For carwash operators, recruiting and retaining top talent for positions across the board can be tough.  Within a weather dependent industry, and with labor as the biggest (and most controllable) expense, how do companies position themselves as ‘employers of choice’ and compete within the workforce pool? In this article, Mister Car Wash leaders reveal their mission-centered strategy for doing just that.

In June of 2014, Abbe Goncharsky was 12 years into her law career and a partner in a successful firm. The then employment lawyer was on local assignment, delivering a team training session about employee relations issues for one of her clients when her career path encountered a sharp S-curve. The client was Mister Car Wash, and in the room listening to Goncharsky was CEO John Lai. Lai could see that Goncharsky possessed talents and skills that Mister Car Wash needed full time. Three months later, Goncharsky became the latest recruit to join the company’s talented leadership team.

So why are professionals like Goncharsky, armed with MBAs and law degrees, deviating from glamorous and time tested career tracks to take a road less traveled in the car care industry? With the ink barely dry on her business cards, the new vice president of human resources and associate counsel for Mister Car Wash explains, “I walked away from ownership of a successful business to work for a boss for the first time in many years because I see Mister Car Wash as an incredible opportunity to get in with a company that has already done a lot of growing and still has a lot of growing to do.”

Attract talent

Building a career ladder for top talent is central to Mister Car Wash’s mission to “brighten lives through the power of people, one shiny car at a time.” Having been appointed CEO in 2013, Lai wasted no time setting his sights for the moon. Not even two years into his leadership role, Lai had moved his entire Tucson-based management team into a spectacularly renovated headquarters and had overseen his company’s acquisition – now 134 car washes and 32 lube centers strong – by Leonard Green & Partners, one of America’s premier private equity firms. Leonard Green & Partners’ strong track record for growing “brands with a conscious” made the firm Lai’s top pick.

Lai’s leadership style is steeped in doing what is right and best for the people who are Mister Car Wash, and he speaks like the visionary he is. “Eighty percent of our operations leaders started out vacuuming cars. Our median income for store managers is almost $70k. We partner with refugee placement programs to help people from war-torn nations land on their feet. We're about to launch a continuing education program for employees who haven't finished high school to help them get their GEDs.” Don’t get him started unless you’ve cleared your schedule. Lai believes in what he’s doing, and his passion for “doing well by doing good” is reflected in the hearts of everyone on his team.

Goncharsky and her team are charged with carrying out Lai’s vision from an HR perspective. As she explains, “Our employees can start and conclude their careers with us. We want to put them in a position where the sky’s the limit. That’s my challenge: to figure out how to do that for our nearly 5,000 current employees, as well as those we’ve yet to hire. I want to create that work environment for them and for all their friends and relatives to be able to join our family.”

“We currently offer good benefits to our employees,” Goncharsky notes. “The plan is to continue to expand that and bring our production employees on line with the next round of open enrollment.” She explained that Mister Car Wash also pays a significant percentage of employees’ health insurance premiums, gives employees paid time off based on tenure with the company, and offers an Employee Assistance Program to all employees.

Don’t be afraid to revolutionize

Where innovation is concerned, Mister Car Wash is unafraid to go off road.

“For some of our more remote locations that are not on a bus line, we’re looking into providing transportation assistance. We think we will be better able to attract talent if we can eliminate the question, ‘How do I get there?’ Tuition reimbursement is another benefit we’d like to offer eventually, but right now it’s still in the dream phase,” Goncharsky says.

“At the home office, we have a fantastic new building. Our gym is up and running and we serve fresh fruit in the employee break room. We’re now in the process of expanding the breadth and depth of a wellness program to field employees,” Goncharsky shares.

Management training programs are also a critical benefit to all employees of Mister Car Wash. Those are overseen by Mayra Chimienti, director of training and development. A seven-year veteran of Mister Car Wash, Chimienti herself has risen through the ranks. She worked for nine car washes that Mister Car Wash acquired back in 2007. At that time, the company had 2,329 employees, half of what it has now.

“To be a part of a company that has grown that much since I’ve been around is quite remarkable,” Chimienti says.

Cultivate abilities

She explains the evolution of Mister Car Wash’s approach to development of talent from within: “2008 was significant for us, when we invested in regional trainers in each market. The main purpose of regional trainers was to recruit, train and develop the talent that we needed to provide the level of service we strive for. Since then we have developed Manager- and Supervisor-In-Training Programs, which have allowed us to recruit and promote individuals from within – offering growth opportunities.

“Training is a very critical process for us; from the production employee on his or her first day, to our advanced management program offered at Mister Car Wash University.” Launched in October of 2014, Mister Car Wash University leads managers-in-training through a three-day intensive curriculum comprised of 38 different modules covering everything from how to build a bench to how to read a P&L statement.

“We have identified strong training teams in each market to help us develop our new employees and provide them with the tools they need to succeed,” Chimienti continues. “Employees can elect to pursue a path as a customer care representative, customer service advisor, supervisor or go into management. We have made training programs available for all positions and have developed a culture of promoting progression, which allows us to tactfully develop our talent in house while also actively recruiting talent from outside.”

So far, Mister Car Wash’s strategy for recruiting and retaining top talent appears to be working. Today part-time employees washing cars after school can honestly look forward to seamless careers where the sky’s the limit, if they so choose.

As Goncharsky concludes, “What the car wash industry has accomplished over the years is amazing. There is a lot of room to grow and develop, and as Mister Car Wash continues to grow, we’ll continue working on being the best employer we can possibly be.”

June C. Hussey is a communications consultant based in Tucson, Arizona. A 35-year business writing veteran, she enjoys helping great companies articulate their stories.