Earlier this year, the Professional Carwashing & Detailing team asked our readers to once again submit nominations for our annual Most Valuable Carwasher (MVC) award, which has recognized the top carwash employees for over 20 years.
Although we received an array of highly qualified nominees for our 25th MVC, one clear winner stood out to our editors as the perfect example of what it means to truly be the most valuable player on a winning carwashing team.
The PC&D team is thrilled to present the 2016 MVC award to Jose Luis Cruz, a site manager who embodies the qualities needed to be a true leader in this industry.
Out of the vacuum
Cruz started his carwashing journey more than 20 years ago when the former site manager at Splash Car Wash’s Greenwich location, Luis Vargas, asked if Cruz wanted to work that coming weekend. “He saw me walking on the street one day, pulled over and asked me if I wanted to work. I worked with him [that] Friday vacuuming cars all day. He [then] asked me if I wanted to work on Saturday, [and] I said sure,” recalls Cruz. “I have been around since.”
Cruz is no stranger to the many different tasks and jobs required to run an effective carwash because he has worked his way up through the ranks, dabbling in a little bit of everything along the way. After being officially hired by Vargas, Cruz started out at Splash Car Wash vacuuming cars; then, he went on to work at the wash’s exit end to wipe down windows.
“From there, I was promoted to cashier in our express tunnel in Greenwich,” says Cruz. “As I was gaining more experience, Luis and then Area Manager Frank Murphy trusted me to become a quality control supervisor.”
Then in 1998 Cruz decided to pursue a different opportunity, but it didn’t take him long to realize his true calling. “I realized after two years what I really wanted to do was continue my career in the car care industry. As I was really close with everybody at Splash still, they offered me an assistant manager position in 2000.”
Shortly after, once again, coming on board as the new assistant manager of the carwash chain’s White Plains location, Cruz became the site manager at the company’s old Darien facility. The decision to promote Cruz to the assistant manager, and then later moving him to his current position, was a no brainer, according to Mark Curtis, CEO of Splash Car Wash and also Cruz’s nominator for this award.
“While he’s always been a conscientious worker, it was pretty clear from early on that Jose was a cut above, always aspiring to take on new roles, learn new aspects of different job positions and help train others,” shares Curtis in his nomination. “This made him an easy target for promotion to assistant site manager and later to the position he now holds.”
Cruz is currently the site manager for Splash Car Wash’s Stamford location, where he handles a vast assortment of tasks, including labor control, expense control, hiring, training, scheduling, chemical ordering, maintenance, customer recovery and off-site marketing, to name a few. Cruz also oversees a wash bay for the local Toyota dealer, for which his location performs all the carwashing and detailing services for the dealership.
“I’ve always been motivated to be the best, get things done immediately and [stay] consistent. The invaluable support of our district managers and human resources helped me achieve all of this,” he asserts.
Throughout his 20-plus years in the carwash industry, Cruz has experienced quite a few memorable moments. In addition to being honored with our coveted 2016 MVC award, his location won the Best of Splash award in 2004. And, he continues to receive high praise from his carwashing superiors, including his nominator Curtis and Dan Petrelle, Splash Car Wash’s director of operations, who also interviewed Cruz for the White Plains assistant manager position back in 2000.
“A year after I was given my first chance as a site manager, in a meeting our director of operations told me, ‘When you were promoted to our Darien wash as a site manager, I was hoping for you to maintain the numbers; you made an immediate impact, improving them significantly in every single category,’” recollects Cruz, a fond memory he has cherished to this day.
Yet, Cruz’s favorite carwashing moment is when he helped steer his location down a profitable new path. “Taking our Stamford location from a $5 exterior carwash and turning it into one of the most successful full-service hand wash and detailing centers must be the [accomplishment] I’m the most proud of,” notes Cruz.
His determination to transform the carwash into a full-service success is not that surprising. In fact, states Curtis, “If you talk to Jose, you’ll quickly realize that he views his position as more than [just] a job. He views his site as his business.”
Leading from the front
Although his skillsets and commitment to the carwash industry are impressive qualities, Cruz is a true MVC because of a far more important attribute. “What makes Jose great is what he does as a leader,” asserts Curtis. “He sets an example for his entire crew to emulate by his work ethic and his rapport with customers.”
He continues, “The mark of a great leader is the success achieved by those [he or she has] led; and in that [regard], Jose has also excelled. Several [members] of his crew have gone on to promoted positions within the company. His location is a great breeding ground for our future managers.”
What’s his secret for success? Well, Cruz says there isn’t one, simply noting: “Hard work pays off.”
To encourage his crew to be victorious, Cruz works alongside his team members, teaching them the proper tools needed to make the job easy and fun while still performing at a high level.
“I’m a jokester. I love to make my guys laugh, and I try to make our work environment as pleasant as possible,” explains Cruz, adding that he doesn’t hold back when it comes to educating his employees.
“My assistant manager is learning everything I know. I don’t want him to be as successful as I am. I want him to be more successful than [I am] and get his own site at some point,” states Cruz. “It feels really good when someone you work with gets a promotion.”
