Although it varies by industry, the Association for Talent Development’s (ATD) State of the Industry Report notes the average direct expenditure per employee per year is about $1,200. Now that we roughly know the investment it may take to train employees, let’s cover some facts and reasons why ongoing training for all employees is important in professional carwashing.

Employee-centric thinking

More than likely, as a new owner or operator, you didn’t get into the business to work each day as a prep worker or finish area attendant. While some new operators will inevitably fulfill these roles until the wash “makes it,” the long-term goal of any owner is to hire employees to fill such jobs.

Of course, over the years you will build a rapport with customers as an on-site, active operator; however, you should never lose sight of how important your employees are to your business. As a point of contact with customers, employees are among the most important factors of what customers think about your carwash.

In order to help us further understand employees’ importance to a business, Robert Andre, who is the vice president of training and education for SONNY’S The CarWash Factory, shares a quote from motivational speaker Zig Ziglar: “You don’t build a business. You build people, and then the people build the business.”

“So, if you believe in that philosophy, it is assumed as an operator the first person you must ‘ build’ is yourself,” educates Andre. “Realize that training is not a one-time event. Training is something that needs to become an ongoing and everyday part of your business. In order to keep your team doing what they have learned, you need to have high standards and hold people accountable.”

Related: Wash Wisdom: How to simultaneously run a business and improve education

Some owners discount the power of their own advanced learning of the industry because they are not on the frontlines. However, as a new operator, you will most likely be your business’ longest tenured employee and have the most impact.

As Claire Moore, the chief operating officer (COO) of the International Carwash Association (ICA), explains, “The more knowledge owners and their employees can gain, the better their businesses will be. There will always be advances in technology, marketing and operations that can be learned, and studying these types of topics will strengthen a business.”

According to Moore, learning can happen anywhere and at any time. For instance, a savvy operator might learn from other local retail businesses. “A better-informed, more well-educated operator only leads to a more professional operation, strengthening the professionalism of the industry as a whole.”

Classroom versus hands-on

Most experts agree a balanced approach of classroom and hands-on training is most effective when optimizing learning. Effective learning is also achieved with informal, on-the-job training.

“Training can come from veteran employees who pass along their tricks and tips to new employees on the job,” notes Sue Chappel, marketing manager of National Carwash Solutions. “However, it is smart to add targeted classroom training. When an [operator] can learn proper maintenance techniques, best practices, ways to optimize their investment or know exactly where to look for points of failure [in a classroom setting], the operation will run more smoothly and profitably.”

Still, concludes Chappel, all training should have elements of being hands-on in this industry. “Learning is best through ‘doing’ something hands-on to absorb that knowledge and retain it,” she adds.

There are other reasons why a hybrid of institutional learning as well as informal training is successful in this industry. As noted by Justin Salisbury, regional operations manager for Breeze Thru Car Wash, a typical carwash features several different professional fields, including mechanical, plumbing, electrical, chemical, software, engineering, process improvement, construction, program management, human resources, etc.

“When you stop and think about it … that’s a lot of professional fields,” proclaims Salisbury. “As a result, this industry requires focus and discipline to perform at a high level. Classroom knowledge stimulates thought, inspires and motivates. The hands-on element becomes the action of the classroom learning and is a catalyst for continued motivation. The hands-on is also where refinement of learning is retained best — where all five senses come together. Then, a repeat or advancement of classroom learning will inevitably unveil more clarity of how to improve; then [it’s] back to the hands-on — rinse and repeat.”

There are best practices for both styles of training to help maximize and encourage learning. For classroom training, for instance, it is best to set an agenda and stick to it. Classroom training, concurs Andre, helps instructors set the tone for how the training is going to take place and what the desired outcome should be.

As for hands-on training, Andre notes that this is best practiced when customers are not involved. “You need to get the trainee to master the basics before you put him or her out in the spotlight. Think about training a new employee to guide cars onto the conveyor — you’d want to do the initial hands-on training before or after hours. This way, the customer doesn’t have to experience an employee that doesn’t deliver the best service, and the employee will be under less stress,” he says, adding that once the employee has the basics down, you can then move him or her into the spotlight to fine-tune and finish the training process.

Retaining knowledge

One of the most common reasons for an employer not to provide employee training stems from concerns that the worker will quit and possibly bring his or her advanced skills and learning to the competition. However, although many new operators might not be aware of it, training itself is an employee retention tool. 

In addition to addressing the array of skillsets required to operate a carwash, Salisbury adds reducing employment costs as another training benefit.

“An investment in training and education is an investment in the retention of employees,” advises Salisbury. “The cost of employment, when done well, is enormous — i.e., recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training, coaching, etc. To reduce this cost, you must provide an environment which engages and supports growth.”

The root of growth is “greater knowledge,” continues Salisbury, and oftentimes, it is a result of training. “When employees are engaged and apply what they’ve learned, they stay longer and perform to higher levels. When employees are exposed to a greater marketplace understanding, they can compare and contrast. Having this ability inspires people to push harder, help their teams more and fend off complacency, resulting in a positive synergy across the entire team,” he explains.

In addition to that single employee performing at a high level, the energy, excitement and advanced knowledge will be passed on to other employees, creating a chain reaction that your carwash can benefit from for years to come.

“The most successful coaches in sports are known in part for their ‘coaching trees,’” says Chappel. “A coaching tree links successful coaches to the coach for whom they were once an assistant. If your carwash is lucky enough to be known as the place that spawns excellence, that’s a great marketing position. While a few good people may drift away, your operation can be known as a leader and attract the best talent when you invest in your people. The investment in training produces a large multiplier effect that leading businesses have recognized for many years.”

In a twist of irony, complacency in training out of fear employees will quit oftentimes results in employee turnover. The issue is elevated because if you don’t invest in employees, states Moore, they will go to the competition with this frustration, and the competition will train and retain that employee.

“Good employees are hard to find, so ensure you are training and investing in them, and they will help you to grow your business,” says Moore.

As mentioned, there are many variables to consider in employee training and learning. Therefore, you must keep in touch with employees before and after training and continually adjust the agenda, goals and expectations as needed. But, above all, don’t assume training is a project or task that, once completed, should be forgotten about.

Assuming employees are “good to go” after training is a fatal error. Training, Salisbury adds, is an initial component to understanding. Also, in order to monitor your returns on training investments, there need to be measurable benchmarks.

“Before training, you must determine how to keep it consistent and also how to measure its impacts along the way. After the measuring, training and coaching are implemented, you can then grade fairly and produce clear results. The grading should also be consistent, ongoing and revolve around what is most important to your business,” notes Salisbury.

In conclusion, if you prefer short-term strategies with detrimental outcomes, it is much cheaper and less hassle to not properly train employees. But, if you want to succeed over the long haul, perhaps you should consider another word from the wise that Andre shares. “Business mogul Richard Branson has some great advice to offer. He said, ‘Train your people well enough so they can leave; treat them well enough so they don’t want to.’”