Employees are causing a stir with customers at the Milford-based car wash chain

Mark Curtis regularly spends millions of dollars as CEO of Splash Car Wash, building new locations in Connecticut, New York and Vermont.

But while the state-of-the-art equipment at its sites is important, it’s the people component, the people who work at Splash, that keep customers coming back, according to Curtis.

He and his team at Splash must be doing something right. The Milford-based company is one of the perennial winners among midsize employers with 150 to 499 people in southern and western Connecticut. This year, 17 midsize businesses received the Hearst Connecticut Media Top Workplaces award — and Splash came out as the No. 1 winner for the second year in a row.

No. 2 is Connecticut In Home Assistance, based in Stratford and No. 3 is Barnum Financial Group with its headquarters in Shelton.

#1: Splash Car Wash

Employees in the region: 400

Headquarters: Milford

#2: Home Assistance in Connecticut

Employees in the region: 150

Headquarters: Stratford

No. 3: Barnum Financial Group

Employees in the region: 218

Headquarters: Shelton

At Splash, Curtis said the importance of having great employees “is giving people the right kind of experience every time they come in.”

“People will still have questions, even in a fully automated wash,” Curtis said.

Nelson Perez of Watertown has worked for Splash for four years. Perez was busy on a recent weekday afternoon at the company’s brand new East Haven location, helping motorists choose the car wash package they wanted.

Once the drivers paid for the wash, he helped them navigate the automated system that opens a door allowing them to step forward to begin the washing process.

“I think people really like the attention, the help that I give them,” Perez said. “And really I love what I do.”

Frank Rossi started working for Splash in 2007 as an oil change technician at the company’s West Haven site. Within a year Curtis had promoted him to assistant manager and three years later Rossi was running the location.

By 2014, Rossi had become regional manager in charge of oil changes. Today, he is a regional manager in charge of new start-up operations.

Rossi was working alongside Perez in early September, helping customers navigate the payment system. Rossi recalled when he started working at Splash more than a decade ago he got “a real family vibe” from his new workplace.

“I met Mark within two weeks of my debut and was like, ‘Wow, you don’t often meet the CEO of a company that quickly,'” he said. “I was impressed by that. And a lot of how I feel about my workplace comes down to the daily interaction. Many people I work with are my friends as well as colleagues.

Curtis takes pride in knowing its employees by name. Splash employs more than 1,000 people at 55 company-wide locations and just over 400 in Connecticut.

“You hire for attitude and you train for skill,” Curtis said. “You don’t want to hire a curmudgeon, someone who doesn’t smile. Ninety-five percent of people want to do a good job; it all comes down to being trained to do a good job.

Curtis said the popular perception of working in a car wash “is generally labeled as last resort, dead end work.”

“But we have a lot of guys who started out vacuuming cars and now they run some of our sites,” he said. “We were fortunate to have extremely low turnover.”

Nashua Senior, a teenager from New Haven, hopes to be Splash’s next success story. Recently hired to work at the East Haven site, Senior’s job is to help customers use the car wash’s free vacuum stations and ensure that suction power does not decrease due to clogged pipes.

“Someone in my family worked for Splash and he said it was a good place to work,” Senior said.

East Haven’s Kyle Whelan started working at Splash three weeks ago. Prior to accepting this position, he worked regular night shifts at the Harbor Freight Tools hardware store in Orange.

“I don’t have a car right now and it was very difficult to get to and from work at this time of day,” Whelan said. “Plus, I have to admit that I like to work when the sun is out.”

Whelan said another perk of her new job is seeing all the different types of cars.

“I really love anything automotive, so I thought why not work on something that involves one of my passions,” he said.

Curtis is expanding the Splash empire, which now has 19 of its Connecticut locations, by building new car washes and acquiring existing ones. He said he tries as much as possible to retain employees of the car washes the company acquires.

“We like to hire trained employees, even if they haven’t been trained properly before,” Curtis said. “It’s easier to recycle them than to replace them.

Rainy days or whenever there is a lull in customer activity are used to train employees, he said.

“Rainy days are train days,” Curtis joked.

[email protected]édiact.com

About Catherine Sturm

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