Semper fidelis. The motto of the U.S. Marine Corps is well-known to the average American. Translated from Latin, it means “always faithful.” One’s time in the Marines, or any branch of the military for that matter, always leaves an indelible mark. Brian Krusz, owner of Sgt. Clean’s Car Wash in the greater Cleveland area and a veteran of the Marines, has internalized this meaning within his carwash.
While the motto semper fidelis implies being faithful to one’s country, being “faithful” in general — to both one’s employees and customers and having them be faithful to the business in return — is a way to apply that meaning in the carwash industry.
“My grandfather was an entrepreneur, and he always taught me, if you take care of your team, they’ll take care of the customers, and the customers will take care of the process,” Krusz states. “So that’s why all of our focus lies on taking care of [our team members] and giving them proper training.”
From being nurtured with this mindset at a young age to spending eight years in the Marines where loyalty is at one’s core, Krusz has taken these concepts and turned them into a working business model — one that has led to great success.
I don’t know, but I’ve been told
Krusz started out working in the beverage industry in Cleveland. In 2012, however, while attending the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show in Las Vegas, he met a gentleman who was in both the beverage store and carwash businesses. The man raved about how great the carwash industry is and told him that he should attend the Northeast Regional Carwash Convention (NRCC) just three weeks later. Intrigued, Krusz decided to attend the NRCC convention, and he was instantly sold on the industry.
“I just fell in love with the people. It’s just people from all walks of life willing to help and to educate, and there’s just something special,” Krusz says. “Reminded me a lot of the Marine Corps.”
Small world that it is, he met a distributor at NRCC from Strongsville, Ohio, who said he had “just the carwash” for Krusz.
Krusz went back home and visited the carwash with the distributor. What he found was a distressed business, but like a true Marine, he marched in without hesitation to aid it. After acquiring the wash, he spent time giving it a much-needed facelift, which included the addition of free vacuums and some much-needed TLC. The final touch was the rebranding.
Krusz hosted a naming contest to rebrand the carwash. Sgt. Clean’s Car Wash was one of the entries, and after selecting it, the company moved to develop a logo and mascot around it. The company’s mascot ended up being a cartoon rendering of Krusz in his Marines uniform.
Krusz wanted a human mascot with a lot of character but not something too cartoony. In addition, he wanted it to send a message: that Sgt. Clean’s Car Wash is a locally-owned, veteran-owned business and that it employs veterans and is always looking for people who have served their country to join its workforce.
With that, Krusz opened the first Sgt. Clean’s Car Wash in March 2013, but he didn’t stop there. Since then, Krusz went on to acquire four other carwashes, the latest of which reopened in October 2018 after some remodeling, and he has continued this business methodology of taking distressed businesses, restoring and then rebranding them to give them new life.
Ductus exemplo, which means “leading by example,” is another motto of the Marine Corps. Nowhere is this motto more evident at Sgt. Clean’s Car Wash than right in its mission statement: “Our mission at Sgt. Clean’s Car Wash is to provide the highest quality carwash and superior customer service while serving as positive role models in our communities.”
According to Krusz, this company’s team members and the training they receive are what make it unique. Sgt. Clean’s Car Wash employs over 60 people, and each person is hired based on certain “intangible” characteristics.
“We want [our team members] to be polite, humble, happy, energetic, fun-loving, caring [and] nurturing — and those are the people that we find,” Krusz asserts. “We can teach them all the skills and everything that they need to know later. We can’t teach how to care for somebody, how to smile — all those intangibles that are very, very important to us.”
This company believes in establishing rapport and relationships between team members and customers. To that end, Sgt. Clean’s even puts short profiles of its site managers online as a way for customers and distributors to see beyond the “employee” persona. Furthermore, the company keeps every pay station manned so that every customer is greeted with a smile and a handshake.
“This is a big family, and we treat it as a big family and take care of everyone. To be a good steward of relationships is knowing the person as well as their likes and dislikes as well as just being involved,” Krusz notes.
Training and marketing are two of the most vital aspects to Sgt. Clean’s Car Wash, according to Krusz.
“Marketing our brand is important, so it’s always top of mind for us. It goes back to the mission statement of being role models in our community. We want to make sure we hire and train the right people, so they are acting as role models and not leaving the facility and turning into knuckleheads and then coming back the next day and everything’s good,” Krusz states.
Recognizing that people today need help, feedback and criticism, Sgt. Clean’s has implemented a training regimen since day one, but as of about eight months ago, it brought on a corporate trainer to help facilitate the process.
To begin, Sgt. Clean’s has a four-day onboarding process. For the first three days, new team members are learning kinesthetically “in the classroom” by watching videos, holding open discussions and doing a little on-the-job training by observing other employees. On the fourth day, the training is more hands-on, where the new recruits are sent out to both greet customers using the proper techniques they’ve learned and load vehicles for a while; then, they step back and watch the others go through the same steps.
What follows is a 90-day period of ongoing training involving the site manager, assistant site manager, corporate trainer and, most importantly, the new team members themselves. Krusz wants his team members to take initiative by teaching themselves, so Sgt. Clean’s provides new team members with a packet of learning materials that they will need to review on their own time.
After the 90-day period is up, the new members become certified Sgt. Clean’s sales advisers. The company gives them certificates and holds a little ceremony as a recognition of jobs well done.
But, the training doesn’t end there. Every month, Sgt. Clean’s holds a sales summit. In addition to having a fun aspect to the meeting, such as ordering pizza and playing a game, there is also a training aspect. Sgt. Clean’s tries to have everyone walk away from the summit having learned something tangible and intangible. For instance, a tangible take-away may be learning how to greet properly, and an intangible one may be learning what perception means to customers. In this way, Krusz says, “They’re growing themselves as leaders and individuals.”
Sgt. Clean’s has sought to change the face of carwashing, and it all has to do with image. For instance, to combat the image of a dirty, unkempt site that still perpetuates the professional carwashing industry in some circles, Sgt. Clean’s shows off a clean, brightly lit facility. The carwash also invests in some of the latest technology, but perhaps more importantly, it keeps up with the equipment by undergoing constant maintenance.
Another way the company seeks to change customers’ perceptions of the industry begins, naturally, with the team members. Having these team members in uniform and energetically greeting customers is just part of the way the company provides a superior customer experience, which in turn drives loyalty. Of course, another aspect of the customer experience most certainly comes from a Marines mantra that Krusz repeats to his team members constantly: “Integrity, integrity, integrity. Do the right thing, even if no one’s looking.”
This carwash also inspires repeat visits by offering both an unlimited carwash program and a loyalty program. Using the Thanx app, customers can log in, and for every five washes they purchase, they get a free $20 Platinum Wash. Both unlimited plan customers and pay-as-you-go customers can join the loyalty program to receive perks.
“So, unlimited plan members are twice as loyal and pay-go customers are loyal, because they’re going to earn perks with us … and the icing on the cake is all of our team members providing a great service experience and making customers happy. That’s a perfect triangle, I guess you’d say,” Krusz concludes.
The company has been so successful in providing this perfect triangle of experience that it has been named the “Best Car Wash” on the Cleveland Hot List from 2016 to 2018.
Our nation recently celebrated Veterans Day on Nov. 11th. However, every day should be a day to celebrate those who have served. As such, Professional Carwashing & Detailing would like to thank Krusz and all veterans and active-duty military in the carwash industry for their service to our country. We salute you.