Putting the Brakes on Car Wash Prices

Instilling enthusiasm in customers and employees alike is Richard Enning’s recipe for success. Always attuned to the times, this head of a medium-sized German business reacts promptly and fosters innovation with a sharp eye for detail.


Richard Enning, CEO of his family-owned company, regularly drives his 1993 Guards Red Porsche 964 Speedster through his own car washes — and even has the tire walls treated.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Most busi­ness lead­ers are cur­rent­ly grap­pling with the topic of “trans­for­ma­tion.” Major change is espe­cial­ly evi­dent in the mobil­i­ty sec­tor. But not for Richard Enning. “That doesn’t con­cern us,” says the CEO of Mr. Wash AG, a medi­um-sized fam­i­ly-owned com­pa­ny that now oper­ates 38 car wash­es in Ger­many. These aren’t small setups, by the way, but huge facil­i­ties with long tracks on as many as three floors. Mr. Wash cleans more than eight mil­lion cars a year. It posts 140 mil­lion euros in wash sales, 110 mil­lion from the adja­cent fill­ing sta­tions, and anoth­er 40 mil­lion from its “mac Oil” ser­vice, name­ly oil changes with no appoint­ment needed.

Richard Enning is Mis­ter Wash him­self. “Clean­li­ness is a fun­da­men­tal human need,” he says. His busi­ness is tai­lored to ful­fill­ing the need of car-crazy Ger­mans for vehi­cles that ver­i­ta­bly sparkle both inside and out. “‘Clean car — happy heart’ is our slo­gan,” he notes. The sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion head of this fam­i­ly-run busi­ness has turned wash­ing one’s car into an expe­ri­ence, start­ing at 10 euros, which includes clean­ing the rims. A com­bi­na­tion of price and per­for­mance is what makes Mr. Wash so com­pet­i­tive and ensures its suc­cess — for six decades now. For Enning goes well beyond what a sin­gle wash bay at a fill­ing sta­tion can offer. And he moves with the times, respond­ing imme­di­ate­ly to new devel­op­ments, new types of cars, and chang­ing cus­tomer needs. Viewed from an out­side per­spec­tive, trans­for­ma­tion is sim­ply part of busi­ness as usual, and has always been so.

Exterior wash, interior cleaning, a full tank, and on-the-spot oil changes are all on offer at the 38 sites run in big German cities by entrepreneur Richard Enning. When he finds a suitable lot, he builds the next facility.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Cosmetics and cappuccinos

The company’s newest site is in Enning’s home­town of Mül­heim an der Ruhr, in the west­ern state of North Rhine-West­phalia. “It’s prob­a­bly the world’s first large-scale car wash to meet all its elec­tric­i­ty needs with its own solar power,” observes Enning, who never tires of try­ing to make the entire process even more sus­tain­able. The exte­ri­or wash, inte­ri­or clean­ing, man­u­al appli­ca­tion of wax on the paint, and final pol­ish with fresh­ly washed plush yel­low tow­els are all designed to quick­en the hearts of car own­ers. There’s now even a make-up treat­ment for the walls of tires, in either “jet black” or “styl­ish gloss.” Enning worked with the top chemist at a tire dye maker to come up with this envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly, non-toxic, and exclu­sive prod­uct. But that’s not all. While the smart­ly attired and invari­ably cour­te­ous crews are devot­ing expert and respect­ful atten­tion to the finest auto­mo­tive cos­met­ic pro­ce­dures, cus­tomers can not only watch but also relax with fresh­ly brewed espres­so drinks and hot choco­late in white porce­lain mugs. Their chil­dren, in the mean­time, can ride a carousel free of charge.

But here’s the real high­light: the cus­tomer lounge with its com­fort­able seats also has a book exchange. Its vol­umes, from a wide range of gen­res, can be taken home. Cus­tomers can then return their books to the well-curat­ed lit­tle library. It’s a pop­u­lar place. So pop­u­lar, in fact, that Enning needs to keep it stocked. “We buy old books on eBay by the kilo,” he says. Gen­eros­i­ty is part of his busi­ness model. As is qual­i­ty. Every year he has around 12 tons of Dall­mayr beans brewed in fully auto­mat­ed pro­fes­sion­al-grade Franke machines, each of which costs around 16,000 euros, not count­ing main­te­nance. The beans are organ­ic and fair-trade, of course. “When we do some­thing,” remarks Enning, “we real­ly want to do it right.”

