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Heart Centered Leadership Podcast: Episode 1 with Mandi Brower

NEW SERIES: Heart Centered Leadership INTERVIEW #1 of 6 – Mandi Brower

Human achievement expert Michelle Steffes of IPV Consulting and host of the Reframe and Rewire podcast is back with the first episode of the new Heart Centered Leadership podcast series! Join guest Mandi Brower, president of Quality Car Wash, owner of Tommy’s Express┬« Car Wash, and Tim Hortons, discusses with Michelle how incorporating Heart Centered Leadership within the culture of these businesses has paid dividends in employee retention and cultivated an atmosphere of respect and trust.

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Michelle:
Welcome to Reframe & Rewire: Greatness Through Daily Routine. This podcast is designed to alter your mindsets and transform your day-to-day from the second you open your eyes to when you close them at night, adapting to what I would call a successful routine. This series is liable to change your life, and it’s never the big things that you do, but the littlest things you do every day that make the biggest difference. And now, on to the podcast! Thank you for joining!

Michelle:
Welcome to a brand new series and this one is going to be spectacular. I have been boasting about this, looking forward to rolling it out, and I want to spend the next month or two interviewing leaders. Really powerful leaders. Leaders that have won awards in best and brightest consecutive times in a row. Leaders who have lead for 30 or more years and have a lot to share in terms of how to build a strong culture where people are cohesive. Where sales are consistently climbing. Where success is well-known and the statistics on retention and overall engagement are off the chart. These are the kind of leaders we’re going to be talking to.

Michelle:
So I’m going to be bringing you one-by-one as we go through the next several weeks and I want to start with an absolutely spectacular leader and someone that I’ve had the privilege of working with, at least with her team. I think you’re really going to like what she has: Mandi Brower is the president of Quality Car Wash, Tim Hortons, and a whole bunch of other business endeavors, so I’ll let her tell you a little bit more about herself but she’s got 20 years of leadership and I know she’s going to bring some fabulous insights for us today. So Mandi, welcome to the podcast!

Mandi:
Hey, thanks for having me! Hi everybody!

Michelle:
Glad to have you too Mandi. So, how many properties do you manage or lead?

Mandi:
Right now we’re up to eight, and we’ll be opening nine and ten this year. So we have about 250 team members for all of our sites. When I started with my dad we had three locations at the time, and are constantly now building new – it was kind of like “alight, if we’re going to do this, let’s do something and really have to take it to the next level to continue grow more.” So in our Quality Car Wash family group, we’ll have ten locations at the end of this year.

Michelle:
Wow, that is so impressive – I love it. We have a global audience so just so they know where you’re kinda at, this is the Michigan area primarily, in the United States. I know that you have some expansive things in the nation in terms of what you do too, maybe we’ll get a chance to talk about that as well. I’ve had the privilege of working with Mandi one on one over the last five or six years and have seen her leadership and she is phenomenal. She’s definitely a people-first leader. So share your definition of Heart Centered Leadership, Mandi.

Mandi:
So when it comes to Heart Centered Leadership, it’s really about thinking about everyone else first. Thinking about the team and thinking about the guest. Everyone will say your customer is most important, but really, your team is most important. The people you surround yourself with are basically like your family that you need to go out into this job every day, and make something great of it. Whether you’re pleasing guests, you’re building a widget, whatever it is – it could be tours it could be cruise ships – whatever it is, you’re trying to satisfy your customer which we call our guest. In trying to develop a company that’s focused on leadership and growing team members in the C-story, car wash, and gas industry, it is a lot of 16-17 year old kids that are starting their journey of careers here and it’s important to us that when they go on to their next career – if they do, not all of them do – our name is on their resume and we’ve helped them and trained them to be the best leaders that they can. Reaching out, thinking about them, sending them a text if they’re sick… I can’t do it for everybody but making sure our leaders are doing it and making sure that everybody feels part of something. Something that’s a part of a broader, family basically, right?

