The Quality Car Wash story was first revealed to me at a local chamber event when the business received a small business award. I have since become a frequent guest at one of their locations, and after hearing Mandi talk about their culture, I have seen firsthand how it translates to their team members. Their car wash team is always warm and kind.
When it came time to think of leaders to share their wisdom, I thought of Mandi. She graciously agreed, and I am excited to share her thoughts with you.
Mandi has also just been awarded Small Business Person of the Year for 2018 by the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce. In accepting her award, Mandi brought up all the people from her team to share a little about the company and help everyone get to know the organization from some different perspectives. I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to Mandi and everyone at Quality Car Wash for this well-deserved recognition.
Q: Tell us a little about the beginning. When did you start your business? Why did you decide to start it? What vision or goals did you have for your business in the beginning?
We are a third-generation business that was started by my grandfather and great uncle in 1969. They were entrepreneurs who already ran a bowling alley and saw the need in the community for a car wash. Innovation is a big part of what we pride ourselves on, and it really started at the beginning.
Before building their car wash, Grandpa watched the process at other businesses. In those days, a car wash was just a pull-in stall that you had to back out of when you were done. He realized how inconvenient it was for the customer, so when they built their first location, he removed the end wall and put in a garage door to create a drive-thru car wash. Even then, he was focused on the customer experience. My father joined the business and really became the innovator around the technology we use in our car washes. When you drive through, you see round arches. These were my father’s innovations, and you can find his innovations at car washes globally. Both my grandfather and father are still involved in the business.
From the beginning, my grandpa used a pretty simple phrase to guide everyone: “Be kind.” It wasn’t a fancy vision or mission statement, but it started everyone being focused on treating people the right way, and that continues today. The other key concepts that we have formalized over the years are warm, friendly service and an exceptional guest experience. Personally, I have grown to see the business as my personal-mission field, and see our business as a tangible way I can serve others.
Q: When did the culture of your business become a focus for you? What were some of the first things you remember doing to start focusing on culture?
From the day our grandpa started talking about “Be kind,” it has been the heart of our business. In the years since the business started, we have added definition around our culture. One of the transforming events for us was the purchase of two new locations in 2012. At the time, I had just joined the company and we only had three locations. We were suddenly faced with having to integrate new teams into our culture and hire new people into locations that were not as close to our original locations. This helped focus our energy into defining our culture and being very intentional about building it at all our locations.
This resulted in us formalizing our hiring process, bringing all of the teams together for Rally Nights twice a year, creating a vision statement, and defining our values. Our vision is: “Enriching Life, Adding Value, and Serving Communities.” Our core values are centered around the acronym, “WE OWN IT!”
- Wow Factor
- Exceptional Guest Experience
- Outstanding Team Work
- Winning Attitudes
- Never-Ending Pursuit of Excellence
- Immediate Call to Action
Q: Would you share three successes and one failure in your journey of establishing a great culture in your business?
The first success we have had is to integrate our culture into the hiring process so that we are bringing on new team members who are the right people for our organization. We implemented a four-step interview process that starts with a phone call, moves into a first interview and tour of one of our locations, a personality profile, and a final interview to ensure that the future team member and management both see the match. All new hires also go through an onboarding process where our culture is a big focus. These steps have really transformed our ability to hire the right people and get them making positive contributions to our culture from their first day on the job.
The second success is focusing on doing all the steps in our hiring process, especially when time-pressure to hire someone creates situations where people want to skip steps. The talent shortage we are operating in has created that pressure, and I really watch for this and remind our leaders that we can do steps quickly and efficiently if needed, but skipping them is not an option. That discipline is hard to maintain, but it has really helped us in continuing to get the right people, even in this labor market.
The third success is Rally, which is an all-company event that happens twice a year. We hold one in the summer where we have had an Olympics competition, speakers, team-building and talent shows. We always share the vision and have a meal together. Our other traditional Rally event is held at Christmas. We are a much bigger company now, and these events help us feel smaller because team members get to know each other and meet people from other facilities. The other benefit is the training we can provide each of our team members. We focus on topics that they can use at work and at home. I love the stories we get back from them on how things they learned at work have impacted their life outside of work.
The one failure was a realization that if you went out into our business today, I don’t think all of our team members know what the exact values are behind “We Own It.” The lesson we have learned is that it’s easy to get bored after repeating the same information. We got to a point where we assumed everyone knew it. Since that realization, we have gone back to do a better job of making our core values visual everywhere and reviewing them often with our team members.
Q: How would I see your culture in action if I walked through your business today?
When you walk into any of our facilities I would expect you to be welcomed and feel a warmth in our business. You should also meet team members who are helpful and appreciative.
Q: As a leader of a growing and dynamic business, how do you personally monitor the health of the culture?
On an ongoing basis, we meet with 10-person focus groups each summer to get their input on a variety of topics like marketing, our fundraising program, and operations. It’s a great way to help them inform us on ideas that could help us improve as a business, and we get time to just listen to our team members. This has proven to be both helpful and energizing for our leadership team.
We also do quarterly reviews for everyone in which each team member must answer three questions. We roll the answers up across the organization and review them as a leadership team. This helps us to keep a pulse on the business, because we know everyone is getting feedback from their manager quarterly, and we get to pause to see what messages our teams are sending us through the questions we ask.
Another thing I personally watch is which teams are getting volunteers for their extra projects. We offer extra hours for team members to come in outside of their scheduled shift and do things like replace carpet in a dining area, painting, and other projects that help us keep our facilities in great shape. Volunteering to fill an extra shift for a special project is a great measure of engagement. I can look at the lists of people who sign up (or don’t) and tell you which facilities might have a culture issue that needs to be addressed.
I also do a lot of management by walking around. I make time to be in every operation biweekly and use that time to talk to people and just observe team members and interactions with our guests. One thing I look for is body language, another good indicator of engagement. I also listen to responses to guests, and expect to hear warmth and kindness. It’s a great time for me to personally catch people doing something right, and to model and remind people of the behaviors we expect that create a great guest experience.
This past summer, we also hired an intern to have conversations with more than half of our people around the health of our culture and to get input on what we could do to make Quality a better place to work. The survey provided us with valuable feedback on what was working and a few things that we needed to change.
Q: What final wisdom or advice would you share with a leader that wants to create healthier culture in their own business? Are there any people you follow who have been a source of inspiration or guidance?
Creating a great culture takes grit. You have to commit to repeating yourself often and leading by example. In the journey, it’s also important to recognize your team for every positive step they make in living it out each day with their teammates and our guests.
We believe in training our leaders. In 2018, we sent 41 people to watch the Global Leadership Summit from Willow Creek Association. We also frequently use the learning events through our local chamber (Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce) and share books from Zig Ziglar and John Maxwell.
Thank you, Mandi, for sharing your wisdom and experience around culture and how to intentionally sustain and grow it as a business opens multiple locations.
If you live in West Michigan and want to learn more about the people at Quality Car Wash, visit one of their locations. One of the innovations at a couple of the newer locations is a conveyor for your car as you go through the car wash. It’s very cool! I also want to put in the plug that we are close to the holidays and car wash coupons make great gifts. 😊