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Blog Bernard Letendre

Corporate culture

A surefire way to kill a business

There’s this neighborhood car wash I know that I always imagined was family-operated because, well, that’s how it felt to me as a customer. Employees all seemed engaged and focused on doing a good job; the older gentleman who greeted us at the front of the line would engage us in conversation as he asked us what kind of wash we wanted and, when I hadn’t come by in a while, would ask me how things were going and if I’d been traveling recently.

The employees charged with spraying down the cars said hi to customers and the employee who cleaned the interior always smiled at you as he got in your car. The lady who seemed to be in charge and for years processed my payments always asked me how my weekend was going so far – even at 10:00 on a Saturday morning – and would offer to punch my loyalty card even when I forgot to present it to her. As for the employees responsible for wiping down the vehicles at the end of the process, it felt like they truly loved cars and wanted to make them look as good as they could for their clients.

I always thought this car wash was rather pricey but I was happy with the experience and never seriously entertained going anywhere else despite the long lineups and correspondingly long wait times. A good job by nice and friendly people who seemed to genuinely care.

The first sign of change was an increase in employee turnover. Familiar faces started being replaced with new ones until it became more and more difficult to recognize anyone from week to week. The friendly greeter was replaced by a grumpy fellow who hasn’t said as much as hello to me ever since he got the job and certainly doesn’t engage in any kind of chit-chat with customers as they wait. The spraying team makes you feel like you can’t get out of your car fast enough and the guy who cleans the inside of the car looks perpetually angry. Then, one day, the nice lady in the office – the only person who still recognized me as a long-standing customer – was also gone.

As for the team (I use the word very loosely) that wipes down the vehicles after they’ve been washed, they no longer put the floor mats back in properly so customers have to do it themselves. This new crew also seems utterly uninterested in making your car look its best and I always have to ask them to redo some thing or another that they didn’t do properly (quality control used to be handled by a kind of player-coach with great attention to details that other employees clearly looked up to). Through it all, prices were increased by about 25%.

Not surprisingly perhaps, there was no lineup when I went to get my car washed this morning. When I got home, I redid the inside of my windows to get rid of some smudging and wiped down some large spots on the hood and fenders that were still covered with water. A very poor job by long faced people who clearly don’t care and, like others before me it would seem, I’ve started looking for a new place to get my car washed. No, location and convenience are not the only things that matter for a business like this.

The business changed hands I think – it must have –, although I really don’t know that for sure. What I do know is that what’s been happening is a surefire way to kill what used to be a nice little business. Personally, I find that a bit sad. But does it really matter? As I previously explained here, perhaps it does.