Mandi:
Over the years, we’ve kinda looked into gangs a little bit, what the culture of a gang is and why someone is so connected to a gang and why they would do anything to be a part of a gang. It’s just filling those human needs. They want to be a part of something that makes them feel good, and if we can create that environment around our stores, they in turn are going to make our guests – our customers – feel great. Really focusing on them and their needs and what they need in order to excel, to learn to train and meet them in their spot. Not everybody is going to be a site leader, not everyone is going to be a leader, some people just like the task. But meet them where they are and help them to be the best person that they can be in that position.

Michelle:
Awesome, wow, I love that! So just your two or three major ways a leader can develop trust in a team.

Mandi:
Mhmm, I think number one is consistency. There’s an aspect of “we want to be consistent” but yet, we gotta kinda change it up to give them “new” as well. But really being consistent in the important things, and if you’re allowing someone to take off this event, you need to make sure you’re allowing this person to take off for that event. So they can build that trust and build that rapport and understanding. Communication I would say is another big one. The more we can communicate the more we can leave a site saying “hey, let me know if you need anything. Email me, text me, call me” just so they know there’s that open communication with myself, with any leader on my team, whether payroll department, HR department, whatever they need we want to make sure that there’s open communication. So they know we have their back and we’re there to support them, and that make them feel better and creates that trust. For the third one I would say presence. Being present with them and making sure you get yourself out in front of the team. If you’re a CEO or a president somewhere at some big manufacturing company, take the time to walk the floor, take the time to say “hi.” Take the time to go out and have lunch with them. You need to make sure you’re creating those connections. In those connections and in that moment of being present with them is when they’re really going to see you – who you are – and develop that trust.

Michelle:
Love it, and trust is so important. I know one of the ways that you have kind of permeated the culture with good communication and clear understanding of expectations is through your vision statement. Do you want to share a little bit about that?

Mandi:
Yeah! So, I was at a Tony Robbins event – I know you’re a big fan of Tony Robbins as well – and the different music that they play during the different sessions, and we were trying to define what our culture was going to be and we needed that acronym, we needed that “thing.” The song, it’s from one of the car movies I can’t remember… Fast and the Furious: “We Own It” came on. And I’m like, “We own it, all of us together.” It’s not “I own it,” it’s “We own it.” So I sent that to one of our other operations guys and he came up with the acronym that we have now of “wow” factor and exceptional guest experience creates the “we.” Outstanding teamwork with winning attitudes in a never-ending pursuit of excellence creates the “own.” And immediate call to action and training creates the “it.” We really focused on each of those in sections with the first one being about the guest experience and making sure they’re having a great time and every time they leave they feel satisfied. And then the “own” is really about the team members and who they are and owning themselves and owning their decisions they make and owning the choices they make in life and at work. And them immediate call to action – training and just how we want everyone to be trained as much as we possibly can. It really defines what our core values are and what we do. Someone came into my office one time and asked “why do we do what we do?” We are enriching lives, right? We enrich the lives of our team members and our guests, we’re serving communities, we really do a lot to give back to our communities – be involved in the communities. And then we want to make sure we’re adding value into the team member’s lives, and we’re adding value into our guest’s lives. When they come in in the morning it’s our goal that every morning they’re getting a smile to start their day. Or if they’re a third shifter to end their day. But it’s our goal that everyone is getting a smile every day from us. So enriching lives, serving communities, adding value, and it’s all done through our “We Own It.”

Michelle:
That’s all tied to those letters – I love that. That is so phenomenal. Give a couple of examples of how you incorporate that in say, team building activities. I know you do rallies often?

Mandi:
Yeah! Yeah.

Michelle:
Just maybe offer – just so that the listeners kind of have some idea where they can start.

Mandi:
Yeah! So a couple times a year we do team rallies, and what that is a way for us as a leadership team to able to connect with each and every team member. This winter we did smaller groups – we divided into three different groups a couple sites at a time – so we could really spend time with the different team members. It was good! We like the big events where everybody is there because there’s a lot more jazz and pizazz in a lot of those meetings. But sometimes you gotta take the time and meet them where they are. It was kind of a quieter winter and so it was good to meet like that. We do awards on it – so every site picked their “W” award, which is Wow Factor. “Who on your site has the best Wow Factor? Who on your site does E – exceptional guest experience?” So we created this and every site we handed out 30-some awards ands every site picked their We Own It categories and featured that which was great.

