By Lindsey Quick
For those in the car wash industry, the hiring and talent retention situation is no different. However, organizations across the car wash industry have found effective strategies for attracting and retaining top talent, despite this challenging environment.
While there are a number of reasons for the shortage of workers, the result is the same: sourcing good talent is difficult, making it more important than ever to retain great employees.
Megan Lynch, human resources director of talent management for Acuity Healthcare Partners, said jobseekers today have the upper hand. “With this labor shortage, I’ve seen candidates with multiple job offers,” Lynch said. “Candidates can be choosy, and they are in the driver’s seat when it comes to negotiating.”
Identifying great talent and encouraging new and existing employees alike to stick around requires going above and beyond.
“There is a lot of variability when it comes to what job seekers are looking for at work,” said Ashley Houle, CPSR, a talent acquisition supervisor for Hollstadt Consulting. “In a world post-COVID, many jobseekers are looking for flexibility, fair wages, respect from employers and companies that value their employees. To attract great talent, companies need to stand out and show prospective employees why it would be beneficial to work there over the competition.”
Getting Creative With Recruitment
Soapy Joe’s, with 14 locations across San Diego County in California, has turned to local organizations to help source candidates while also promoting what makes their organization unique in order to attract quality candidates.
“We had to get very surgical in our recruiting efforts,” said Megan Ragsdale, chief operating officer of development at Soapy Joe’s. “We thought about how we could cast a wider net in looking for people who would be great fits, but perhaps come from less traditional backgrounds. We partnered with key community nonprofits, the military and other local advocacy groups to make recruiting talented people – who are in essence prequalified – easy and efficient.”
While these partnerships have made a difference, Soapy Joe’s still has competition. According to Ragsdale, that’s when the company’s uniqueness as an employer becomes so important. “We are certainly competing with big box competitors like Amazon, so we really trumpet what makes us a standout employer: our culture, our advancement opportunities and our values,” she said.
Dan Eisenhauer, chief people officer at Express Wash Concepts, whose brands include Flying Ace Express Car Wash, Moo Moo Express Car Wash, Clean Express Auto Wash, Meyers Auto Wash and Green Clean Express Auto Wash, said his organization has had to pivot within its strategy as well.
“There’s a definite need for additional planning, a more significant time commitment, dedicated personnel and increased financial resources than ever before to ensure you attract and hire the caliber of employees you need,” Eisenhauer said. Putting up signs, running job board ads and social posts can have an impact, but organizations have to be more strategic in their search and try new approaches, partner with new organizations and take some risks – all of which can pay off significantly.
“Personal communication with trade schools, colleges, churches and community organizations is still one of the most effective strategies for finding quality candidates and future leaders,” he said.
At Express Wash Concepts, there’s also a focus on referrals from current team members. “We continually encourage the entire team to help in the recruiting effort,” said Eisenhauer. “While today’s recruiting environment definitely has its challenges, our success stems from a team approach where everyone assists in the search and recruitment effort. And offering referral bonuses never hurts, either.”
The hiring process is an organization’s opportunity to not only fill a position, but also to find new team members who will fit in on the team and want to grow with the company.
Ragsdale said that Soapy Joe’s is focused on hiring right, rather than fast. “We spent a long time aligning on what ‘great’ looks like in every single role by cross-functionally building competencies addressing soft skills in addition to job duties,” Ragsdale said. “We push ourselves to proactively recruit, to have a strong succession plan and talent development model, and to broaden our perspectives on the skills required at each job. With all that we offer, it makes it easy to sell people on why they want to travel on their career journey with us.”
Lynch agrees that hiring just to hire isn’t a strong long-term solution. “An approach that leads to a rush to hire usually results in higher turnover, a lack of employee engagement and likely low productivity,” she said. Instead, she suggests a model similar to Express Wash Concepts and Soapy Joe’s: leverage the culture and lean on current employees to refer talented individuals similar to themselves. “If your organization offers unique benefits, like access to a gym, catered lunches, retirement employer match contributions and flexible schedules, that will make you more attractive to today’s jobseekers,” she said. She also stressed the importance of promoting opportunities for internal advancement and mobility.
