Jonathan James spent £100K in January on four jet washes and two plastic tunnels supplied by WashTec.

He spent the money in the first place because a hand-wash place was thriving around the corner and he needed to bring his own offering up to speed.

He had previously had six machines and at the weekend five had been out of action. Someone had cut the pipes but the police couldn’t help as the camera evidence wasn’t clear enough. The car wash side of the business slipped from £150K to £90K so Jonathan bit the bullet and invested in what he believed to be a state-of-the-art Eco Prisma from WashTec.

After the installation things immediately went wrong. The hot wax didn’t work. There were ten failures of coin mechanism. WashTec did respond to every complaint. "The service has been good," says Jonathan, "but I wasn’t moaning for the sake of it. The bigger picture was the reliability - or lack of it - of the machine. Was it released knowingly with these faults?

For its part, WashTec did pull out all the stops. It produced a six-page report. There were meetings lasting hours and a team of engineers visited followed by a second team to test the chemicals.

Jonathan says that the problems have now been resolved and he was given compensation.

But as a member of the Lakeside Group (others of whom had had similar problems with the coin mechanism) he felt he should tell his tale for the benefit of other forecourt traders.

"Ten months to get it working right was wholly unacceptable, so I feel obliged to let other people know," says Jonathan, "to keep big companies like this on their toes." For its part, WashTec does not deny there were problems with Jonathan’s installation. Managing director Steve Jeffs says: "As far as we are concerned, the problem has been settled amicably."

== Till roll bills ==

As I have reported in this column previously, there are plenty of rogues out there trying to flog you unsolicited stuff for out-of-the-ballpark sums of money.

It does of course sometimes reflect badly on those in the market trying to make an honest crust.

One such is company is Fortoak, a reputable till roll company which has been trading for over 27 years and which is calling for action to stamp out cowboys. These are mainly Canadian cowboys running nationwide scams in the UK, charging up to £300 for unwanted goods worth closer to £30.

Fortoak managing director, Philip Tenwick, says that his own company has been financially hit with turnover down by as much as 20% as small businesses lose trust and begin to tar all till roll suppliers with the same brush. "We are liaising closely with the Office of Fair Trading and have passed on a lot of information and evidence about how these companies operate and how the scam works. We are deeply concerned about businesses out there thinking that we are associated with these companies - we are not and we will continue to broadcast this news as it is our reputation that is on the line."

He also asks that if any of you have been hit by such companies to email him at or call the Fortoak sales office on 0870 606 2277.

== Drive-offs are forever ==

In a recent issue I wrote that a forecourt operator told me that he would have to sell 6,000 litres of fuel to ’make up’ for a thirty quid drive-off. In fact I often get this type of ’trade off’ statistic from retailers who have been robbed one way or another.

But Mike Webber picked me up on this. "Never mind how many thousands of litres of fuel your retailer sells. He will never make up the cost of a drive-off. It is gone, and gone forever!" He’s quite right of course.

Mike isn’t an operator himself. He is in sales development on the lookout for new products for his company, Indigo Retail Holdings, to sell into the retail forecourt market. He’s been around since 1980 and reckons he might have the dubious privilege of being the longest-serving full time sales person in this industry. And he remembers a time when there were in excess of 32,000 forecourts - and I don’t imagine there were, pro rata, as many drive-offs then either.

== Jingle tills time ==

Do you actually make any more in the run-up to Christmas? I’ve always wondered. Do customers think, ooh, nearly Christmas, better splash out on the car - give it a good wash and a big drink, maybe even a prezzie like an in-car freshener. Hang a bit of tinsel?

I doubt it. But then, there are those distress/impulse purchases, especially when customers forget that once-a-year packet of custard or get that last-minute invitation - then they really need that bunch of flowers, bottle of wine or big box of chocs.

I wish you joyful jingling of tills, merry marketing and a better year next year than you had this year, regardless.