Mamdi:
We have leader meetings every month, we have team meetings so each site hosts a team meeting and there’s usually an activity focused around We Own It or a training or a video of some sort focused around that. There’s so much you know you can find right on YouTube to give them a quick little hit on immediate call to action and doing it now, taking responsibility and not waiting until later. Because later it’s going to get busy so fill the cups now, fill the slushie machines now, so that’s a couple different ways that we incorporate it into what we’re doing. Every 90 days we do team member reviews of all of our sites and instead of waiting a whole year, again, we’re working with mostly high school kids, well, probably 60% high school kids, 40% full time team members but, instant gratification is important to them. They don’t want to wait a whole year for their first raise. So we implemented this process where they’re eligible for a raise every 90 days and we have about 10 questions and We Own It is in each of those. So, “how is a team member delivering Wow Factor?” Poor, base, average, or exceptional? A couple comments. Based on their scoring is they get five cents or nothing or 20, 25 cents. So they kind of get their raises a little earlier but every quarter they know they’re eligible for another raise and it keeps them accountable, it keeps them coming, it keeps them engaged, and really focuses on the We Own It. Every letter is a part of that 90 day review.

Michelle:
I have to say, you know, putting the big exclamation point on this whole vision concept that you’ve put together is that it’s woven through the fabric of everything you do. It’s so powerful because I’ve said it before: when people understand the vision and it’s a part of everything they do: it’s in the policies, it’s in the incentives, it’s in the training, it’s in the everyday problem solving, there’s no way they can’t get that vision executed. And so often companies come up with these big, hard-to-remember vision statements that no one understands no less memorizes and they certainly don’t plug it in every day. So, huge applause to you on accomplishing that. You are one of the few leaders I know that has gone to great lengths – probably one of the best I bet – that has gone to great lengths to make that happen. So I think that answers a lot of the questions that we’ve already had about building trust, having that communication, that people-first opportunity and the recognition that you offer.

Michelle:
I can’t say enough good for you. In fact, I want to kind of brag on you a little bit in terms of your awards. Because you’ve won Best & Brightest how many times in the last decade?

Mandi:
Quite a few – I don’t know the number but I would say every year we’ve applied, so I think maybe we’re seven times now?

Michelle:
That’s incredible! That’s since 2019 or 18?

Mandi:
Yeah, 2017 or 2018 I think? Yeah.

Michelle:
Somewhere in there, yep. I know it was right around the time we started working together and you had just started – man I am so impressed with what you’ve done in the area. And I know that you’re recognized by a lot of the local Chambers and a lot of the businesses, so, anybody that gets the opportunity to listen to this podcast is gonna get a fortune of information from you.

Michelle:
So share a quick story or example of how Heart Centered Leadership has benefitted tour team. So maybe someone specific that it really drew the best out in them or something that just really touched you in the way that it bounced back in your direction and you were empowered as well as they were.

Mandi:
That’s a really great question. There’s a lot of things that we do to just help people, right? And we want to help people and we have been blessed so we are able to help people. You know I had one girl one time, her hot water heater went out at home so it’s like “ok, so, well, what do you need? Let’s help get it taken care of.” So we got it taken care of – we got the hot water heater in there. It’s that that creates that loyalty and trust. You have to go into it without expecting anything back, right? But she’s fantastic. She comes in every day, she loves on our guests, and to us, that’s a reward. I can’t run these sites by myself. I don’t know if I can ring up a transaction much anymore – the register has gotten so complicated. I never say that, but there’s so many things that these team members do, and I have always been this Heart Centered Leader.

