Bill Dahm knew he had a decision to make. He and his younger brother Mike were running Mike’s Express Car Wash and the business was having growing pains. The elder Dahm wanted help at the top.

New locations were being opened each year. Mike Dahm, the vice president, was needed to oversee Ohio operations, where he lived.

“I was leading the company and our operational excellence was just suffering,” CEO Bill Dahm says. “With our growth at the time, I had way too many direct reports. We were still making money but it was time to bring somebody in that could focus just on the operational excellence at the location level ? to free me up to work on growth issues, our vision and where we’re going with the company.

“So I had to make a decision ? it was one of the best ones I made,” Dahm says, “I brought in a top executive in our industry to be the COO. Boy, did that pay off because I was trying to wear too many hats.”

Dahm says he is convinced that the 650-employee company would not have the growth or the profitability today had he not been honest about the situation.

“I thought it was time for another top executive here that just spends time working with these area directors and making sure that we operate at a high level of expectation for our customers.”

With his COO, Dahm was able to ensure that the operations went smoothly and that he could concentrate on new ways to make customers highly satisfied. Here’s the formula Mike’s Express Car Wash uses for its 39 locations.

It starts with vision and mission statements. Each states the message and sets the stage:

“Here’s our vision: We will be the service industry leader by embracing innovation and providing opportunities for team members to reach their full potential while ensuring profitable growth,” Dahm says.

A mission statement takes the vision and puts it into action.

“We talk about it all the time,” Dahm says. “To create lifetime customers by delivering a clean, fast, friendly experience through engaged and valued team members.”

Finding employees that fit that definition takes some effort. To be an industry leader, you have to have the best people in the industry. If you don’t make excellent hiring decisions, you may end up trying to make something work that really isn’t workable.

“Sweat the details,” Dahm says. “Of every 100 applicants we consider, we just hire one.”

Do extensive behavioral interviewing, pre-employment assessments and check all references. Encourage applicants to apply online so that the recruiting department can easily look for red flags. When it comes to the actual hiring, don’t let local management have the final decision. Make that a function of middle management to ensure that no shortcuts were taken should less desirable candidates be hired to fill an opening quickly.

“Make sure that you have the discipline to only hire the people who truly enjoy working with customers,” he says.

Once the employee is hired, put in the time to properly train the person. If your company structure includes a central office with branch sites, provide for training at both locations.

“The worst thing you can do is have this great training and then they get to the branch level and don’t see the same examples of customer service and courtesy and smile and hustle,” Dahm says. “It has to be something you practice.”

Base bonuses on productivity. Performance reviews should be done on a regular basis to ensure that employees have genuine buy-in, and aren’t just going through the motions.

“If you don’t take care of that, the next thing you know, it spreads,” he says. “Our company culture has always been about believing that the people that wait on customers make or break your company.”


How to reach: Mike’s Express Car Wash, (888) 285-9274 or


In the loop


One of the challenges of running a company with multiple locations in different states is staying in touch, keeping everybody on the same page going for the same end zone. Bill Dahm, CEO of Mike’s Express Car Wash, and his team worked out a solution using a weekly video called In the Loop.

The company human resource department shoots the video, which features sections such as a positive comment from a customer, safety tips, employee promotions and other items designed to advance the company culture.

“The number one goal should be to inject your culture and what the company stands for to remind associates that what they’re doing is truly making a difference,” Dahm says.

He based this type of communication on similar ones used by the Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Disney Enterprises.

Employees view the 10-minute production either at their location or over the Internet on YouTube. Location managers keep track of who signs in. It’s the honor system, but the videos are well-received.

“I do believe there is a high percent of our people that watch it because we try to keep it fun,” Dahm says. “It’s just not another way to talk about things they don’t want to hear about. We try to keep it very complementary.”


How to reach: Mike’s Express Car Wash, (888) 285-9274 or



Published in Indianapolis