Originally written by Samantha Smith for Forbes.
Back in June 2012 Tom D’Eri packed his bags and left for Florida to join his dad and set up a car wash. Fast-forward and they’re beginning to think about franchising. Called Rising Tide, the twist is that most of this car wash is staffed by people with autism. You might have heard of other companies employing individuals with autism or special needs before, but here’s the breakdown on how impactful this one change to a classic business model can be.
1) Interaction leads to awareness
By serving their customers, Rising Tide staff naturally engages with customers while doing something they’re good at. Though most people know of autism, down syndrome, and other mental illnesses, rarely do they interact with people with these diagnoses. A short trip to Rising Tide can remind you that people with autism are capable and hard working, and rather than sympathy they just need respect and support.
Tom reports that customers feel empowered, too. Rising Tide is receiving great customer feedback and brand advocacy. Every week someone asks for flyers to hand out because they love Rising Tide’s mission. Great mission doesn’t mean they also can’t have a 5-star Yelp review too, which speaks to the quality of the service alone.
2) Empowerment for the employee
Many people with autism are under-employed. Having a job increases self-worth, social interaction, and general life quality. Many Rising Tide employees started work with a low self-esteem originating from bullying in school and lack of opportunities to grow and live life. Rising Tide offers a supportive environment that works to augment employees’ strengths and surround them with a team of peers that can also associate with what they have been through. Though there are other companies that also employ people with autism, less allow such social and customer facing roles.
Rising Tide tracks employee growth with surveys, which are given to both employees and their families. Tom shares that his staff indicates significant improvements in confidence and social skills, more specifically, pride regarding their job and having more friends.
3) Competitive service and optimization of talent
Though it might seem like it would be more work to hire, train, and employ a staff with autism, Rising Tide has found their staff to be excited, committed, and capable; thereby an underutilized talent pool. Tom says the business aims to leverage the talents of individuals with autism to be the premium brand in the car wash industry. It helps that his team is particularly detail oriented, making them perfect for the industry.
4) Scalable impact on societal perspective
Given Rising Tides is a profit generating business, so their model for both premium car wash and employing people with autism is easily scalable. Tom’s aim to franchise will allow more people with autism to have jobs, social awareness of autism to improve, and there to be more clean cars on the road.
Coupling mission and business matters in this case. Unemployment among individuals with autism is somewhere between 65-90% and in the next decade at least 500,000 more people with autism will enter the workforce. Rising Tide hopes to put these future employees to work and inspire other companies to do the same.
Few franchises and brands offer the ability to have profit and impact. Applebee’s is among a few that try to. In select restaurants they provide part time jobs in coordinate with job-training programs run by local schools that specialize in teaching special needs students. Tom and his father are aiming to franchise their business in early 2014 and begin offering franchise opportunities later in the year. They are currently looking for the right partners to make their social enterprise a reality.
As a consumer you can opt in to support outcomes produced by companies like Rising Tide by looking for other products and services here and small business owners can use this to consider and take the first steps to hiring someone with autism or a disability. These two resources are just a few of many Rising Tide hopes to produce and share with their franchisees, the public, and other businesses that employ those with special needs.
Reach out to Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org!