Mandi:
Back when I was younger, it was younger leadership and you don’t know. What I was doing was not working – we gotta do something else. When you start to put the people around you first and do what you can to help them, that’s when it becomes real. Another team member is going on vacation and they had to put their dog down, and a couple other expenses came up, just kind of at a rough point. She texted and said, “He, can I borrow some money?” Absolutely. We are going to help and get her taken care of. Those are just the things that she – I guess I feel honored that she felt confident enough to come and ask, because absolutely we want to help and again, meet everyone where they are and help them with what they can do. You never know what the next six months is going to bring, you never know what the economy is going to do in the next six months, but when we can, we want to be there for our team. Many times we’re going above and beyond trying to help them because sometimes it’s a car, sometimes it’s a furnace, sometimes it’s air conditioning. Whatever it is, we want to try and meet them in their place.

Michelle:
That is so cool. Now, I will tell you – I think you already know this – there are a lot of leaders who would hear this and go “Oh, that’s a little over-the-top. I can’t do that because they’re probably just going to take it and run, or not appreciate me, or just kind of expect it from me.” Of course, I’m playing the Devil’s advocate right now.

Mandi:
Absolutely!

Michelle:
But when you do something like that, ok? And you build that culture, obviously there are going to be times when you feel run over but what’s the overall payout – the ROI if you will – on you building that kind of a culture? Share that with the audience.

Mandi:
Right. Oh my gosh yeah. At first it’s like “why would we do this? Why would we do that if they’re just going to leave?” They might, right? But what if they don’t? Now you’ve just created a stronger relationship with a team member that could last years and years and years. We have a lot of new people, again, but last year in the C-store environment our retention rate was 89% for the year of 2023.

Michelle:
Wow.

Mandi:
89%. This is convenience store and car wash, right? Every day you can think “we’re just a gas station” but we’re so much more than that. People we have are so much more than that. They’re delivering such a great job and great experience and our people are staying with us. We had over 6,000 people apply – again we only have 250 people – we had 6,000 apply. We only hired 100 because we opened a new site and needed to hire 40 people for that site. The stories and the numbers show what we’re doing is really transforming the lives of the people we have. People that have left for college are coming back on break. They’re coming back any chance they can to work with us and to be a part o the team because they feel valued and they feel part of it. Yeah, we’ve gotten burned many of times we tried to do good things. But the times we’ve done good things for great people has really made a difference in building every single relationship we have.

Michelle:
That’s exactly what I knew you would say and I love it! It’s so true though, I mean I’ve been in the midst of your team where they share what they love about working there. I mean, you have people who have had pretty sizable careers who left to work with you and a lot of them would say “hey, it feels like a family.” I love that whole concept because even Bob Chapman wrote a book about how we all matter and I’d recommend that book. He talks about how he’s got a 90% engagement rate – which is ridiculous – and your 89% retention rate, especially for young people, is just phenomenal. So the numbers speak for themselves, the evidence speaks for itself. I don’t think there’s anybody else I could’ve asked to come on who knows more about what can happen if you’re willing to invest on your team.

Michelle:
So leading into that – great segue here – what is the number one reason you feel Heart Centered Leadership is so critical in today’s world with all the changes that have happened in the last four years, all the pressures, all the personal life unraveling that we’ve been mentioning here. Why is it so important do you think that leaders really need to take this seriously?

Mandi:
I think the most important things is for safety and comfort of the team. Not for them to be comfortable and complacent, but for them to be comfortable coming to work and that they know it’s a safe spot for them to come. Some kids or even families are a little bit torn because of COVID, because of whatever, and things are a little more tense at home. We want it to be a safe, calming spot for them to come. Obviously it’s very busy, we have a lot of guests coming in. One of our sites washed 600,000 cars in a year so we have a lot going on. But we want them to feel welcome, we want them to feel calm, we want them to feel part of it. It’s just a place where they can get away from their life and come be a part of this team. We take them to dinner, we get them lunch – it’s the simple things that go a long, long way. Sometimes we think too in some of our events we think “how can they take the leftovers home or how can we get this to the site?” Because that might be the only meal they have that day. We do a lot with Kid’s Food Basket, Hand To Hand Ministries that provide food for kids, and a lot of families don’t have the resources to get their kids food so we try to think of that too. Every meeting that they come to at the office, they’re getting served food. Every team meeting at their site, they’re serving food to their team because we want to make sure everyone is fed and everyone feels comfortable and in a safe spot.