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of applicants recently, but that also brings a greater number of people who are not a good fit,” said John Sproul, hiring and training director at Camel Express Car Wash, which has three locations in the Nashville, Tenn., area. “We don’t let ourselves compromise our standards just to get a body to fill a spot. We know that a bad hire can cost the company anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000, depending on how long they are with us. It boils down to being picky when we hire.”
Retaining the Best
It’s not enough to attract and hire quality employees – retaining them is essential. It has become a delicate balance of understanding what employees need – and delivering on those promises – while also being aware of what’s happening with the competition. To find the right balance, many organizations are focused on what they can control: development and mobility within the company, company culture and pay. In today’s market, some aspects, especially pay, can be a moving target.
“We try to keep pace with $1 more per hour than our nearby competition, which includes places like Walmart and Fred Meyer,” said Jason Woodward, owner/operator at Sudzy Salmon, who has three wash locations in Alaska. “We’ve always done that, but in the last year, that number has increased by about 15 to 20%.”
Ragsdale said Soapy Joe’s has taken a similar approach to remaining competitive financially.
“Competition in the market for talent is fierce so we doubled down on our efforts to retain our top talent,” Ragsdale said. “One of our most innovative strategies was to offer stay bonuses to our hourly employees to demonstrate our appreciation for the value they bring.”
The company also adjusted the timeline for their annual review, bonus and compensation cycle so team members could enjoy the fruits of their labor sooner, and improved their benefits package, including offering leave of absence, a quality wellness program and a personal floating holiday.
Culture and Development
While compensation is important, for many employees today, it’s also about so much more. Sproul said that what candidates are looking for in a new job has shifted. “Pay is still important, but it may not be as important as it was two years ago,” he said. “Now the focus is on benefits and how the company takes care of their employees. We’ve noticed that new employees are less likely to stick around if they don’t enjoy the job right away, so we focus on making a personal connection with employees as soon as possible to start building that relationship.”
Part of that relationship-building between the employee and the organization is ensuring employees know there is a path for development. At Camel, they make it as obvious as possible. “We have a career path poster in the breakroom at each location,” Sproul said. “Consistent feedback is also key – that comes in the form of monthly team meetings and regular performance reviews.”
Ragsdale shared that Soapy Joe’s has a strong reward and recognition program, offers a clear path to leadership and invests in a personal development budget, which covers skill-building experiences inside and outside the company. “The best way to retain your best employees is to spend most of your time working with, coaching, mentoring and supporting them,” Ragsdale said.
Sudzy Salmon also has a robust development program for its employees, including career visioning and weekly manager meetings where site managers share how they’re developing their teams. The organization also invests in training. “We are not afraid to spend money on developing our people,” Woodward said. “We fly them to The Car Wash Show and other sites to learn new things they can bring back. We believe constant development of the base is important.”
Woodward stressed that they also provide a strong benefits package that includes work flexibility and a solid company culture. “We keep things fun and flexible,” said Woodward. “We hire a lot of young adults and first-time employees. We pride ourselves in developing the workforce of tomorrow. Promoting someone to a new opportunity in our company is just as important as helping an employee realize their dreams with an awesome resume bullet.”
Creating and sustaining that company culture is so important, said Express Wash Concepts’ Eisenhauer.
“Truly getting to know your employees, their passions, interests and goals will make a significant difference in retaining your team members,” Eisenhauer said. “Building a positive and caring culture that fairly sets the proper expectations first, then helps develop and grow each individual through strategic coaching, advanced training and education while valuing their opinions and feedback is essential as well.”
Operating a business in today’s climate is incredibly challenging, forcing businesses of all sizes and across all industries to adapt. Finding and retaining high quality talent is one piece of that intricate puzzle. “I wish I had the secret strategy to hiring and retaining talent during this challenging job market,” Lynch said. “What I can recommend is that organizations dig deep and find what makes their company special – what your employees value and love about coming to work – and emphasize that.” By being creative in finding talent, ensuring a positive candidate experience and offering a culture of support, growth and competitive pay, organizations are finding success in filling their talent bench.