This time last year the south east of England was in the grip of drought orders, with many petrol retailers fearing their car washes would be shut down - with dire consequences to their business.
And while the current soggy weather couldn’t be more contrasting to that of 2006, certain interested parties in the petrol-retailing sector have decided not to get caught short again.
They have got together to form the Car Wash Campaign Group - officially launched in May - to provide a voice for responsible car wash businesses.
The Group aims to promote high environmental and safety standards and ensure that operations that do not meet those standards are properly targeted by regulation and enforcement.
In particular, the group will focus on ensuring that the environmental regulations that apply to commercial car wash operations are being enforced. The group’s other priority is to ensure that there is a proper debate on the impact of automatic car washes in times of water shortage.
The group, which already includes car wash operators trading on forecourts and car wash suppliers, is looking to bring in more businesses so as to provide a collective voice for the car wash industry.
The group is to be chaired by David Charman of Parkfoot Garage in West Malling, Kent who was one of the most outspoken and proactive of retailers when his sizeable car wash business came under threat last year. His solution - to avoid further sleepless nights, and the livelihood of his business being held to ransom by local water authorities - was to drill a borehole, to ensure a free-flowing supply of water to his car wash operation.
At the same time he called for a campaign to challenge the threats to car wash business - not just from drought orders, but from rogue car washers who do not conform to environmental legislation.
"It’s taken a long time but we’ve got here at last," he said. "I felt very strongly that as forecourt retailers, we needed to represent ourselves - which we weren’t.
"We need to be getting information together so we are prepared when, for example, the government needs information about our industry.
"Unbeknown to anyone at the moment, the government is currently making enquiries about everything to do with water shortages so it knows how to tackle the problem next time there is a drought. As an industry we therefore need to provide government officials with better information than they currently have about what they should be looking for as far as car washing is concerned.
"The information they currently have is extremely out of date. We can’t expect them to make sensible decisions about our industry when their conclusions are based on data from the 1960s! They need to know how much water modern car washes use, for example. If we don’t gather this information now, we could miss out in the future.
"We are very concerned about the inconsistent approach to how automatic car washes should be treated at times of water shortage. We want to challenge the presumption that car washes are an inefficient use of water, and - in particular - stress that washing cars by hosepipe is by far the least water-efficient way to wash a car. We will be pressing for a fact-based debate on this issue and for a consistent approach to how car washes are treated to remove the great amount of uncertainty that has arisen in the past and will likely do so again."
Charman said the Car Wash Campaign Group was about speaking up for those responsible businesses that provide a valuable customer service to high quality standards and with due regard to the regulatory and environmental obligations that the business entails.
"We’re not trying to say hand car washes are not acceptable - no-one’s trying to stifle competition - we just want them to operate above board.
"Commercial car washing contributes more than £800m to our economy. It also provides a water-efficient, safe service to drivers. We believe that those businesses that trade in compliance with the law should not be penalised for acting responsibly when others ignore the rules. In recent times we have seen the dramatic growth in unregulated hand car wash operations. These pose significant environmental concerns as they often do not invest in correct disposal of waste-water and chemicals. We will be calling on the Environment Agency and government in particular to take enforcement on this issue seriously.
Charman also stressed the need for all car wash businesses to come together: "The Car Wash Campaign Group is a forum through which the car wash industry can come together and ensure our concerns are taken seriously. It is open to all businesses that share our ambition and we are keen to bring on board many more of our colleagues."
The group is provided secretarial support by the Association of Convenience Stores, but will set its own agenda and campaign strategy. The group is currently being funded by all the car wash companies. There will be a small charge for membership, but Charman hopes there will be great benefits for all concerned - including recognition by consumers of a professional car wash operation.
The first meeting will take place in London on June 6. Interested retailers should contact the ACS on 01252 515001.
=== campaign facts ===
1. The group is chaired by David Charman and the secretariat is the Association of Convenience Stores.
2. Members so far include Lakeside Group of companies, Total, Esso, Wash-Tec, Wilcomatic, Car Wash UK, Ryko and ACS.
3. A legitimate car wash which uses 120 litres of water, will use only a quarter of what would be wasted by a person washing their car at home (approx 480 litres).
4. It is due to this wastage that washing a car at home is banned in other countries, eg Germany.
5. Car washes on forecourt sites have to comply with environmental standards before they are issued with an Environmental Permit, allowing them to operate. The Pollution Prevention Guidelines can be found at: [http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk]