The current challenges of UK’s car wash leader Wilcomatic
Wilcomatic is washing more than 8 million vehicles every year on around 2000 locations. They either own the car wash or have installed them for clients. Recently, Otto Christ AG presented the British company with an award for commercial success for being the best sales organisation in the region. High time for an interview.
“Compared to continental Europe, the car wash market in the UK is a bit different”, David Nuth kicks off the Zoom-interview with Carwashpro.
And the commercial director of Wilcomatic is right, we learn. For starters, many motorists in the United Kingdom wash their cars at supermarkets. They go to a Sainsbury’s, a Morrisons or a COOP, where they fill their trunk with groceries, throw a newspaper on the passenger seat and afterwards use a rollover on the supermarket’s site.
Nuth: “In the UK, we have about 40% market share when it comes to automatic car washes. We have commercial agreements with the supermarkets. We own the car washing machines (currently almost 600, we learn, rp ) and they are all at the supermarkets’ sites. It’s our responsibility to maintain those machines and keep them operating.”
Apart from supermarkets and independent garage owners, Wilcomatic Wash Systems deliver industrial cleaning machines to the Ministry of Defense, to rail companies around the world and home delivery companies such as Acado, the latter who clean their vans on a daily basis.
You could very well call Wilcomatic Wash Systems an umbrella company, with a rail, bus & truck, consumer and retail-division. They supply wash systems to both small garages and to a few of the largest companies in the world.
Yet, they do so with a lean production. “Currently, we number about 130 staff”, Nuth says about the size of Wilcomatic. “We started in 1967 as a specialist vehicle washing operation. Later we became part of a motor retail group. When that group acquired new owners, they wanted to get rid of everything that was not selling cars. Hence Wilcomatic attracted the interest of private investors. In 2019 we were acquired by Westbridge Capital, which is a private equity house.”
Specialist conveyor systems
Though the car wash business in the UK is characterised mainly by rollover machines, Wilcomatic is very eager to distribute a wider range of Christ products in the future, such as conveyor systems. The bigger the better. “A good current example of this product differentiation is Purfleet Truck Wash, where we have recently installed four massive Christ Magnum truck washes. It’s a covered facility near London, and not far from the port of Dover. Truck drivers can park there overnight and get some rest whilst their vehicle can be washed and refueled. There’s also a restaurant attached to it. It’s a really nice facility. The truck wash is a good example of the specialist work we undertake.”
Wilcomatic has a long and strong relationship with Otto Christ AG, the German manufacturer of vehicle wash systems. In the UK, Nuth’s company is the sole authorised supplier of Christ. And a very good one, given the recent award of excellence Wilcomatic received.
The commercial director of Wilcomatic praises the flexibility of Christ. “If we have a special project, Christ will design the vehicle wash system to our customer’s specific needs, made-to-measure. The quality and reliability is very impressive. It cuts down on any engineers visits, because the machines operate to high standards and are reliable.” And last but not least: “Their machines look good. It’s a decent piece of German manufacturing.”
Both Brexit, the pandemic aftermath, and the current war in the Ukraine prove to be big challenges for Wilcomatic. But, they also mean new opportunities. “The car wash market in the UK is now very interesting”, according to Nuth. ” Many people from Eastern Europe who started car washes here about 20 years ago, went back to their original countries during the pandemic and did not return. The people who now operate those hand car washes cannot get staff. So they are now looking for conveyor systems, wash tunnels and automatic car washes to solve that problem. That’s where we come in. These are very interesting times for us.”
But the current global supply chain issues also affect Wilcomatic’s ambitions. “We have managed to fulfill most customer requirements, but it’s been very tough in terms of getting completed units from the factory. One of our customers in Sussex had to wait eight months more before his machine arrived. Some parts were very hard to get.”
The other challenge is to keep our own fleet of vans operational. Apart from the significantly greater fuel costs, which have doubled recently, we struggle to secure new vans for our engineers. Some have been driving around in vehicles that have done in excess of 250.000 kilometers, such is the long delivery time for new vans. And it is hard to find spare parts for them.”
And then there’s the issue of recruiting sufficient numbers of skilled staff. After Brexit, the salaries have risen considerably in the UK, according to Nuth. Plus, it’s now harder to retain staff. In the old days, specialized engineers stayed with the company for years on end. “But younger generations tend not to be so loyal”, Nuth finds. “There are so many companies offering great incentives to new starters, so we have to be on our toes”.
The Clean Car Club
Asked about future plans, the commercial director raves about “The Clean Car Club”, an app-based loyalty programme where consumers will receive discounted prices and personalised incentives. “I am looking at potentially enabling the app to open the car wash at your local supermarket. You will be able to scan a QR-code at the control panel, which opens the wash. Then you simply select the washing program on your phone.”
Wilcomatic is also working on a fleet washing proposition. “Let’s say you operate a fleet of 40 company cars. Of course you don’t want to pay retail prices, you want to save money. Employees can download an app which activates the car wash.
Afterwards, we can then provide the fleet manager with a monthly report, telling him or her how many times each car has been washed. That way, they can enforce the company policy for washing. But more importantly: they save half the price of a normal wash. Plus you get rid of a lot of expenses, claims and other administration.”
With almost 600 washes to choose from, this sounds like a sound plan.
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