The Key to Retaining Employees through a Car Wash Acquisition, from an Experienced Wash Consultant
If you’re transitioning assets and/or looking toward investing in the Car Wash game, here are
some observations I’ve made that may assist you. While consulting for washes in this position,
I’ve noticed patterns of resistance from employees held over from the previous owner. While
I’m all about training and using who you have, I have to admit, the glaring evidence leads me to believe that unless you have a STRONG General Manager, your best option may be to clean house and hire fresh. It burdens me to say that, but I’ll explain.
Resistance to change isn’t a 1 on 1 battle. Here’s how it usually works. Let’s say you want to transition to “Monthly Plans”, or “No Prep”. While your research and plan may show this is the direction you want to go, and while initial reaction from your leaders who came with the purchase acknowledge they will do it, if they don’t buy in 100% (and most won’t), here’s what is likely to happen.
First, they will gossip with the other employees, obviously this will poison the waters of the whole organization, reduce buy in further, and now you’re trying to convince them all.
Next they will gossip to the customers about the “new owners”. Think about it, they have
relationship with the customers. This will as above, further undermine you, your business, your
plan, and it will be easy for customers to feel the new “Corporate Guys” have ruined their
favorite wash. I have seen employees buy in 100%, but it’s rare and takes a mature yet open to change Mentality. Lack of buy in is dangerous for a few reasons.
The main danger is testing data that will never be accurate. Let me explain. I’ve been to several washes in the past 2 months, and here is a pretty common example. I have been at washes with 200 monthly plans to 2000. Both suffered the same symptoms. The employees weren’t bought in, and would only pitch monthly when a customer asked. They were all convinced that they would be “bugging” the customer if they pitched it. At one of the washes, I had an employee shadow me as I pitched. I sold 7 monthly’s in ONE hour. No pressure (this location had them priced aggressively), No hard sell, No nothing... just offering to every customer who rolled up! Now this employee (young kid) was sold on me, my scripts, and procedures. The older employees who were part of the take over and the “old way”, still not convinced. In fact it will be very hard for them to transition from playing on their phones, to greeting every customer. What does this have to do with lack of buy in? Because if your business, large or small commits 50% to a strategy, you’re never really going to know how it works and if you should continue. You will fail or succeed slowly. As many of you know, it’s better to fail or succeed quickly. That usually only comes with 100% commitment from the team. 100% commitment also enhances the problems early. If you’re ALL committed 100%, if something isn’t right, a quick diagnosis and adjustment can be obvious. A 50% commitment will only lead to murky waters and confusion of what the problem really is. At the end of the day, it comes down to the General Manager and key employees who are going to be there the most hours.
At minimum, I’d strongly consider change at the top, IF you purchased an under-performing wash, as I have observed the opposite effect from acquisition of a well performing wash. The GM position by far is where I’m noticing the most resistance to change, and them being the gatekeeper of hours and emotional well being of the whole organization, is the 1st real concern you should have. The one caveat is, you also don’t want a yes man. You need a strong leader, willing to have tough conversations with you the owner, and challenge you when it’s proper and for the well being of the business as a whole. If you are committing to make major changes in your wash, recently purchased, or even one you’ve owned for a while, it’s rare for an individual leader to shift gears who has “done this for 15 years”. As unfortunate as it is, I’d consider transitioning them somewhere else and starting fresh. Total buy in is the key.
Jason Hayes, Leadership Industries, email@example.com