When Eric Wulf took over as executive director of the International Carwash Association, one of his goals was to strengthen the "international" in the ICA's name. Since taking over in January 2009, Wulf has reached out around the globe, building formal ties with the Italian association of carwash vendors and opening dialogue with industry associations in Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
This fall, Wulf and a contingent of carwash industry professionals embarked on a tour of some of Germany’s most innovative carwash companies and attended Automechanika, the largest European trade show for the automobile sector.
The group consisted of 28 ICA members representing both the retail operator and supply sides of the industry. Suppliers included point-of-sale, equipment, water reclamation and chemical manufacturers, as well as distributors.
Modern Car Care recently caught up with Wulf to get his impressions of the Germany trip and the European carwash industry.
MCC: You took a delegation of carwash industry professionals to Germany this fall. What advantages can U.S. carwash professionals gain by attending an event like Automechanika and touring foreign facilities like Mr. Wash Auto-Service?
EW: The trip to Germany was a learning opportunity for our members and the association. We were able to visit with European manufacturers and carwash sites, providing new ideas from markets that are less familiar to most of us. Additionally, we were able to network with suppliers and operators and evaluate what opportunities may exist in those markets for our members.
MCC: What was the most impressive aspect to the Mr. Wash Auto-Service facility you toured? What surprised you most about this impressive German operation?
EW: The sheer scale of Mr. Wash is immediately the most impressive. The total investment for the site we visited in Stuttgart was approximately €30 million — that’s more than $40 million! The site has a double washing conveyor, a double detailing conveyor and more than 40 self-serve interior cleaning stations. Beyond the scope, the most surprising aspect was a relatively high use of labor in the wash process — there were three prepping stations prior to the conveyor. Also, while the site features roughly one-dozen petrol pumps, carwashes are not vended from those pumps. Instead, those customers must leave their car and purchase their wash from an inside clerk.
MCC: How would you compare the health of the European carwashing industry to what we are experiencing in the United States?
EW: Most of the European market is considered mature and is not dissimilar to the United States in terms of growth rates. Germany has the strongest economy in Europe right now and eastern Europe’s emerging economies do seem to have higher growth potential in carwash right now. Most estimates place total retail carwash sales in Europe being within the same range as the United States. One significant difference is the profile of the operator. The European carwash market is dominated by petroleum retailers, though there is growth in the owner-operator segment.
MCC: For those in the industry who have not attended Automechanika in Frankfurt, how would you describe the spectacle that is Europe’s largest trade show for the automobile sector? What stood out this year in the show’s designated carwash area?
EW: Automechanika features a diverse universe of automotive products, and carwash is but one component. One nice feature of their carwash section is that it is outdoors and cars are actually being washed. Also different from North American trade shows is the style of exhibition. Most booths feature food and drink and even have scheduled, hosted meals for visitors.
MCC: As you have reached out internationally since taking over as executive director, what has been the biggest challenge in spearheading efforts to establish better communication and exchange of ideas between international carwashing groups? What can we expect in the near future?
EW: Knowing that the professional carwash industry is becoming more global and diverse, we have made international outreach a focus of our work in recent years. We have established ties with carwash associations in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom over the past two years. International Carwash Association, along with Federlavaggi (the Italian association of carwash suppliers), will be hosting a global carwash association summit in Bologna, Italy, next spring, in conjunction with the Autopromotec trade fair.
MCC: Your tour concluded in Munich in time for Oktoberfest. Give us a little flavor of what that experience was like. Speaking of flavors, what was your favorite Oktoberfest beverage?
EW: Yes, we did find some time to enjoy the sights during our trip, and Munich was certainly a highlight. We spent one day at Oktoberfest, participating in what was the 200th anniversary of the annual festival. I’ll acknowledge that the group enjoyed itself, and maybe I should stop there!