Recruiting and retaining carwash employees - Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Recruiting and retaining carwash employees

Critical variables for attracting and keeping customer service attendants.

Recruiting really good entry-level employees in the carwash industry has always been a challenge, because the image of the industry has traditionally never been very high. In most markets in the U.S. over the past 18 months, it has been even tougher than normal.

The other major change in the business in the last several years has been the proliferation of exterior express washes that employ far fewer people per location than before. Correspondingly, these employees have to do so much more relative to what employees had to do in the past.

These two changes — tight markets for employment and expanded job responsibilities — have prompted changes in the whole recruiting process. What follows are changes that many of our clients as well as other carwashes are already utilizing.

Compensation relative to the market

To attract the level of customer service representative needed to perform well and remain with the company, the following is required.

Base pay

The base hourly wage for a customer service attendant (CSA) has to be substantially higher than the minimum wage to attract the people who you want to be successful CSAs. There are two reasons for this.

First, the job is more difficult than a comparable skilled job. CSAs are outside in all kinds of weather, they are doing physically demanding work and they have some serious responsibilities in terms of customer and employee safety. Workers in a fast-food establishment or in retail do not have these challenges at the level of a conveyor carwash.

Second, in the U.S. employment culture, it has become promulgated that $15 an hour should be the minimum wage. To that end, several states have passed legislation bringing the minimum wage up to $15 an hour over time. So, there has been wage inflation not by the market but politically, and this has to be dealt with by employers.

What is recommended is to be ahead of the curve. Many of the most successful carwash companies have been already paying $2 to $3 an hour above minimum wage to attract who they want in terms of potentially successful employees.


Almost all full-serve carwashes have commissions for salespeople and tips as incentives for production workers. In contrast, most express exterior carwashes do not have any incentives over and above the hourly wages. Incentives are not necessary but always helpful in any situation.

One incentive used is a bonus for a referral from an employee. Often, this bonus will be split up three ways — upon someone showing up for work, after 90 days and after six months. Fifty dollars to $100 is what is usually paid for each portion of the time frame. Many carwashes fulfill a large percentage of their hiring needs through referrals. If your company is not a good place to work, however, these incentives will not work very well.

A second incentive that is being used more often is individual or location bonuses based on the sale of unlimited monthly programs. Twenty-five to 50 percent of the first month’s fee is a frequent commission rate used. Monthly location bonuses based on increasing the net memberships usually rewards people at the location in the range of $100-plus based on hitting individual location targets.

Having a good pay situation and structure is the first step in the process to getting set up to improve the recruiting and retention of good employees.

Recruiting process

There are several aspects to the recruiting process that need to be addressed to maximize the process of attracting the people who will be most likely to fulfill the job description as well as be a long-term fit for the job. They include the following.

Job description

A written job description that identifies a larger purpose for the position, the desired end results and the key activities to accomplish those results will assist in attracting the people wanted. For example, millennials want to know why something has to be done and what the larger purpose is instead of being told just to do something.

Profile behavior

What are the characteristics of a person who a company wants to hire? For example, in the carwash business, one of the major reasons for turnover is the nature of the physical activity outside in all kinds of weather. Therefore, finding out what outdoor activities a person has participated in and how much they liked physical exertion outside would be an example of a behavior that might be on the list. And, obviously, finding out about their overall level of energy would be wise.

If any kind of behavioral survey is used, a job model can be created, and applicants can be evaluated in terms of how well their behaviors match the job model for that position. This survey can be taken even before the in-person interview occurs.

Ad design

An ad has to be utilized that attracts the person with the profile for that position, including what the new employee receives that is meaningful to him or her instead of having only a list of job requirements. For example, if we want people who like to work hard and like being outside, then saying that the position is “fast-paced work outside” would attract those people. If pay is the top factor in attracting the level of person desired, then putting that at the top of the ad would connect most readily with the person for whom that pay level is most attractive.


Depending on the market, Indeed, Facebook, Snag a Job and Craig’s List are some of the best media, and each one has to be tested. Facebook is becoming the primary reason that some people use the internet, and it is increasingly becoming the strongest medium. Indeed is the best of the traditional job sites in more markets than anyone else besides Facebook. This is an aspect of recruiting that has to be continuously monitored.

Initial processing

If a carwash places an anonymous ad, instead of directing people to the company website, the ad will almost always generate more responses. This assumes that the name of the carwash and the fact that it is a carwash is not in the ad. Unfortunately, for many people, the industry does not have a positive image and leaving this out of the ad will increase the response. Of course, applicants will be told upon first contact that it is a carwash and, although that will cause some applicants to disconnect, many people will like what they hear enough to pursue the position.

First screening call

On the first call, the job is explained, and that explanation should include everything that is great about the company. For example, most carwashes forget to mention that almost all of their managers in the company have been promoted from within, regardless of their education level, and that they make a very good income. This attracts people who want to move up. It also lessens the image of a “dead-end job with nowhere to go.”

