Tuesday, August 9, 2022

A Coral Springs Car Wash Makes Business History

Rising Tide Car Wash’s new Coral Springs outpost has made history as the first ever business staffed entirely by neurodivergent employees. Founded by father and son duo John and Tom D’Eri with the mission of bringing adults on the autism spectrum into the workplace, Rising Tide is now one of the largest employers of autistic individuals in the country. Their three locations across Broward County employ more than 100 people with autism, but the vast enterprise began much smaller, with John’s son and Tom’s brother, Andrew.

“We realized really early, when [Andrew] was a teenager still in high school, that we were probably gonna have to do something in order to help him lead the full adult life that we knew he was capable of,” says Tom D’Eri.

The D’Eri family

As a person on the autism spectrum, Andrew struggled with the social aspects of life so easily navigated by neurotypicals. John and Tom knew he would need help finding his place in the world, and set to the task of figuring out how to put Andrew and others like him in a position to succeed. After much research, they decided they would open a car wash.

“We were looking for businesses that we felt lent to the strengths of neurodivergent individuals,” says D’Eri, “and the most apparent strengths are detail orientation and process orientation and those things are very important for a car wash.”

To make this business model a reality, Tom and John knew they would have to start from scratch. Everything from the interviewing of employees to training them would have to be given a level of thought and detail not typically found in the workplace.

“The neurotypical social cues that are so important in an interview like great eye contact, a strong handshake and being able to articulate and sell yourself, those are not typically things that individuals with autism are really good at,” says D’Eri.

Autistic people face the highest levels of unemployment of any disabled population, with one estimate putting their unemployment rate at 85 percent. Most don’t even make it through the interview process. But D’Eri says that bringing on employees with autism is in companies’ best interest, especially as businesses now are struggling to bring on talent.

“There’s a lot of talk today about there being a labor shortage,” says D’Eri, “There is, in our opinion, no labor shortage, there’s a systemic issue with the way that we evaluate talent and the way that we support our employees in the workplace.”

Andrew D’Eri; photo credit: Sonju Photography

D’Eri says that employees with autism don’t have challenges that are necessarily different from neurotypical employees, they just tend to be more pronounced. Whereas most employees can navigate the workplace well enough without explicit guidance and feedback, employees with autism require strict clarity, detailed feedback and enhanced process orientation. Adopting these principles, D’Eri says, is critical for businesses.

“When organizations change those [policies] and try to hire based on objective standards and try to build a developmental culture, they see benefits not only with hiring or supporting neurodivergent individuals, but [for] their entire workforce.”

By creating a workplace that is tailored specifically towards the strengths of those with autism, Rising Tide has been able to serve as a foundation for its employees to achieve further career success. More than 75 percent of Rising Tide alumni have moved to other jobs, some in technical fields, or on to higher education.

Photo credit: Sonju Photography

Rising Tide currently has three locations across Broward, but hopes to expand in the future to more areas of South Florida. Their tagline is “we put potential to work” and D’Eri says that’s what they will continue to do.

“Our mission is to employ and help develop individuals with autism and the platform that we do that through is providing an exceptional carwash experience to our community.”

Tyler Childress
Tyler is the Web Editor and a contributing writer for Boca Raton magazine. He covers tech, education, housing and other issues affecting South Floridians. Follow him on Twitter at @birthoftheblue and send story tips to tyler@bocamag.com.

Related Articles

Latest Articles