While the trend on UK forecourts may be to bury the car wash area under a shiny new shop extension, the same cannot be said about the rest of Europe, according to the powers that be at Otto Christ AG, the German masters in vehicle wash manufacturing. And they should know.
The family-run company which was originally founded in Memingham in 1879 by Anton Christ has been building car washes in the same town since 1963. It currently employs more than 1,100 employees throughout Europe; has an annual turnover of more than 100 million euros and operates extensive production facilities the main factory in Memmingham is more than 69,920sq m. The company produces thousands of vehicle cleaning machines and accessories of all types, every year.
The main focus for Otto Christ AG, according to director Alex Christ, is on quality and innovation, with future developments focusing on the efficiency of car washes, so they use less electricity and water; and on the speed of the wash.
"Our technology helps to keep the customers coming back," he stresses. "There have been a lot of innovations in the past few years, such as in the look, feel and smell of the chemicals; in brush technology; and in environmental developments, that have all helped to create a more positive image to consumers.
"We work together with car wash operators to help them encourage their customers to have a good feeling when they come in. We are trying to make using the car wash as easy and convenient as possible; and are focused on producing the best-quality wash, to reassure the motorist that there will be no damage to the car.
"The situation in the UK, with the growth of hand car washing, we don’t have in Germany or other parts of Europe, where the opposite is true: the automatic car wash business is increasing, and there is less hand washing."
Much of the reason for the difference in car wash fortunes around Europe is because of legislation. For example, you can’t wash cars in the street in Germany, and all car wash machines have to have a recycling system.
"The laws in the UK are getting stricter now, but it’s a two-edged thing," says Kevin Pay, managing director of Croydon-based Wilcomatic, which supplies Christ vehicle wash equipment in the UK, and wants to be seen as ’environmentally friendly’ trailblazer in the UK.
Wilcomatic is also a founder member of the Car Wash Association, which is leading the battle against illegal car wash operators.
"While legislation is tightening up, enforcement is variable," explains Pay.
"Local authorities don’t have the resources and it’s not a high enough priority in government.
"However car washing is a thriving industry, and if people could only understand and appreciate that it’s still worth investing in, they too could be a part of that thriving industry. You wouldn’t have a business the size of Otto Christ if, across Europe, it wasn’t that successful."
Impressed by the Otto Christ philosophy on customer orientation, quality, design and service, Wilcomatic has been supplying Christ equipment for about 10 years, and as a company is enjoying particular success this year with a 25% increase in sales. Hence a tour round the Memmingham factory, accompanied by the enthusiastic Pay, is highly recommended for anyone considering investing in Christ equipment. There you will learn about the many unique selling points. You will also learn that lots of complex parts around 16,000 go into the making of a car wash machine; that Christ makes 80% of them so that it can keep control of quality; that beyond the basic frame, each car wash is built to specific customer requirements; that Christ claims to be the only car wash manufacturer to test the machines and programmes prior to leaving the factory, connecting them to electricity and water; and that from order to manufacture is six weeks.
You will see and hear much on the construction process that is all about quality and longevity. There are also the more superficial aspects on the machines, such as the flashing lights that indicate progress through the wash programmes, that add theatre to engage customers.
"Everything is manufactured here, not just imported and assembled," stresses Pay.
"Plus it is a family business, and the fact the Christ name is on the side of each wash makes it more personal."
www.wilcomatic.co.uk 020 8649 5760