Launching any new business is difficult. When Josh Altieri, sales and marketing director for Goodwill Silicon Valley’s car detailing service Clean Wheels Silicon Valley signed on, he had to deal with the typical issues new business confront. Finding new clients. Training new employees. Managing employee turnover. Expanding the line of business to develop new revenue streams.
When the business is a social enterprise and the employees are the formerly incarcerated, that adds a level of difficulty most new business never confront. Yet Clean Wheels Silicon Valley is able to run at a profit and make a difference in the lives of those employed.
Since December 2013, when REDF invested in Clean Wheels Silicon Valley, the social enterprise has worked with 33 individuals. 79% of its enrollees have graduated, and of those, 100% of its graduates are now employed. About a third of Clean Wheels graduates go on to find work detailing cars at auto dealerships, another third find jobs as drivers for delivery services, and a third get jobs working in warehouses.
We asked Altieri about the ingredients for success when it comes to running a social enterprise:
Start with motivated people
Parolees must first apply to the New Opportunity Work (NOW) program run by Goodwill. The program takes high-risk individuals and puts them to work in a training program that lasts 90 days. Employees work 20 hours a week, and are paid $10.30 an hour, the minimum wage in Santa Clara County. Currently the program employs anywhere from six to 12 individuals.
Training starts on day one
Training starts immediately, when an employee is placed with a supervisor. Training consists of a combination of hands-on and online tutorials in which employees learn the basics of car detailing through videos and quizzes. The real benefit, Altieri reports, is that trainees get paid to learn. “They are on a car from day one,’ he says, “getting their hands dirty.”
Match the right person to the right job
There have been some speed bumps along the way. “Car dealerships were reluctant to turn their detailing over to people with grand theft auto on their rap sheet. That wasn’t in the initial plan,” Altieri laughs. “We had to apply better filters to ensure the right people were sent to the right job.”
Set Clear Goals
Clean Wheels has found jobs for 26 former convicts. “The goal is to get a job at an outside company,” Altieri says, “in jobs that pay from $12 to $14 an hour—a livable wage.”
Provide a pathway to independence
“It’s a business model perfectly suited to the entrepreneurial spirit,” Altieri explains. “You can get started in the business without a lot of supplies, and the overhead doesn’t cost much.”
Be hands on
When he’s not pitching car detailing services to local car dealerships, auto auction houses, and on-campus services at Google, he’s running digital marketing programs on Facebook. And when he’s not doing that, he’s driving three-strikers to get their driver’s licenses. In a typical business, an employee unable to get to work would soon be fired. At Goodwill Silicon Valley, it’s a problem to be solved.
“These are people arrested for drugs, grand theft auto, and assault with a deadly weapon,” Altieri, notes, so they are going to require extra support. But the results, when they come are palpable.
“We see people leaving the program to open up their own car detailing businesses,” he says. “We see people working on the weekends to make extra money. We see three-strikers out on their own for over a year. “
Perhaps Altieri is proudest of one former hard-core gang member in his 30s. Before joining Clean Wheels he was in and out of jail constantly. Today, Altieri reports, “He now has a family and a job as a mechanic for a distribution company making $20 an hour.”
“These are guys that have never held a job this long in their lives,” Altieri says. Today, thanks to Clean Wheels, “they are working, with stability in their lives. And the ability to get back on their feet.”
– Josh Altieri is business professional with a marketing/media background that has spent the last 2 years with the Goodwill of Silicon Valley helping the previously incarcerated and military veterans obtain employment. Josh also manages the sales and marketing for all GWSV social enterprises.