5 steps to mastering off-site management

5 steps to mastering off-site management

Establish and reinforce a structured approach to carwash operations.

When I started in the carwash industry in the early 2000s, an ownership group with five to 10 carwashes was considered a large operation. A few groups had 30-100 washes and were considered “rock stars” in the industry. With the advent of technology and available capital, many ownership groups now control hundreds of washes, and a few aspire for that magical 1,000 location goal. The business model of the exterior express carwash allows for operational processes that allow chains to operate at a high level. But, not every carwash chain achieves this goal.

For us managers who chose to operate our washes without defined processes and procedures and just “wing it,” our day comprised of physically showing up on-site, pointing out everything that needed attention (and usually not commenting on anything that was going well), leaving to go to the next site, only to come back in a day or two to do it all over again. I refer to this poorly defined management process as “sandcastle” management. 

Remember when you went to the beach and made a sandcastle? Later, when you returned to admire your work, you saw that the forces of the waves erased all of your efforts and no trace of your sandcastle existed. Managing without clearly defined processes, procedures, training programs and audit procedures is a losing battle in getting the team to operate the wash in the way you intended. Inconsistent operations is the main reason carwashes fail to reach their potential. Customers, employees and investors become disillusioned, membership and car counts start declining, maintenance gets deferred, and the downward spiral starts. As a sales mentor of mine once told me, “If you are going to own a business, you might as well make as much money as you can.”

As you already know, the more carwashes you own and/or supervise, the less practical this “sandcastle” management technique becomes. It only takes three to five washes before managers become overwhelmed with keeping all the balls in the air. Today, many carwash chains are geographically spread out so managers cannot regularly visit all sites. In order to keep your washes operating at a consistently high level, managers must develop competencies and techniques to support remote management. 

Today’s customers expect a carwash to provide a consistently high level of wash quality, processing speeds and customer service. If not, there are always other choices nearby. Establishing and executing good operational standards and holding the management team to those standards is the only way to leverage off-site management.

Establishing and reinforcing a structured approach to carwash operations is what managers should focus on. Structured policies and procedures give the site teams the information and boundaries needed to conduct day-to-day operations and a reference on what to do when unique issues arise. 

What makes us unique?

To set up your structure, the leadership team must start by deciding how they want the organization to run by deciding the standards. These operational standards will give you a base line for all of the processes and procedures you will manage as an off-site leader. Once the management team has established the standards, it should set up the structure using these five steps to mastering off-site management.

1. Document policies and procedures
After spending the time making all these thoughtful and insightful decisions, documenting these policies and procedures will let the team know what you were thinking. It sounds simple, but I am surprised how many carwashes do not have clearly defined policies and procedures. Having written policies, processes and procedures for running the carwash is invaluable because it provides the resource everyone uses for training employees and for day-to-day reference. Off-site managers should have detailed knowledge of the organization’s policies and
procedures and incorporate them into a “playbook,” or policy manual, for use by the sites. Business process documentation is key for effective off-site management.

2. Implement effective training systems
Managers must provide site teams with proper training systems and programs. Well-trained teams are key to providing consistently high customer service. Technology has provided many different tools to structure training programs and we recommend managers use a learning management system (LMS). Using an LMS, managers can document all the policies, procedures, processes and any other employee training needed. The most important advantage of an LMS tool is managers can train your team in an organized, timely manner. 

Employees have a clear picture of the training program and managers can monitor the progress of employees as they train. Also, most LMSs can be used as a mobile learning tool. Employees can conduct their training anytime on a computer, tablet or mobile phone. LMSs now incorporate RFID tags that can be put next to equipment and areas to allow employees to train on that specific equipment or area. 

Using mobile learning to introduce employees to their carwash training program can be a game-changer to build a high performing carwash company, especially if you haven’t utilized this type of technology in the past. Most employees want to do their job correctly and get frustrated if the carwash training program is haphazard or non-existent. An LMS also tracks the progress of employee training, allowing you to manage the managers. 

3. Manage the managers
To manage the site management, you need to set and communicate clear expectations, follow up on those expectations, and conduct weekly operations calls. Expectations are different from policies, procedures and processes. Although policies and procedures are important to run the carwash, they do not set expectations. Instead, think of expectations as the goals for the organization, which must be consistently communicated in order to be effective. For example, a guideline or procedure for loaders is that they are required to point to the neutral sign when loading a vehicle. However, the expectation is that we always treat the customer with kindness and respect.

Managers should always have consistent discussions about management expectations. Site management teams should never have to guess about what the expectations are. Good employees want to know if they are meeting or exceeding the expectations. Always use your operational meetings to review how the team is executing on expectations. If managers are not meeting your expectations, work with them on ways to improve.