The second part of this call has a few qualifying questions to make sure it is appropriate to set up an interview with the candidate. Such items include work schedule availability, ability to reach certain locations, availability to attend an interview, what kind of physical activities he or she has participated in recently and any other areas that the company needs to check out before offering an interview.

In-person interview

The skill of the interviewer is the third major variable in the ability of a company to attract the right people and a sufficient number of people to maintain the staffing of the company at optimum levels. If the person interviewing applicants is the site manager (SM), then that person needs to be trained to do the following.

Conduct a professional interview

The SM needs to be able to review a person’s background and be able to understand what a person has done, how he or she performed, what that person was paid and why he or she left. The SM also has to represent the position in a positive and accurate manner.

Answer questions well

A critical skill is the ability of an SM to understand questions, answer them in a complete manner and be able to follow up on the reasons the questions were asked. For example, a frequently asked question is, “How flexible is the work schedule?” An SM needs to follow up and find out the reason for that question and how much change and flexibility that applicant is inquiring about.

Making the hiring decision

After the interview is complete, one of the key skills an SM needs to acquire is creating a basis for decision-making.

Most managers are too lenient, particularly if they are short-staffed, or too strict, especially if they are staffed sufficiently. In reality, an SM should always be looking to upgrade his or her team, especially if there is at least one person who is not doing a sufficient job as a team member.


How well employees are initially trained

To retain the people who have been offered the position and have accepted the job, the first critical variable is their initial job training.

The first day, the first week and the first month are critical to increasing a new employee’s desire to stay and work at the new job. Being trained well helps ensure that a new team member is productive, which in turn helps the new employee get started the right way with his or her peers at the site.

So many new employees, especially younger people, are motivated to stay or go based upon how well they are treated by their peers. Getting off to a good start is really important.

How employees are treated by their immediate supervisors

The single biggest reason that all good employees leave their job is because they were not treated well by their bosses. Conversely, if an SM treats his or her people professionally, that person is the exception and, as such, there is considerable motivation to stay and work for that SM.

Interestingly enough, this is mostly about communication. When an SM has to tell someone that he or she did something wrong or has to review an area that said person has to improve in, it is more about the way in which this information is conveyed than it is the substance of the situation. If an SM treats his or her employees with respect, that SM is more likely to get higher retention than someone who does not.


After people have been selected for the position, trained correctly and managed with respect, the next variable that affects their retention is a belief in an opportunity to grow.

If an entry-level employee does not really want to move into management, then the opportunity needs to exist for him or her to experience some kind of growth and for that person’s compensation to go up at some point.

If someone feels as though no matter how long he or she is with a company or how proficient he or she becomes there is no opportunity to earn a raise, this becomes a demotivator that can easily lead to turnover.

Helping employees set career goals for themselves helps people to mentally create the opportunity for growth of some kind. So, compensation is a variable in the area of retention but not quite as high as in the recruiting area.

Carwashes are changing their approach to how they attract new employees as well as beginning to focus much more on their retention of successful employees. Although the tighter markets have driven some of these changes, they really make sense to build a better organization, no matter what the human resource picture looks like.

Steve Gaudreau is the President of Brink Results, LLC and has provided consulting and training in the carwash industry for over 25 years. He can be reached at [email protected].

You May Also Like

Hired up

Amid turnover challenges, Soapy Joe’s finds its “most dedicated employees” in people with disabilities.

Carwash company finds “most dedicated employees” in an unlikely place — PRIDE Industries’ clients. 

Like many carwash businesses, Soapy Joe’s — with 20 locations in San Diego County — has focused on hiring and retaining workers amid the pandemic, the great resignation and racing inflation. The company recently partnered with PRIDE Industries, which is the nation’s leading employer of people with disabilities, and found a reliable pipeline of stellar employees.

Politeness in peril

Tactical tips for constructive conversations in a world struggling with listening.

Mentoring through a changing workforce 

How carwash operators and detailers can overcome a changing workforce with mentoring.

Get the most from your RO membranes

Maintain these critical components to improve performance and lower cost of ownership.

New innovations on display

Operators find virtual solutions at 2023 The Car Wash Show™.

Other Posts

DRB appoints April Bertram as VP of product management

AKRON, Ohio — With over 30 years of experience in product innovation, Bertram joins DRB to shape the future of its product portfolio.

DRB hires chief customer experience officer

AKRON, Ohio — New Chief Customer Experience Officer Mike Marchetti joins DRB with extensive expertise in customer experience.

Metro Express Car Wash to celebrate Bill Martin

GARDEN CITY, Idaho — Metro Express will host a Coffee & Cars event to celebrate founder Bill Martin’s 50 years in the carwash industry.

Ziebart recognizes franchise owners for year of excellence

TROY, Mich. — Dealer of the Year and New Dealer of the Year honors were awarded at the conference.

ziebart celebration