Leading women in carwashing

Leading women in carwashing

Getting to know Sarah Turner of Living H2O Car Wash.

Editor’s note: Professional Carwashing & Detailing is excited to announce a new content series in partnership with Melissa Pirkey to share the stories and experiences of leading women in the carwashing industry. We will continue featuring these inspiring stories in upcoming issues. 

The women interviewed for this special series share their stories. The goal of this new series is to not only share the stories and experiences of these market leaders, but also inspire more women to join this fun, exciting and growing carwash industry. 

This month let’s meet Sarah Turner. 

Sarah Turner, operations and HR manager of Living H2O Car Wash

MP | How did you get your start and how long have you been in the carwash industry? 

ST | When I met my husband in 1997, he was over a multi-site sales team for a wash in Dallas. We made some great friends in the industry and I’ve been around operators and suppliers ever since. I personally got involved in 2017 when I helped him turn around a struggling wash by handling the recruiting and hiring. That role grew into office manager, then detail and HR manager and now I’m the operations and HR manager. 

MP | What is the most important lesson you have learned while working in the carwash industry?  

ST | The biggest lesson I learned is that one person can make a significant difference. Our washes have progressed so far in terms of how we recruit, hire, retain and release employees. I leveraged my experience from other industries to improve our business. The best news is that other leaders are interested in learning better strategies as well and that will improve the industry overall. It is exciting to be a part of that change. 

MP | What advice do you have for women getting into the carwash industry today?  

ST | Please do not focus on the fact that you are a woman. It shouldn’t matter and it doesn’t matter. Do what you’re good at, improve what you can and admit when you’re wrong, while working with integrity, personal accountability and compassion. If you work with people that don’t get it, respect yourself and go find people who do. They are out there, praying every night for someone like you. You just have to find them. 

MP | What are some challenges you have overcome as a woman in the carwash industry that you’d like to share with other women in hopes of helping them to overcome similar challenges? 

ST | The biggest challenge I had was gaining credibility with my teams outside since I didn’t work my way up in the carwash. My degree is in production and operations management, so I had formal training in the theories we use every day. My practical experience came from processing candidates as a recruiter and related directly to processing cars. But my staff didn’t understand that at first and challenged my authority since I hadn’t done their jobs. I worked diligently to build personal relationships with all my employees to gain their respect and trust. They learned about me as a person and that I hold everyone accountable, including myself. I told them that if they do what I say and it fails, it is on me. If they don’t do what I say and it fails, it is on them. The proof was in the numbers and customer feedback. My plan worked and we had record-breaking results. They became advocates for me with other employees who didn’t trust me yet.

MP | What aspect of the carwash industry is most exciting/rewarding to you?  

ST | Hands down the most awesome part has been witnessing the life change that happens with our employees. We have employees with learning, emotional and social differences. They are great with highly repetitive tasks and rarely deviate from the correct procedures. We have had several first-time workers who learned how to be good employees. Several of our staff members are paying their way through trade school or college while working at our washes. We also have a few that were homeless or were looking for a place to start a new, better life when we met them. They truly are in better places now, partly because of the friendships, skills and stability they found working with us. Watching our employees grow and then helping other employees grow is just amazing and very rewarding. 

MP | In your opinion, what three character traits are most important for a woman starting out her career in the carwash industry? 

ST | Personal accountability: no one will follow you if you don’t lead by example. Integrity: mean what you say and say what you mean; then back it up. Compassion: assume that people act with good intentions even when it may not seem that way. Listen to their side of the story before making a decision. 

MP | What would you have done differently starting out in the carwash industry if you could go back to the beginning? Or, would you not change a thing? 

ST | I would have worked in every position outside instead of coming in at the manager level. Now that I’m older I have some physical limitations that prevent me from actually doing some of the work that I expect from others. 

MP | Did you have a role model or a mentor in this industry? If so, who and how did he or she inspire you? 

ST | My husband/boss is both my inspiration and mentor. He started a detail shop at 19 years old, then went into carwash operations and eventually chemical sales before becoming the managing partner for our current washes. He taught me what a local business can mean to a community and how washing cars can provide our family with everything we want. The best part is, we aren’t done yet.

MP | Where do you see the carwash industry moving toward in the future?  

ST | I’m excited to see the industry is learning to place emphasis on the people who make the business work. They are talking more about hiring, training, developing and retaining great talent. I see software companies continuing to improve analytics and reporting to support better decision making. I think we will continue to attract more people from other industries as private equity firms spread the news of the financial opportunities created by good operators.

Melissa Pirkey, Pirkey Insurance, is a frequent contributor. If you are interested in sharing your story in an upcoming issue of Professional Carwashing & Detailing, please contact her at [email protected] or email PC&D’s Rich DiPaolo at [email protected].

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