Cleaning Up is Good Business

March 1, 2024
An organized and clean shop will be inviting to customers and employees alike.

The automotive service industry has long had a certain "reputation"—one that is all too often reinforced in movies and TV shows. Customers show up and almost expect to see an unkempt shop floor with puddles of grease and other fluids, dirty rags, and tools spread across the counter.

In recent years, the industry has gone to great lengths to set the record straight, but some owners and operators argue that more can be done. 

"I don't think people realize what a big difference it makes for customers to walk into a clean shop," says Ben Capelle, owner and operator of the Costa Oil 10 Minute Oil Change franchise in Columbus, Ohio. "There is still very much a negative connotation within the industry, and perception is really important today—especially as customers have so many options." 

That First Impression 

A clean shop should go hand-in-hand with greeting the customer with a smile, as it makes that lasting first impression. 

"People who see a clean shop are going to have the perception that the staff is more knowledgeable and experienced," Capelle tells NOLN. "We have to remember that perception is everything. Why would a customer even come into a shop that is a mess?" 

A clean shop can also build trust. There is certainly the perception that the shop makes the effort to maintain a level of cleanliness, the customer will likely have greater trust that the same effort is being employed on their car. 

"That is a big deal in our industry, and someone who cares about their shop is going to convey that they care about the customer's car. I think it is one of the things that can really set the shop apart," Capelle, whose shop has one bay, continues. "People aren't going to give you a second chance when it comes to trust. Don't give them a first strike by presenting a dirty shop." 

Cleanliness Builds Morale 

Another important consideration today is that unemployment remains at near-record lows, and talent in the industry remains hard to find and hard to keep. A clean and organized shop can make it easier to attract and retain talent, especially those workers who strive to go above and beyond. 

It is going to be hard to build an all-star team if the place of business is dingy, dirty or otherwise doesn't convey a level of professionalism. A clean shop will be a place where employees will want to work. 

"It is exactly that," says Capelle. "Attracting employees is as challenging today as it is to get new customers. Employees have so many choices, and there might be a small number who don't mind working in a dump, but we believe that a clean shop is good for morale." 

An unkempt shop may draw in customers if the prices are dirt cheap, but if it is well-kept, it will draw in clientele that could grow the business with more respectful customers. 

Cleaning is Work—But Don't Make It a Chore 

It would be easy to suggest that each evening the shop should get a scrub down from top to bottom with the power washers pulled out, and the technicians detailing every crevice and polishing every tool. That is certainly overkill, but at the same time, cleaning shouldn't be done only when needed. 

Instead of allowing the shop to need such deep cleaning, Capell suggests that a schedule be made where cleaning becomes routine. It begins with organization. 

"This is the absolute first step, and things need to have a place and should be required to stay there when they're not being used," he adds. 

That can also keep the shop running smoothly as tools, critical equipment, and other items aren't misplaced. Employees shouldn't have to be reminded to be clean, but there should be instructions and the proper supplies. 

"You can't just hand an employee a bottle of Windex and say, 'Clean the shop,'" says Capelle. "The staff needs to be equipped to keep the shop clean. There should be procedures for cleaning when there is downtime. And there should be a schedule in place to cover certain tasks." 

Capelle explains that it is often too daunting for the staff to take on the whole shop, so areas are broken down that get more attention each day. The bathroom, for example, gets a deep clean on Saturdays while it is maintained as necessary during the week. 

Likewise, the volume of cleaning can depend on the seasons. Mopping is less required in the summer, apart from when it rains, but in the winter the floor may require a quick pass through the day and then again at the end of the shift. 

"The whole shop gets touched throughout the week, but I also like to surprise the guys," adds Capelle, who says he often offers bonuses when he finds the shop extra clean during his surprise visits. "It keeps them on their toes. The employees have said they like to work in a clean shop, and we've had no complaints from the customers." 

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