AutoSpa in Valencia, CA, was named PC&D’s 2010 Most Valuable Carwasher for demonstrating continued optimism and a positive work ethic; as well as attaining high revenues and volumes at her carwash location.
“On a daily basis one will find Sandra interacting with her employees, building an individual rapport with each and every one of them. She calls this her ‘tailgate’ talks,” explained Randy Cressall, owner and founder of Valencia AutoSpa. “Sometimes they take place in the break area. Sometimes they take place on the tailgate of a pickup truck. She knows the names and ages of each of her employee’s spouses and children.”
Getting her foot in the door
Silvestre’s success at Valencia AutoSpa is in part owed to her employer, Cressall, who uses a unique hiring and promotional process to inspire excellence in his workers.
“Our line workers are typically referred from within, or seek us out because we have a reputation in our community as one of the most desirable places to work,”Cressall explained. “This is and has always been a focus for us in all aspects of business. We consider our most important assets are our employees and our customers.”
According to Cressall, it is important that operators encourage employees to work as a family, and to treat the carwash’s customers as an extension of that family unit. In addition to fostering that kind of unity, Cressall also holds his workers to high standards.
“There seems to be a natural law that affects behavior that creates within an employee the desire to live up to the expectations you have of him or her, or live down to the expectations,” Cressall stated. “Therefore our focus is to always praise outstanding effort and have high expectations in our employees letting them know we have faith in them to achieve their goals.”
When Cressall met Silvestre
As far as recruiting a worker like Silvestre, Cressall relies on three methods for finding quality employees:
• He promotes from within;
• He encourages current staff to seek out persons they think would be a good match for the company; and
• He reaches out to workers he encounters in the community.This last practice is how Cressall found Silvestre.
When Cressall or a member of his management team has an impressive customer service experience outside of the carwash, they simply hand the worker a plain business card. “We discreetly hand this card to the employee with our verbal ‘thank you,’” Cressall explained.
The card says:
“Thank you for the wonderful service. You impressed me as an outstanding employee. Please keep this card, and if you ever consider a change in your employment. Contact me, _____________ at 555-5555. I might have a wonderful opportunity for you.”
According to Silvestre, being hand-picked in this manner came as a surprise to the former assistant manager of a local fast food establishment.
“I have to admit that I had never thought about working in the carwash industry,” Silvestre said. She was approached by Cressall, and as she puts it, “I was sold after the first meeting, and so my career began in this entirely new world.”
Moving on up
Silvestre started as an assistant manager for the carwash’s convenience store and gas station nearly 10 years ago. She had only a few goals in mind: “To be the very best person, friend, and manager I could be.”
Silvestre set her sights high, but had an understanding of the work it would take to keep her promise. “I knew I had to be strong, but be careful to never be rude,” she explained. “I knew I had to be kind, but never be seen as being weak. I wanted to be thoughtful about how I could make the business better, be humble about my accomplishments, and always have a sense of humor on both good and bad days.”
For Cressall’s part, he recognized Silvestre’s talents and dedication, and as an owner who favors a promote-from-within policy, he promptly rewarded her merits with additional duties before moving her into a management position overseeing the entire carwash.
“[I think promoting from within] creates an atmosphere of high achievers who want to be considered for that next promotion,” Cressall advised. “Our goal is always to help each employee grow to become the very best that he can be. A happy and productive employee is one who knows they are doing their best and are recognized for their achievements.”
Reaching her potential
As for enabling workers like Silvestre to reach their potential, Cressall said it is as simple as his company’s management motto; “Hire based on attitude, and train competence.”
“We have found that the most important characteristic is to hire happy outgoing and friendly people. We can most always train an employee in competence, but altering their attitude about life and general relationship to people, can seldom be achieved,” he explained.
He continued, “The most important part of anything is the foundation that forms the strength of the building, or in this case the person. So we look closely to determine what are the foundational core strengths and values of each potential employee. When we follow that principle then we build that strong core foundation for our own business. Excellence in our employees follows as a natural derivative of the concepts outlined above. However, there remains one other very important aspect to achieve continuous excellence, and that is continuous recognition and praise whenever possible.”
Silvestre agreed with Cressall, adding that managers in particular should try to live by the Golden Rule in regards to both staff and customers.
“You have to be strong leader; always leading by example,” Silvestre affirmed. “Never abuse your authority as manager and treat everyone in the same way I would want to be treated. This applies to my customers and my employees. I’m always pushing the employees to be the best that they can be. Yes, you have to come to work with a positive attitude, and that every day is a gift.”
A woman’s touch
A good deal of Silvestre’s strengths might also be attributed to her gender. As a woman, Silvestre works hard to connect with those that she manages and serves at the carwash. It isn’t always easy, Silvestre admitted, but being a woman in the car care industry has a big payoff.
“Actually yes [it is challenging as a woman in the carwash industry], although I have been very well received by both my fellow employees and my customers,” Silvestre said. “I try to make sure that my love, care and concern for my employees and my customers always shines brightly through, even on the dark and cloudy moments of life.”
She encouraged other women to be empowered through working in car care businesses, and advised them to challenge themselves every day.
“[My advice for other women is to] be the best that they can be, and recognize that only you can set the limits of what you can accomplish in this world,” Silvestre recommended. “You must show that you are in control; but don’t be lazy or timid. Be bold and strong, while not being mean about it.”
For her part, succeeding as a manager came easy. “I just put my own personality into my work,” she explained. “My goal was to carry on all that the previous manager had set in place without losing a stride. I also wanted to make it better and easier for our customers. It was not easy, but I put my heart and mind to it and made it happen.”