When the editors of this publication set out every year to choose the Most Valuable Carwasher (MVC) by sifting through the numerous thoughtful and inspiring nominations for the award, there are a couple key characteristics that stick out from one nomination to another. First and foremost, the MVC typically is a frontline worker. One of the workers getting his or her hands dirty every day, and/or the worker who has unparalleled customer service skills.
Beyond the nature of the position within the carwash, the MVC is someone who has made a positive impact on the business, community and teammates. Finally, the MVC is a member of the carwashing community who, through years of dedication, is an experienced washer with a proven track record.
While the Professional Carwashing & Detailing (PC&D) team received many glowing submissions about obviously valuable carwashers in our vast field, there was one nomination that stood out from the rest for doing exactly what is described above.
Iona Kearney, the operations manager with Speedy Sparkle Car Wash based in Loveland, Colorado, is the 2022 Most Valuable Carwasher — an honor that will come to no surprise to her team. Iona’s nominations (in fact, she was nominated twice by different admirers) submitted by various members of her Speedy Sparkle family, were a glowing admiration of her work ethic, employee and customer relationship skills and, most of all, dedication to and love for carwashing.
Without further ado, let’s meet Iona Kearney.
Kearney began her carwashing journey at the age of 14 at the same business she works at today, Speedy Sparkle Car Wash. As a cashier, interior cleaner and any other job management tasked her with, Kearney says she loved her high school years carwashing, even describing it as more of a hobby than a job. While many 14-year-olds make extra cash by completing odd jobs like babysitting, mowing lawns and cleaning pools, Kearney knew her first job was going to be in carwashing — it was in her blood. Her father had actually acquired and operated a carwash when she was a child, so she was familiar with the industry and knew it would be a great environment to work in on the weekends.
Even when Kearney moved on to college and learned about other career opportunities, she still felt called back to the carwash industry. She returned to Speedy Sparkle quickly after her college years. “I originally came back to the industry because I missed the customer interaction,” she reflects. However, the customers aren’t the only people Kearney missed during the short period of time she wasn’t working at Speedy Sparkle. She explains, “I have stayed in the industry and chosen to make it my career because of the employees.”
Putting employees first
When speaking to Iona to gain insights about her role at Speedy Sparkle and what exactly makes her MVC material, it was obvious that the care she has for her employees makes her an extraordinary teammate, boss and mentor. Barely a sentence goes by without Iona mentioning her fellow employees and teammates, and it is obviously a very important part of the job for her. According to Sean Rutledge, assistant manager of Speedy Sparkle Car Wash and one of Iona’s MVC nominators, “She wants to make everyone the best version of themselves.”
Kearney strives to achieve this desire in many different ways. On the macro level, employees at Speedy Sparkle Car Wash feel valued by management, and Kearney in particular, by participating in team building activities, like making dog toys out of old uniforms to donate to their local animal shelters, or by holding all staff dinners for every manager’s birthday. A company’s culture, however, is often made up of the micro details that are seen day in and day out on the frontlines of the business. Iona has established a phenomenal culture at Speedy Sparkle, according to her team, by focusing on the employees and their role within the business every day.
As the operations manager with Speedy Sparkle Car Wash, Kearney splits her time between both the Loveland and Louisville, Colorado, carwash locations, and interacts with the many employees at both locations every day. While her role primarily focuses on providing guidance and support for each location’s general managers, Kearney makes it a priority to know each and every employee by name and takes the time to get to know them. She also involves employees — from the cashiers to supervisors and every position in between — in the interviewing and training processes for new hires.
These small management choices make the Speedy Sparkle employees feel seen, valued and empowered. Kearney expands, “Every day, at least one staff member will come up to me with a new idea they want to try and I just love it because that tells me they care about their job and are engaged in finding ways to improve.”
While these are just a few examples of how Kearney leads her team with compassion and care, the numbers truly speak for themselves. Specifically, the turnover rate at Speedy Sparkle Car Wash is impressively low, which Rutledge attributes to the company culture created by Kearney. According to the assistant manager, throughout the COVID-19 related staffing issues, which is notoriously being referred to as “The Great Resignation,” Speedy Sparkle saw its lowest turnover rate ever.
In fact, Rutledge revealed that the company sees roughly only one employee leave every eight months. This turnover rate of approximately 12.5% contrasts national averages dramatically. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the private sector as a whole saw an average turnover rate of 36.6% in 2021 and the hospitality industry saw an average of 66.8%.
Of course, many factors go into employee turnover, such as pay, benefits and the nature of the work, but it is indisputable that Kearney has impacted this employee retention feat. One Speedy Sparkle Car Wash employee, Josh, shared with us, “Iona is a boss that goes beyond her duties of just being a boss. She truly cares for you and your happiness, she makes work stress free and easy, and is always accommodating to our requests. I moved from New York three years ago hoping to get into another industry, but I have found myself moving up in this company instead because she has created such a great work environment.”
