Meet Andrew and Tom D.
Community Ally: Andrew and Tom D.
They refused to let their inexperience hold them back and instead approached problem-solving through a different lens by viewing things from the perspective of their employees with autism.
Rising Tide Car Wash is a unique business that provides high-quality car wash services while creating job opportunities for people with autism. Co-founder Tom D'Eri shares the inspiring story behind establishing this exceptional venture in a recent interview. Driven by a desire to create meaningful work opportunities for his autistic brother, Andrew, and others like him, D'Eri and his father embarked on a journey that would challenge them to learn about the nuances of running a car wash business and employing individuals with autism.
To achieve their goal, they partnered with disability-employment consultants James Emmett and Chris Simler, as well as SONNYs Enterprises, the largest manufacturer of car wash equipment in the country. Together, during the summer of 2012, they conducted a proof of concept: a car wash in Homestead, Florida, where they trained individuals with autism to perform standard car wash procedures. Their success in meeting industry standards gave them the confidence to purchase a car wash in Parkland, Florida, which they renovated and opened less than a year later.
Despite facing numerous challenges along the way, D'Eri and his team persevered, relying on their collective determination to work through the many new challenges. Managing people and customer service were completely new concepts for D'Eri, and the pressure was intense with the family's entire fortune on the line. However, they refused to let their inexperience hold them back and instead approached problem-solving through a different lens by viewing things from the perspective of their employees with autism. They recognized the need for clear, consistent communication and less ambiguity, which was the breakthrough their operations needed. This made it easier for them to attract and retain talented individuals, while also facilitating more effective scaling of the business and building a strong organizational culture.
D'Eri and his team discovered that many of the business problems they faced were not unique to employing individuals with autism, but rather common issues that required a fresh approach to solving. As a community ally for the autism community, D'Eri recommends designing the operation around the needs and strengths of people with autism.
"As someone myself who is neurotypical," he says, "I may not have the same perspective as most of our team. So I really have to listen, whether through direct conversation or observationally, to really try to do things in a way where it may not be the way I would have necessarily thought it should be done, but the way that is most effective for our team. This means understanding that people with autism may have different ways of thinking and processing information and adapting to their needs. By doing so, we can create a more inclusive and diverse workforce."
If you want to learn more about Tom and Andrew, his autistic brother, you can listen to their interview on the Adulting On The Spectrum podcast. You can also connect with Tom directly at @risingtidecarwash.