High quality doesn’t happen by accident and it doesn’t come for free. Sedona residents are discriminating and quality oriented, whether it be healthy foods, outstanding art and music, leading edge natural wellness practices, and the vehicles they drive. To meet their high quality standards we must do details, not a superficial “light pass” as done by many metro full-service operations. However, we also recognize that our customers’ time is important to them so we strive to produce that quality as quickly as possible.
Debbie and I cut our teeth with the General Electric Company in the days of 6 Sigma. We quickly realized that express detailing is and needs to by managed like a manufacturing operation to obtain consistent quality and minimum times by clearly defining the tasks to be done and then training and supervising effectively.
So we break each of our Express Detail services into discrete tasks and determine the best techniques for accomplishing the task effectively and quickly. We also specify which tools or materials are needed to do the best job, such as a pumice stone for dog hair, or the best solution for cleaning windows, or which type and color of towel to use for the best result and to avoid contamination from other tasks. Then aggressive target time are estimated for each task, then and refined based on actually doing the task repeatedly to see how experience will bring down times.
We also determine in what order the tasks need to be done to avoid interfering with or undermining one done previously. For example, we vacuum after cleaning the console, cup holders, and other parts of the interior to ensure nothing loosened in cleaning is left on the floors or seats.
We know that experience isn’t much good unless you use it to constantly improve, so our team is constantly looking for new techniques to make incremental improvements, because the devil is truly in the details.
Our Silver, Gold, and Platinum express details have 32, 94, and 132 individual tasks to complete fir a sedan, more for an SUV. Individual tasks are things like vacuuming the driver’s floor area or cleaning the inside of the windshield or cleaning out a door pocket.
Our target for Platinum cleaning time is 30 minutes for a sedan in average condition. To put that in perspective, that is under 15 seconds per step. Our Silver and Gold packages have similar short task times to meet their aggressive 10 and 20 minute targets. That is a lot of action to pack into those time so it takes someone who is sharp, attentive, and is an endurance athlete to turn out high quality that fast, much less do it all day long.
We hope you will keep that in mind when you see our line detailers hustling to take good care of your car, and tip them generously. That is an important part of their total compensation and they work a lot faster and harder that servers in most restaurants where tipping is also a norm.
Focus on constant improvements
We are our own worst critics. We are not satisfied that we are doing everything as well as it can be done and never will be, so we continually work hard to improve our times and quality and their consistency. We have found many incremental improvements to do the job faster and better. Little things count, like marking the ticket time and service in large letters on a bright yellow paper on the windshield so supervisors can quickly see how long a vehicle has been in the detail line. Or using a different color paper when floor mats are to be cleaned to be sure they are immediately pulled out to wash up front or the vehicle delivered to the detail bay to be shampooed after the wash, and finally to be sure the person delivering the vehicle to the customer remembers to be sure the mats are all back in the vehicle. Many small changes like this are made constantly and have allowed us to improve both times and quality consistency since opening..
A line worker needs excellent focus and attentiveness to meet quality and time standards, even with well defined procedures. Each type vehicle represents its own unique cleaning challenge, with numerous differences between vehicle interiors. Vehicle conditions and their cleaning challenges very tremendously. When we are busy the pressure is on them to hustle, but when we are not too busy the pressure is on too because that single customer wants his car just as fast whether we are busy or not. Just as in athletics, this takes developing “muscle memory”. The basic steps become automatic and more attention can be focused on the unique challenges in each situation, improving both times and quality. That comes with good supervision, experience and repetition over time.
Restructuring work flow
We have completely restructured the workflow for express details since we opened. We now do them up front adjoining the customer vacuum spaces instead of in the rear. We initially developed this approach with the Sedona police to get their vehicles back on the road very quickly. This dramatically reduced the amount of vehicle movement and allowed for better supervision and teamwork. This led to significant reductions in total times.
Working every step in the process
The actual time completing the detail work itself is only one part of the total elapsed time from when a customer checks in to when they are in their car and driving off the lot. If we are not busy or backed up the rest of the cycle can add around 15 to 20 minutes to cleaning times.
We break the elapsed time into chunks that we can evaluate individually and seek ways to streamline each while ensuring quality. We measure these every day for every vehicle and review results at the end of the day to see how we did and what we learned. Here are the steps and points we measure.