In an article published by the Harvard Business Review, Dr. Raghu Krishnamoorthy writes about “being in the game without being on the field.” According to Krishnamoorthy, “A present leader generates better organizational outcomes and increased employee engagement in a virtual environment. Presence entails being approachable, visible, mindful, and having frequent individual and team check-ins, as well as being a valuable resource to employees in assisting them to accomplish their tasks.”1

For us, the biggest takeaways from the Krishnamoorthy article are being present, frequently checking in and giving employees the resources they need. I would argue one of the most important recurring tasks you should complete is weekly operations meetings with site managers. These meetings are vital to remotely managing your team. 

Let’s address the components you should discuss in every operational meeting. You can categorize these anyway you would like or bundle them together. However, a best practice is to include in each meeting: recognition; follow up on the last meeting’s action items; overall site performance; staffing and training needs and issues; major maintenance and repair items; open discussion; and create the action item list for the current week. 

Once the policies, training and management expectations have been set, the off-site manager must set a plan to audit these policies, procedures and processes to ensure compliance. 

4. Audit regularly
A critical role of the off-site leader is to audit that the work is getting completed as expected. It is imperative to check that the site management team completes all tasks and processes in accordance with your company’s policies and procedures. The managers should have everything needed to effectively operate the carwash, but you must ensure they use the tools you have provided.

So, what is auditing and why is it crucial for leaders? Auditing is a formal examination or inspection of statements, accounts, facilities or records used to evaluate or improve the functions of a business or organization. For carwash purposes, auditing is an examination of the facility and its records to evaluate compliance with standards and improve the operational excellence of the carwash. The adage “trust, but verify” should be on your mind throughout the process of auditing. It is vital to the organization’s success that a carwash site complies with business goals, policies and standards.

Auditing various aspects of the carwash operations will allow the managers to change the trajectories and behaviors of site personnel. The outcomes are meant to improve the site and hold the site team accountable. A list of things that need to be audited includes maintenance, chemicals, safety, wash quality, cash control, club membership data, financial statements and payroll. An excellent tool for you to utilize in your auditing process could be conducting physical site inspections and covering these items with each site manager.

There are three steps to auditing, including: 

Set up an auditing schedule for what you are going to audit and when you plan to audit them.
Look for any deviations from your standard procedures.
Address any issues you find that fall outside your standards.
Keep in mind any exceptional situations like short staffing, supply chain issues or any other outliers.
Determine if the policies, procedures or processes you created failed the site or if the managers are not providing the proper tools and training to the team.
Address the issue by revamping the documentation or work with the site management to change the team’s
Many of these audits can be performed remotely. However, some audits must be conducted on-site so leaders can see what is and is not occurring at the site. 

5. Manage tasks
Have you ever walked into an office and all you see are sticky notes on someone’s desk or screen? It happens all the time, and it might even be you. I think we can all agree that isn’t the best way to manage the tasks you need to do regularly. You and your site managers must manage your tasks well if you want to master off-site leadership. 

Whether you are an owner, managing partner or operations manager, you need to understand the tasks you need to accomplish throughout the week, month and year.

Accomplishing all of your tasks is crucial to the successful operation of the carwash. These tasks can usually be placed into categories according to the type of task that needs to be handled. Those categories include on-site, off-site, recurring and on-time tasks.

There are several ways to manage tasks that need to be done periodically. Though there are different ways of tracking and managing recurring tasks, one consistent way to set up recurring tasks is to schedule them into an online task management system and set a reminder to the person or team that needs to be informed that a task is due. Reminding your team about upcoming tasks when they are due goes a long way in ensuring recurring tasks are completed, whether you do them on-site or off-site. 

Some carwash companies have dedicated efforts to helping the entire team manage to-do lists more effectively. If you need some help managing your irregular tasks, whether on-site or off-site, there are technology companies, such as Asana, Basecamp, ClickUp and Monday.com, that specialize in task management solutions. These systems allow you to input tasks, take notes, set due dates, assign personnel, track progress and send notifications when tasks are due, completed or not completed. As a result, these companies are helping millions of people and teams stay on track with task lists. If you want to master off-site management, managing tasks is critical. 

Regardless of your role within your organization, if you are leading the site management teams, you have your work cut out for you if you want your carwash to be profitable. There are many steps that need to be taken to run a thriving carwash. However, if you follow these five steps, you can give yourself and your carwash every competitive advantage. 

You might see carwash operations are running smoother, creating gaps in your schedule that allow you to work on some of those projects you have been wanting to address. Remember that off-site management means just that, being off-site. Try to schedule your meetings, inspections, audits and tasks in a way that allows you to remotely manage the managers. Whether you have several sites or just one, these steps will keep you ahead of the curve.

1 https://hbr.org/2022/10/what-great-remote-managers-do-differently 

CarwashOS is a carwash consulting firm that works with owners and operators before, during, and after a carwash startup. CarwashOS helps you install systems and programs that have a lasting impact on your business. For more information on how CarwashOS can help you, please reach out to [email protected].

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