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Training the untrainable

June 10, 2009
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Editor’s Note: This article is taken from a previous issue of Professional Carwashing & Detailing® and was mentioned in a recent bulletin board post. If you would like to submit an article or topic idea for the Management Tip of the Week, please e-mail Editor Kate Carr.

The process used by most detail shop owners and managers when hiring employees is typical of the detailer who, when asked his criterion for hiring employees, stated in all seriousness, "It is easy. I ask them which two days of the week begin with `T.' If they say `today and tomorrow' I hire them."

This isn't far from the truth for many operations.

Consider who actually does the hiring. In a carwash, it is usually the detail manager who, in most cases, is a detailer not a manager. They might know how to detail, but most don't have a clue how to manage, let alone interview and hire personnel.

If the carwash manager or owner does the hiring, what criteria do they usually use in determining who to hire? Exactly, whether they know how to detail.

Employing the unemployables

The point is, the typical detailers that are hired are often "unemployables." That is, they work in a detail shop because that is the only place that will hire them. Oh, they might get hired pumping gas at a local discount station or get a job washing dishes, but even today's modern carwashes won't hire our typical detailer.

Let me ask carwash operators, in particular, this question: Would you hire the people in your detail department to work in your carwash? Most professional carwash operators that I know would say "no!" My question, "Why hire them in your detail department?"

In my experience operating retail detail centers and consulting for dealers and detail shop owners, the typical detailer comes with so much baggage that no company would hire them, except those organizations that don't have high standards for the employees they hire.

If you established a few simple conditions before hiring these people such as possessing a valid driving license, good driving record, prior job references, high school diploma and drug testing you will find that most could not meet even these five. In fact, if these conditions are presented in an advertisement most will not even apply for the job.

However, if you keep hiring these "experienced detailers" you will continue to have the problems you have always had. Or you will never move beyond where your detail/recon department is now. There is no growth with these type of people. In fact, you are lucky if the typical detail employee will stay more than a few months.

Training the untrainable

So you say, "Bud, you are wrong, I have a couple of guys that have been with me for two years. Really good men. Hard workers, on time, etc."

Yes, that is true in many cases. Many detail shops have a "few good men/women." But, say you want to get these few good men/women to improve, to get work done faster, with better quality and produce more cars per day.

You hire a detail training consultant to provide an advanced detail training program for your employees.

The problem is, unless the trainer tells the detailers what they want to hear, they resist everything told to them. They do not want to change anything. They want to keep using the same chemicals, following the same procedures and using the same equipment.

If you think that bringing someone in to train your existing detail staff for improvement, think again. They will not change, unless of course, you threaten them by holding a 2 X 4 over their heads. And that won't even work, they will just quit.

What do you do?

The obvious answer is that you should not hire detailers, or anyone with detail experience. If you do, you will have an employee that is unemployable and untrainable - an employee who will be in control of your detail operation.

Hire people with good values and you can teach them the detailing skills they need. Like a great coach once said, "There is only one way to have a successful team:

· First you must get discipline

· Then teach fundamentals

· Then you can teach them anything."

And that, simply put, is what you must do with your detailing department. You must have employable and trainable people who will respond to discipline; then you teach them the techniques they need to know about detailing and finally you'll have a productive team player employee. Completely inexperienced individuals can be taught to detail vehicles in no more than three days. And, they will know more and do better work than the "typical experienced detailer."

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 at buda@detailplus.com.