- The time the ticket is written, followed by moving it to the detail spaces up front
- The time the detail is started- the lead punches and initials the ticket, any helpers also initial
- The time the detail is finished and the quality assurance checklist has been completed
- When the detail is inspected, the initials of the inspector
- When the vehicle starts down the tunnel after loading and any prep
- When the ticket is brought into the customer lounge following touching it up at the tunnel exit, parking, re-inspecting and correcting any issues, and carrying out tasks like tire shine and wheel wipes on the exit ramp that must be done after the wash. While time stamps stop then, the key steps continue
- Retrieving customer from café, lounge, or terrace
- Accompanying customer to the vehicle
- Reviewing the quality assurance checklist with the customer to verify the service and ensure the customer is satisfied.
- Correcting any deficiency noted by the customer on the spot.
- Thanking and saying good-bye
At the end of every day we document the elapsed times between each of the 6 steps and in total for every car done that day by type if express detail (eg.Silvers) , including the wash with it, the size vehicle, who did it, any special issues. We review this as a team to see how we did, what we learned, and look for any improvements we can make.
Close supervision and balancing resources
Our operation split with the luxury details being done in the rear work bays and significant activity on the exit ramp. The load in each area changes frequently during the day as vehicle arrivals peak and ebb and have different service requirements. So we constantly need to reallocate personnel between the front and rear, but no one can see both at the same time to see what people are available to move when needed. So we use cameras and monitors. There are 32 high definition cameras spread around the inside and the outside of the property, over half intended to provide a view of all key work areas, the rest mainly interior and for security. Three monitors, one in the rear, one at the cashier, and one in the greeter’s area, show the 16 work areas to help supervise and allocate resources, and all 32 cameras can also be seen in real time on Bill and Debbie’s smart phones if they are off the property.
Influences we don’t control
We wish we had control over all the things that determine our completion times, but we don’t. There are a number of factors with big impacts on times that we don’t control.
- How busy we are. The timing of arrivals is a huge factor. It seems like telepathy sometimes, but it can be quiet for some time and then a whole swarm cars come in close together and overwhelm us. The carwash business comes in fits and spurts during the day, dead one minute and a line of cars the next. Just like the tables in a restaurant, when there is a rush the bays can get full and the start of service may be delayed, or there may be a line waiting to get into the tunnel as cars are loaded and prepped properly, delaying getting to the bays at all. Unfortunately, this sometimes can extend total times for the larger services to an hour or more. Therefore we encourage people come in at typically less busy times like early morning or late afternoon, or for larger services to schedule them with us so we can be ready for them and start quickly.
- The mix of detailing work underway ahead of you. Silvers are one thing, all Platinum’s are another. Actual hands-on cleaning times on Platinums are almost three times as long as silvers. Each level of detail adds a lot of additional cleaning and conditioning, determining when a slot might open up.
- How dirty the vehicles ahead are makes a big difference. Dirty vehicles obviously take longer to detail so they tie up a bay longer and reduce the speed at which we can take. Significant mud has to be cleaned off vehicles by hand before entering the tunnel or mud can be spewed around the tunnel and affect cars behind them. It’s not just the time to get it off the vehicle, but the time to get it off the floor and into the pit so it won’t get on tires and possibly be spread elsewhere. That extra time is also why we charge more, plus we later have to shovel it up in the pit, put it in bags, and carry it off rather than let it go down the sewer.
- The size of vehicles ahead of you makes a big difference detailing times since it ties up a bay longer than a smaller vehicle. See size matters. Like a 5000 square foot house with 11 foot high windows versus a 3500 square foot house with 8 foot windows, it’s a lot more square feet to clean and takes longer and costs more.
While there is much we don’t control that determines are service times, we’ve found that being able to give a reasonable estimate of how long it will take is almost as important as the length of time itself. That allows a customer to decide to return later for the detail, or doing a lesser detail, or making arrangement to have lunch or do errands in the meantime. This is difficult because much of the detail work is in the rear where the greeter can’t see. Up until recently we relied on radioing back and forth to find out the situation in the rear. However, now the greeter has the 16 camera monitor mentioned above to see where things stand in the detail area. The greeter now has a constant live picture of the situation and only needs to get someone on the radio to pin down any specific details, and thus can give the customer a faster and better idea of expected times. We are also working with our POS vendor to get more specific information to the greeter on how close each vehicle is to completion at any given time in order to improve the accuracy of our estimates.
