Profile of a Site Manager – Meet Kelsey Vogel of Elephant!

For multi-site car wash companies, it’s the site managers that do much of the day-to-day work and supervision at a site. They are the backbone of many operations, and the owners of these companies put a ton of trust in them!

We had a chance to sit down with Kelsey Vogel, site manager of Elephant Car Wash’s Meridian Avenue location in Puyallup, Washington, and talk about how she got involved in the industry, what she does to set her wash apart, and so much more.

A Fresh Face in the Car Wash World

Kelsey didn’t have any experience in the car wash industry when she started with Elephant. She came in from working as a human resource manager in the retail realm. In fact, she didn’t even start as manager – but she didn’t have long to wait to get there. “The guy they hired left after two days. They threw me into it, I had a couple of days where they showed me the basics, and they said ‘alright, you got this!’ I wasn’t prepared to be the manager but it’s been the best decision I’ve made, it’s been a great fit.”

That human resource background has certainly helped out though. “I deal with all the happy customers, the angry customers, scheduling, hiring, firing, making sure everything is clean and running correctly… making sure there is water in the fridge so my team doesn’t die of thirst!” she says with a chuckle, “I make sure the site stays afloat and doesn’t catch on fire!” Her ability to ensure a clean, smooth operation comes from that work experience in the human resource role.

Modernizing in an Evolving Industry

Elephant Car Wash is an established business, an icon in the Puget Sound region. Kelsey came on board at the right time, though – “I came in right at a point when things start changing for Elephant, where we started coming into the twenty-first century.”

As technology was moving along, Elephant was looking to move with it. This was a two-pronged approach. First was to capitalize on social media – “Our influence on social media was a big change. The company hired someone to help boost social media. We were not really big on Facebook or Instagram but now we are. They’re constantly posting and making people aware of this local, family business we have,” says Vogel. She has helped it out herself, by developing her location into a star of the business – hop on the company Facebook page and you’ll see a dancing shark at her tunnel!

Even more important in her eyes has been their development of their smartphone app. “It’s more high-tech, it works great for the generation used to mobile phone, QR codes. The generation that is on their phones, we use the app to remind customers – ‘Hey, you haven’t been to the car wash in a minute, stop on by!’ – or we send out codes at random like ‘Two dollars off your wash today.’”

This helps Elephant to stay visible with potential customers throughout the day. At home, at their job, when they’re out running errands – “The biggest thing about it is that we’re seeing people buying washes through the app, instead of here. They’re buying it at home – they’re sitting at home thinking about us. It’s not just an impulse stop where they’re driving down Meridian, they’re keeping us in mind at other times.”

Making the Car Wash a Community Place

Kelsey sees her role and the car wash’s role as more than just cleaning cars. She wants to change that mental picture that so many car owners – potential customers – may have. “People tell me ‘Oh, you’re just another car wash’… we are but we aren’t. We’re trying to make it more than that. Come here, get a car wash, be in a great mood, have chats, make connections, not just in and out for a wash.”

It’s a value that she instills in her employees, and that she urges them to push in their everyday work. It’s an attitude that is perfect for the industry – “I tell my employees, we’ve got about fifteen to twenty seconds of time with each customer – make it count! Ask them how their day is, if you see a lot of sand on the car mention something about the beach, ask them how it was! Little instances like that make the difference to customers, they remember you and how homey it felt coming here. That they’re a person to us, not another sale, not a dollar symbol.”

Site Managers Set the Tone

Kelsey sees her job as a site manager as one that is all-encompassing. She can be the face of the company in the local area, and contribute to the success of her location – and the success of Elephant overall. Reaching out to the community is a big part of site management life, and Kelsey has a more novel way of doing it. Car culture is big on the West Coast, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. “I try to go to a lot of car shows and promote our business, get to know the car owners. The guys with the classics, the lowered cars. I want to learn from them, get feedback on what they want to see, or what they would need to get them in.”

Stay on Top of Your Wash

One of the most important things she does as site manager of “Peaches,” as she affectionately named her wash site, is making sure the wash itself keeps working properly and provides the ultimate service. It’s more than just scheduled maintenance or calling in service orders when issues come up. “I wash my truck once or twice a month just to see how my wash is working. I like to know what it’s like being the customer here,” she says. “I’ll go through and close my eyes so I can get all the senses – how do I feel in the car, am I being rocked around a lot? I’ll turn off my radio so I can hear everything – do I want to hear these sounds as a customer? Check out the end product, how well are we washing, am I coming out with streaks or soap remaining? I like to see first-hand what’s going on.”

A Great Place to Grow

Another area of managership that is important to Kelsey is developing her employees. She has seen a relatively high amount of turnover in her time, but she feels that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. “We do go through employees fast, but it’s mostly because we get kids – we get a lot of sixteen, seventeen-year-olds. It’s their first-time job, and it’s a great first-time job. It’s easy to understand and easy to work with, but can also challenge them and teach them in ways that will help down the line. I always feel good being the starter job!”

This includes reaching out to pools of potential employees that are sometimes overlooked. At the time of our talk, Vogel had been working to grow her staffing by providing opportunities to these overlooked segments. “I have an employee on the autism spectrum… I have a son with Down’s syndrome, and I hope that one day someone will give the chance to my son that I can provide here. It was a different way of training, but she works just as hard as any other employee!”

This way of thinking is a big part of Elephant, and why Kelsey has staked her career there. “One of the best things about Elephant is that they are understanding, they’re never afraid to give someone a chance. Whether it’s their first job, whether they are special needs, whether they’re just trying to get their life back on track… we try to give everyone a chance. We just look at you as a person.”

In the end, Vogel loves her work, and that Elephant is so reliant on their site managers for success. “I take care of the site, that’s how this company (Elephant) works. They put a lot of trust in you to handle the site on your own. It’s your baby, treat it like it’s your baby.” A great recommendation for any site manager, or any worker looking to move up into site management!

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