Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Mark VII's new captain charts his course

October 11, 2010

Consolidation has been a buzz-word in the carwash industry for almost as long as carwashes have been around.

The news of WashTec’s recent purchase of Mark VII may have been a surprise to some, but it was by no means a shockingly singular event in this ever-changing industry.

What this event does signify is the foothold of a large international company that may be capable of tackling the U.S. carwash market, a feat that has proven difficult for other multi-continent wash manufacturers that sought to replicate their successes here.

It may also add some friction on the already-fiercely competitive battleground, where touch-free and soft-touch manufacturers are maneuvering for shares of the burgeoning rollover markets, including hybrids that combine aspects of both types of washes.

And, it may add some heat in the expanding express exterior environment as well.

Synergistic signs
On Jan. 18, Mark VII, manufacturer of touch-free carwash equipment announced that it had been purchased by WashTec AG1 of Augsburg, Germany, one of the world’s largest suppliers of carwash equipment.

WashTec’s innovative soft foam material helped the company gain huge market shares in Europe, as well as dozens of other countries worldwide.

MarkVII, which served as WashTec’s exclusive distributor in the U.S. for the past three years, will now hope to accelerate WashTec’s penetration on this continent by manufacturing WashTec equipment in its Colorado facilities.

Christian Bernert, previously the finance director for WashTec, officially took the helm of the newly configured Mark VII in January, moving from Germany to a permanent position in the U.S. Bernert entered the carwash industry four years ago from General Electric’s Essen, Germany and London locations.

Bernert has become captain of a vessel already well into its journey. Founded in 1966, Mark VII is well-known in the industry as a reputable provider of touch-free carwash equipment. According to Mark VII’s Web site, between the years 1988 and 1998, the company’s market share grew from less than 1 percent to an estimated 35 percent of the global touch-free carwash market.

According to Bernert, WashTec looked to Mark VII first to further their platform in the North American carwash market because of the company’s reliable reputation and already strong brand recognition.

By partnering WashTec’s friction line with Mark VII’s touch-free equipment, Bernert believes that the group will be able to offer customers a full portfolio of carwash products.

“With our product synergies being so great — with friction being our core competency and the touchless market being Mark VII’s [strength] — this is just a perfect fit from a market and product standpoint,” Bernert said.

Timely transition
WashTec’s three-year relationship with Mark VII has allowed the transition and acclimation by the two groups to happen with exceptional ease, Bernert explained.

Bernert said that WashTec thinks it will keep the Mark VII name in place because of its strongly established brand recognition in the carwash market.

“We’re looking to take the best from both companies,” Bernert said. “I think there are some great things that Mark VII is doing that we believe we can learn from and use more in Germany and Europe.

“I also believe there are some things that we might do a little bit differently in Europe that might be of great value to Mark VII.”

According to Bernert, the greatest asset will be bringing the production of WashTec’s friction line into Mark VII’s Colorado manufacturing facilities.

“I don’t think I’ve gotten any negative feedback,” Bernert said, “which surprised me a little bit. It’s very clear to all our key customers and distributors that these are great opportunities for them as well.”

Uncharted waters
WashTec has made it very clear that they want to be the recognized leader in the North American carwash market, much as they have been in Europe.

Bernert explained that the company wants to serve all customers and hopes that anyone entering the carwash industry looking for new equipment will think of WashTec and Mark VII first.

According to Bernert, the new conglomerate expects to introduce some new exciting products that will help move the industry forward. However, he noted that it is still too early after the acquisition to predict the timing or the details about an expanded product base.

Considering the recent spike in the express exterior trend, the question of whether WashTec/Mark VII will pursue that equipment market seemed appropriate.

“We’re looking at a lot of different products and, of course, have seen this trend in North America,” Bernert stated. “Most certainly we will prioritize our efforts and that’s, on the midterm, something we will definitely be looking at.”

According to Bernert, the company wants to focus on the greatest opportunity first, and that’s their friction products.

However, WashTec’s manufacturing versatility, with products including rollovers, self-serve systems and conveyors, could very well take the North American focus in several directions.

Bernert admitted that the company has a lot of product concepts in various stages of planning.

“On the other hand,” Bernert said, “we will not bring half-baked products to the market. All the products that we bring to the market will have gone through a very rigorous new product introduction process.”

The company will not attempt to “reinvent the wheel,” Bernert stated, but he said they will unveil enough at the upcoming International Carwash Association’s Car Care World Expo in Las Vegas so attendees will get some idea of the course they are charting.

Position of power
The waters on Mark VII’s immediate path seem fairly smooth; WashTec will begin manufacturing its friction products in the current Mark VII manufacturing facilities, instead of just doing final prep of the German-built units.

The future will reveal whether the new Mark VII will continue to emphasize its strength in the in-bay rollover market or begin to flex more muscles in the express exterior market, perhaps to play with both or discover a new market altogether.

Only time will tell, and until then, the industry is left to its best-guesses based on Bernert’s summary.

“We want to offer the full spectrum and be a full-service provider to our customers and whatever customer needs are out there,” Bernert said. “I think we are now in a great position to meet all customer requirements.”