How One Car Wash Wins the Twin Battles Quality and Productivity

The Princess and I headed to town last Wednesday. As you may know, we live in Florida on a Gulf Coast island. There are about 900 residents on this little slice of paradise. Living on an island means that a trip to town is a bit of an undertaking. Once we get across the big bridge to the mainland, it’s a 45 minute drive to reach any significant burb. One quickly learns to include several destinations and errands in every trip to town.

Last Wednesday’s trip was no exception. We planned for a doctor’s appointment, a stop at the grocery store and a car wash. The car wash is a special place. The quality is beyond compare. It’s worth the extra bit of drive time.

The staff at this place is like most other car washes. The workforce is a team of high school and college folks working for minimum wage and tips. Like other car washes, it’s a production line. Cars in. Cars out. The more cars that get washed every hour, the more tips the team makes. In most cases this means quality suffers as quantity increases.

Not so at my favorite car wash.

Sit back and watch the five member team in action – I did. An example of first-class small group task management is revealed.

All the team members are cross trained. For example, the person that vacuums the interior also knows how to clean streak free windows and how to apply that shiny stuff to tires. The team follows the car from arrival to finish. They collect the payment, power wash bugs off the front end. They load the car into the automatic wash lane. They swam over the car as it exits. Each team member tackles their assigned task. Cleaning glass in and out. Exterior hand drying, vacuuming interior, scrubbing floor mats and more. If a team member completes their assignment before another, they move in to help that team member. Cross training yields productivity gains. Pooled tips assure cooperation for maximum productivity.

Meanwhile, the team manager a fellow easily twice the average age of the team, is hands-on in the middle of the action. He’s catching a stray drop of water or streaked window. He’s cheerleading the team and coaching those that fall behind. This manager is leading by example while working with the team. When he judges the car is complete, the team manager does a walk around final inspection. He then presents the car to its owner. Any concerns are remedied at once by the team manager.

A stand alone, one off car wash is impressive to watch.

A production line of this coordinated effort is amazing.

Here’s the choreography in action:

  1. Car #1 is in the Finishing Station
  2. Car #2 arrives. The team leaves Car #1, preps Car #2, collects the fee and sends Car #2 into the automatic wash lane.
  3. The team returns to the Finishing Station and completes Car #1.
  4. Car #2 exits the automatic wash lane and moves to the Finishing Station where the team goes to work.
  5. Car #3 arrives and the process repeats.

Winning Elements:

  • Teamwork
  • Cross training
  • Management direct participation
  • Overlapping workflow
  • Shared reward for successful completion

How does your car wash or work group compare?

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