Developing a core team
Repetition is a huge factor in developing any skill, because the biggest factor in improving performance is practice- consistently doing a task the right way again and again for an extended period of time. It’s like any sport, whether it be martial arts, golf, or tennis. Practice makes perfect.
However, the “right way” is itself is a moving target. The more you do something and pay attention while you are doing it the more you learn little ways to do it better. So the whole team is continually looking for and finding ways to make incremental improvements in the way we do things.
It may look simple from the outside, but there is a lot to learn for someone doing either our express detail packages or our luxury detailing because we have invested in the best equipment there is to do each task we do. For example, there are almost 20 different kinds of specialized brushes, sponges, and other cleaning tools they must learn how to use and what to use them for. There are a half dozen different buffers and polishers, a sophisticated carpet extractor, and many kinds of treatment products that need to be used properly and just for the right application. The loader’s job also takes special skill and training to do an excellent job hand prepping our Platinum wash but not duplicating what the tunnel equipment will do just as well anyway and thus delaying the customer unnecessarily. We’ve got the prep times down to 2 minutes or less and the result of the combo treatment is better than a hand wash due to the purified water, the undercarriage wash, and the clearcoat, RainX, and Carnauba wax treatents, for a fraction of the cost and time. The technology behind the many treatments and types of equipment in our tunnel is the most advanced there is today, and a number of our workers must know how to operate it and also have enough understanding of it to know how to respond to any unusual situations that might come up.
It all depends on finding people that have what it takes in the first place and then keeping them long enough to build their experience and effectiveness.
Express detailing, loading, and catching cars at the end of the tunnel are athletic events that is physically demanding while taking constant concentration. It’s not just an hour or two sporting event a few times a week. It’s often a ten hour day with a few breaks in between; and it continues day after day, six days a week for a small team. Developing a core team is always difficult in work as challenging and demanding as this is. The workers that can keep up this pace tend to be young and their lives are often unsettled. Furthermore, it is not just about their physical abilities- they must also meet the personal standards of our guiding principles, CAPTAN, to be effective for their teammates and for our customers. The car wash industry is notorious for high turnover for these reasons.
We just started in October 2014. We had to hire all new, documented employees. All had to be trained from scratch, Obviously, performance varied. We’ve continued hiring, training, and developing people, so we are gradually evolving toward a core team of solid performers who can also mentor new hires. We’ve are encouraged by our strides so far since we recognize developing this team takes time and lots of effort in a new business as complex as ours is.
Making your wait as comfortable, pleasant, and productive as possible
Since some waiting is necessary no matter how fast we are, we do our best to make waiting as comfortable, pleasant, and productive as possible. Our major renovation of customer areas was aimed at that, as described in more detail in the facility renovation section. Customers can sit in one of three milieus’: at the small tables in the Café at one end of the customer lounge to write cards from our Loan Tree rack, or just work, read, or catch up on emails on our free WiFi; in the comfortable upholstered chairs in the seating area at the far end with current newspapers and magazines; or sit outside on our trellis covered terrace to enjoy the views and fresh air.
Our café offers the largest selection of coffees, teas, and hot chocolate in Sedona- 46 in all at last count. Our commercial Koerig machine makes it especially easy to make a beverage that is hot, always fresh, and the strength you like. We have delicious pastries from New York Deli to enjoy with them if you like. In addition, free popcorn, a large variety of cold drinks from Starbucks, Pepsi, and Coke, two coolers of ice cream, and many snacks, round out the repertoire of café drinks and munchies. The store section offers an excellent collection of greeting cards, CD’s from local artists, and a wide variety of personal and auto related items. And you might want to peruse our gallery of beautiful paintings and photos from local artists on the walls of the lounge and hall way.
We carefully consider the personalities and attitudes in our hiring process to ensure employees are friendly and helpful, and understand that their primary goal is to make you happy and comfortable.
Where we stand
We are pleased with the progress we are making on reducing times while getting excellent quality, but we are not where we want to be yet. We know we can provide outstanding quality in a reasonably short time because we’ve done it. The trick is doing it every time in spite of the factors mitigating against it. We recognize this is a lofty goal, and perhaps even unattainable, since our traffic often comes in in spurts and can overwhelm our capacity for short periods. However, our own experience has been that major improvements and breakthroughs are rarely achieved without lofty goals. Therefore we have aggressive targets for ourselves for both average times and a narrower spread in times. At the same time we never forget for a moment that we must achieve this while also consistently providing the outstanding quality our customers want and deserve.