Seventeen years ago Cathy Hemp pulled out the newspaper and flipped to the job section. Skimming through the ads, she came across a posting for a Clean Car Club Coordinator.
“It sounded interesting, so I applied and got the job,” she said. “I started out as the only person in the Clean Car Club Department doing a lot of administration, data entry and customer service.”
Waterway’s Clean Car Club was an early model of current day loyalty and unlimited wash clubs. As the growth of technology has enabled more efficient operation and marketing of these programs, it’s created space for people like Cathy Hemp to expand in her career.
Today, Hemp is a Marketing Manager and the team now has two full time members around the customer service side of the Clean Car Club plus a marketing staff member focused on loyalty programs.
“I am learning all the time,” Hemp said. “After so many years you’d think that you’d hit a point where it doesn’t challenge you anymore. I’ve never hit that point. That growth is really important to me and that is what brings me back every day.”
Spend a little time at one of the 26 Waterway locations across the United States, and you’ll experience a similar vibe with the employees you interact with. The culture that started for the company in Missouri in 1970 has been successfully expanded to include five states.
“It’s the biggest challenge of growth and we are very deliberate about our pace of growth to help make sure that we’re managing and controlling that culture,” said Vice President of Operations Shaun Nordgaarden.
For example, when Waterway embarked on its expansion into the Chicago market, it transplanted 13 employees from its other locations to help the company find and attract the right talent and then teach and coach to its core values. “That’s our North Star,” Nordgaarden said. “Those 13 people who were willing to move and uproot their lives and move to Chicago are instrumental in carrying our culture through the company. That’s what helps us understand how to make decisions and to teach other people.”
According to CEO and President Bob Dubinsky, much of this work begins at the talent acquisition part of the process. “We have a very clear sense of the candidate profile and the candidate who is most likely to be successful,” Dubinsky said. “We put a lot of effort into finding those people, telling them about the opportunity, and doing what we can to bring them in.”
In a tight labor market, it can be difficult to pass on potential hires. Dubinsky said part of the success is in knowing who not to hire.
“There’s a secret about the experience for the team member where highly capable, high-performing, highly engaged people want to really only work around people who have that same approach,” he said. “If we’re taking chances and hiring people who maybe this isn’t quite the right place for them, then those tend to be people who, who kind of lose their sense of commitment and engagement to their work.”
Once you have the right people on board, the real fun begins. For Waterway, that means creating an environment for its people to develop and grow. “Our history has told us that it’s the right way to be,” Nordgaarden said. “Focusing on people and your talent and having it be a strong environment and a positive place for them to be helps connect them to your mission and what it is that you’re trying to accomplish.”
Waterway Market Leader for Chicago, Jason Young, has been with the company for 18 years, and has experienced that personal development both as a recipient early on, and now as someone who’s helping others develop. “The support I had from my superiors was incredible and I was aware of all the possibilities there were by staying at this awesome company,” Young said. “Now I feel like a coach and a teacher. We help teach people how to run this business and take care of customers.”
At the end of the day, for Waterway, it all comes back to the company’s core values, all centered around the people that they attract and the core tenet of equipping team members with the knowledge they need to be empowered to run the business. “We give our managers the autonomy to run their locations like they’re their own business and we give them freedom to make decisions,” Nordgaarden said. “We have a framework and this kind of structure, but then there’s a lot of freedom within that framework to make decisions. And that helps create that connection.”
That’s how you end up with stories like Ryan Barnes. Barnes is a territory manager for Waterway and in an effort to keep driving home company values, he took on a pet project. Instead of the full sheet that lists out the company values, he wanted a way to reward behavior in the moment.
So he created small cards, the size of a business card, each one with one of the company values on it. When someone spots behavior exhibiting one of the values, they get a card in that moment. “I took a batch of these cards back with me and shared them and now everybody is asking Ryan to order more cards,” Nordgaarden said.