Michelle:
I love it, and you know now, there’s so many broken families, you are kind of being that surrogate family.

Mandi:
Oh yeah, absolutely.

Michelle:
A lot of them don’t have – especially the young ones – they’re really feeling a lot of identity crisis, and you’re there, and I love it.

Mandi:
We’ve had leaders go to doctor’s appointments with a team member because her mom was out of the picture and needed to have a female friend go along. You know you’re doing the right work when things like that are happening. It’s me and all of our leadership team sharing each other with the stories and bringing it all to our sites. One thing that we do – the first time every meeting that we have the leadership team is, “hey, what’s new in your world? How’s your team doing? What have you done?” And just trying to share those stories because, “oh, someone else can say, ‘I can go do this with this person,’ or ‘I can help this person with this,'” and trying to make sure that we’re sharing those stories and how we can help our team. Simple steps. We started it back probably eight years ago with simple note cards. I wrote a notecard out to each of my directs, you know just “thanks for putting in the time, thanks for the work, thanks for being your best,” keep it simple. And they each did it for their directs and then they did it for their directs, and then it just goes through the network like that and it really makes a difference. We’ve done things where we’ve mailed notecards to their home so then their family sees it and they get this appreciation in front of their family and their closest friends. So that’s been fun! So once a month I send out a note a paper letter to the team. We can do these video chats and we can do all this stuff but it’s a paper letter that’s typed to the team and send them a goodie. Last month we did a green crumble cookie, we’ve done bags of coins before, or we’ve done M&Ms. Juts different random things each month so they know the middle of the month they’re getting a letter, the state of the business – how we’re doing, where we’re at – and then a little treat to go along with it.

Michelle:
Wow, I could talk to you for hours about this. This just fills my heart. I love this. But we need to wrap it up, so I want to thank you again Mandi! Now I’m gonna give you the liberty to share anything you want at the tail-end of this. So what would you like to share – leave the audience with here in closing? It could be information or just a tip. What do you think?

Mandi:
Alright, so I’m gonna say that it’s a big, overwhelming thing, but start small. Start a notecard. Do a notecard a week. Do two notecards a week. Make the small little steps to making people around you feel appreciated and that will, over time, multiply within your organization. If you’re in a spot where things are maybe a little rough right now, take the time. Take someone to lunch. Make a notecard. Just do the little things because the little things, little things, little things, are what add up to the big things. It will change your entire organization.

Mandi:
From that, reporting from Quality Car Wash, and Tommy’s Express, which started a franchise organization and we’re selling franchises across the country modeled off of “We Own It” for the operations and the equipment from Quality Car Washes which was started over 20 years ago, and we’re actually getting into different countries now. We’ve got some things going in Australia, Spain, and France, and I’m really excited about where that’s taking us. My brother is leading that one but we are definitely working closely to make sure we have the same common principles between both organizations.

Michelle:
That’s spectacular! Wow!

Mandi:
We’re based out of Holland, Michigan right on the lakeshore of Lake Michigan. Again, Quality Car Wash, washing hundreds of thousands of cars every year and having a lot of smiling team members and smiling guests.

Michelle:
Love it and for you locals out there in the Michigan area, now you know where to get your car washed where people are taken care of first.

Mandi:
Absolutely! If you’re part of the Tommy’s Express Club, you can wash at all of our Quality sites and Tommy’s Express!

Michelle:
Awesome, awesome. Well, thank you again Mandi, it’s been a joy having you on the podcast and I wish you all the best and I know you will experience that because you’ve given to the lives of others.

Mandi:
Thank you!

Michelle:
Absolutely. Michelle Steffes, Reframe & Rewire, keep reaching higher! Join us next time on Heart Centered Leadership as we interview yet another amazing leader.

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