Day to day
In recent years, Kearney has served in two critical positions at Speedy Sparkle: general manager (GM) and operations manager. As the GM at the Louisville, Colorado, location, Kearney had a myriad of responsibilities. From training employees, which if it isn’t obvious yet is one of her favorite aspects of the position, membership sales and actually working on the vehicles. Of all her GM responsibilities, the most impressive may be her ability to actually repair equipment. Kearney’s willingness to jump in and fix malfunctioning parts of the tunnel is a perfect example of getting her hands dirty, and it’s proven beneficial to the company. Rutledge reported, “Since she became GM, she helped us cut our equipment repair costs in half while only increasing maintenance costs by a couple hundred dollars per year.”
Recently, Kearney has transitioned to her current position as operations manager. In this role, she no longer works solely at the Louisville location, but splits her time evenly between both Speedy Sparkle locations. After creating an esteemed culture with her Louisville team as operations manager, Kearney offers support to the current GMs to build great work environments for the teams at each location. She achieves this by guiding the managers with any employee, customer or site issues they may be having.
Kearney reports that her position has changed over the years, but she still enjoys the task of washing cars. “I still try hard to have my head in at least one car a day, because that’s the core of what we do,” she says.
The PC&D team is honored to award Kearney with the 32nd
annual Most Valuable Carwasher recognition, but we are far from the first organization to see her invaluable contributions to the carwashing industry. Besides tributes from Speedy Sparkle teammates that can be seen on the sidebar on page 25, Kearney also was awarded the 2022 Emerging Leaders Scholarship from International Carwash Association. This scholarship recognizes up-and-coming leaders in carwashing under the age of 45.
Additionally, as a key member of the Colorado carwashing community, Kearney is involved with the Southwest Car Wash Association (SCWA). Not only does Iona regularly attend the SCWA Convention & EXPO, she also led two “EXPO Quick Talk” sessions. Kearney discussed how women leaders are changing the carwash landscape in one presentation and employee evaluations in another. Kearney also spoke on employee evaluations at the 2022 Women in Carwash conference.
From her years of dedication to the industry, carefully executed company culture and readiness to step up to whatever task — no matter how wet, dirty or unpleasant it may be — and industry recognition, it is obvious to us at PC&D why Kearney is so admired by her team. Kearney has a bright future in carwashing ahead of her and we will be cheering her on from the sidelines, along with all her employees, past, present and future.
She concludes, “This doesn’t feel like a job to me; this is just my life, and I am so incredibly happy and fulfilled in this industry and in this role.”
Congratulations to our 2022 Most Valuable Carwasher, Iona Kearney.
Past MVC award winners
|2021: Izzy Aguayo, Breeze Thru Car Wash, Longmont, CO|
|2020: Vaughn Mead, Breeze Thru Car Wash, Fort Collins, CO|
|2019: Jeff Wagner, Champion Xpress Car Wash, Roswell, NM|
|2018: Jason LeBlanc, Benny’s Car Wash, Baton Rouge, LA|
|2017: Noel Saldaña, The Wash Tub, San Antonio, TX|
|2016: Jose Luis Cruz, Splash Car Wash, Greenwich, CT|
|2015: Mike Hulburt, Autobell Car Wash, Virginia Beach, VA|
|2014: Mark Fox, Cornhusker Auto Wash, Bellevue, NE|
|2013: Elias “Lou” Spellos, Squeeky Clean Mobile Car Wash and Detailing, Virginia Beach, VA|
|2012: José “Joe” Fernandez, Superior Shine in Covina, CA|
|2011: Chad Cornell, Crystal Clean Automotive Detailing, Grand Rapids, MI|
|2010: Sandra Silvestre, Valencia AutoSpa, Valencia, CA|
|2009: Trudy Carlton, Car Pool LLC, Mechanicsville, VA|
|2008: Shawn Stevens, Adirondack Car Wash, Queensbury, NY|
|2007: Aaron Rusbuldt, Shur-Kleen Car Wash, Lacey, WA|
|2006: Juan Avila, Splash Car Wash, Wilton, CT|
|2005: Brian Daigle, Willimantic Car Wash, Willimantic, CT|
|2004: Bob Handt, Mister Car Wash, Roseville, MN|
|2003: Gary Pendleton, Wilshire West Car Wash, Santa Monica, CA|
|2002: Casey Bowmaster, Champion Car Wash, Trevose, PA|
|2001: Roman Zelek, Koziol Car Wash, Chicago|
|2000: Darold Evans, Sandwich Car Wash, Sandwich, MA|
|1999: Marcel Vargas, Splash Car Wash, Norwalk, CT|
|1998: Clifford Mitchell, Bebo’s Car Wash, Mobile, AL|
|1997: Chalmers “Lefty” Jackson, Jax Kar Wash Inc., Southfield, MI|
|1996: Michael Garrison, Beaverton Car Wash, Beaverton, OR; and Marjorie E. McNeil, Clarkston Auto Wash Co., Clarkson, MI|
|1995: Jose Ruiz, Auto Valet Car Wash, Trenton, NJ|
|1994: G. Walker “Paul” Calisme, Exit 13 Car Wash, Darien, CT|
|1993: Mark Ellis, Soft Touch Express Wash, Valparaiso, IN|
|1992: Gary L. Daily, Happy Wheels Inc., Wilmington, DE|
|1991: Norris Brown, Weiss Guys Car Wash, Phoenix, AZ|
Camille Renner is the associate editor of Professional Carwashing & Detailing.