To help his employees achieve promotions, Cruz says it’s imperative to keep them informed. “Communication is a must. I explain why I do things, and why we do things, a certain way,” asserts Cruz. “I share what our goals are. If they understand where I want to go, they will help me get there. We’ll also have cookouts often, even in the cold New England winter. We are all a big family.”
Cruz’s infectious personality and ability to boost morale isn’t limited to only his crew. He has developed strong relationships within the local community as well.
Cruz reaches the local community in a variety of ways, such as through cross-promoting with area businesses.
For instance, he has maintained relationships with lease managers and concierges of various apartment buildings in the area, who will inform their tenants of any promotions and discounts running at his location. Likewise, Cruz has established relationships with property managers in town, which he says has proven to be very beneficial to his location’s detail center.
“Having connections and great relationships with local business owners allows you to reach out to their customer base by leaving coupons or posting promotional material,” notes Cruz. “We always want to be in good terms with all area businesses. This way, they can give people a great reference when they ask about the best place to wash or detail their cars.”
In addition to partnering with local businesses, Cruz launched the “new customer program” at his Stamford location to help maintain a strong customer base. Customers who are not currently part of the wash’s rewards program are asked if it’s their first time visiting the carwash. If they say yes, Splash Car Wash makes sure to give them an extra warm welcome. The carwash will also note when it’s a new customer on his or her wash ticket, which will then be posted on the customer’s car window. “This way everybody on the property knows it’s a new customer and [to] go the extra mile to have [him or her] become a [regular] customer — moreover a rewards member,” adds Cruz.
Customer retention is a huge priority for any business, but it’s especially important to Cruz who says his customers are the lifeblood to his carwash. “Finding new ways to [provide] better, quicker [service] is our mission,” he declares. “Helping out our community, I feel, is something we owe to [the local residents]. Thanks to them, we are able to operate a great business in our beautiful town.”
Running various promotions and customer retention programs aren’t the only ways Cruz and his crew strive to reach their community. They get involved in several different local events each year, such as spring cleaning efforts in the surrounding neighborhoods, planting flowers in spring and by hosting fundraisers for local schools and nonprofit organizations.
“When I see something different on TV or at another business, I always try to figure a way to apply it to my own [business] to better serve my customers,” he continues. “It’s a continuous effort to keep, and increase, our customer base — and to keep them happy [so they want to come back].”
When you put it all together, it becomes vividly clear why Cruz was nominated for, and selected as, this year’s MVC. He exemplifies what it means to be a leader in not only the carwash industry, but also in life: passion, perseverance, drive, an inspiring team mentality and a strong sense of community.
And, when we asked his nominator where he sees Cruz in the next five years, Curtis not surprisingly notes more opportunities are likely ahead. “I certainly [see Cruz as] a district manager,” projects Curtis. “I also see him as part of a team that would develop or train in different geographic regions — if Splash were to expand outside of the Connecticut/New York area.”
Check out pictures of Cruz’s Standford location, provided below.
Past MVC award winners
|2015: Mike Hulburt, Autobell Car Wash, Virginia Beach, VA|
|2014: Mark Fox, Cornhusker Auto Wash, Bellevue, NE|
|2013: Elias “Lou” Spellos, Squeeky Clean Mobile Car Wash and Detailing, Virginia Beach, VA|
|2012: José “Joe” Fernandez, Superior Shine in Covina, CA|
|2011: Chad Cornell, Crystal Clean Automotive Detailing, Grand Rapids, MI|
|2010: Sandra Silvestre, Valencia AutoSpa, Valencia, CA|
|2009: Trudy Carlton, Car Pool LLC, Mechanicsville, VA|
|2008: Shawn Stevens, Adirondack Car Wash, Queensbury, NY|
|2007: Aaron Rusbuldt, Shur-Kleen Car Wash, Lacey, WA|
|2006: Juan Avila, Splash Car Wash, Wilton, CT|
|2005: Brian Daigle, Willimantic Car Wash, Willimantic, CT|
|2004: Bob Handt, Mister Car Wash, Roseville, MN|
|2003: Gary Pendleton, Wilshire West Car Wash, Santa Monica, CA|
|2002: Casey Bowmaster, Champion Car Wash, Trevose, PA|
|2001: Roman Zelek, Koziol Car Wash, Chicago|
|2000: Darold Evans, Sandwich Car Wash, Sandwich, MA|
|1999: Marcel Vargas, Splash Car Wash, Norwalk, CT|
|1998: Clifford Mitchell, Bebo’s Car Wash, Mobile, AL|
|1997: Chalmers “Lefty” Jackson, Jax Kar Wash Inc., Southfield, MI|
|1996: Michael Garrison, Beaverton Car Wash, Beaverton, OR; and Marjorie E. McNeil, Clarkston Auto Wash Co., Clarkson, MI|
|1995: Jose Ruiz, Auto Valet Car Wash, Trenton, NJ|
|1994: G. Walker “Paul” Calisme, Exit 13 Car Wash, Darien, CT|
|1993: Mark Ellis, Soft Touch Express Wash, Valparaiso, IN|
|1992: Gary L. Daily, Happy Wheels Inc., Wilmington, DE|
|1991: Norris Brown, Weiss Guys Car Wash, Phoenix, AZ|