Mülheim an der Ruhr is the latest site. Mr. Wash can clean 300 cars an hour here. It’s also now home to the company’s highly specialized mechanical engineering team that looks after all its sites.Porsche Consulting/Heiner von der Laden

Extras without extra charges

All of that needs to pay off, with­out send­ing the price of a wash through the roof. In fact, it should do pre­cise­ly the oppo­site. Cus­tomers who want to save the addi­tion­al cost of hav­ing the inte­ri­or cleaned may do so them­selves for as long as they like in the superbly main­tained vac­u­um hall, at no extra charge. In addi­tion to high-pow­ered vac­u­um equip­ment, they can use a com­pressed-air pis­tol to remove dust and water droplets, a small stain­less-steel basin with warm water, and a device that inten­sive­ly cleans floor mats — all at each sta­tion so they don’t have to wait in line. Tire pres­sure can also be checked at the vac­u­um sta­tions. With their cars now sparkling inside and out, Mr. Wash cus­tomers drive con­tent­ed­ly away out onto the roads, per­haps with a new book on their pas­sen­ger seat.

For some peo­ple the wash expe­ri­ence might even be addic­tive. Enning has a found a solu­tion for them too, name­ly a flat rate. Cus­tomers who buy multi-month pack­ages can wash their cars as often as they like, even sev­er­al times a day if that floats their boat, so to speak. It also gives them VIP sta­tus. Flat-rate hold­ers have their own ded­i­cat­ed track. Not only that: a red-and-white bar imme­di­ate­ly rises when its sen­sor detects the incon­spic­u­ous black flat-rate bar code at the edge of the front wind­shield. A few meters later the pre­ferred customer’s car is stand­ing under the track’s first spray arch ready to be shampooed.

While their car interiors are being cleaned, customers can read books from a well-maintained library and even take them home. The CEO buys books on eBay by the kilo to restock.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Put it on your (pub) tab

That being said, Mr. Wash hard­ly trades in snob­bery. It offers attrac­tive ser­vices for every­one. Cus­tomers who come on week­day evenings between 6 and 7 pm get a vouch­er with their receipt for an iden­ti­cal wash free of charge — also on a week­day between 6 and 7. It’s no won­der, there­fore, that a size­able fan club gath­ers at the entrance short­ly before 6 in antic­i­pa­tion of a free wash. This “clean hour” fea­tures disco light­ing and the appro­pri­ate music. “It’s almost like a bar,” says Enning with a smile, pleased with the appeal it enjoys espe­cial­ly among younger clientele.

Enning wants his facil­i­ties to run at high capac­i­ty all day from 8:30 in the morn­ing to 7 in the evening, of course, in order for his busi­ness model to both suc­ceed and fuel growth. He wel­comes not only indi­vid­ual cus­tomers but also large fleets from busi­ness­es and pub­lic agen­cies. For them he has devel­oped a “Flex Wash” pro­gram. “It’s kind of like your neigh­bor­hood pub,” he explains. “You wash the car, put it on cred­it, and pay later.” Once reg­is­tered along with its license plate, each fleet vehi­cle can be washed when­ev­er desired at any of the 38 loca­tions. A detailed invoice is sent to the fleet oper­a­tor at the end of each month, which saves paper and admin­is­tra­tive costs. The recip­i­ents of these col­lec­tive invoic­es enjoy dis­counts of up to 20 per­cent, which puts the price of a stan­dard wash down to 8 euros. This pro­gram also makes Mr. Wash an attrac­tive option for the grow­ing car-share busi­ness, which needs to keep its com­mu­nal vehi­cles clean.

Cars wait in line for “happy hour” to commence at 6 pm. Drivers receive vouchers for an identical wash free of charge. The hour features music and disco lighting — “almost like a bar,” says Enning.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Countering inflation for customers and staff

The “wash price brake” is a good exam­ple of how Enning moves with the times and is quick to offer mini-reforms under strik­ing head­lines. “It reflects our promise not to raise our car wash prices for the entire year of 2023,” he says. He also address­es the needs of his more than 1,800 employ­ees (start­ing wage of at least 14 euros an hour). Every month from April to Decem­ber in 2023, they are receiv­ing a tax-free bonus of 100 euros to com­pen­sate for infla­tion. “It’s our way of slow­ing the rate of mon­e­tary deval­u­a­tion — on both sides,” he notes. Addi­tion­al ben­e­fits also enhance the attrac­tion of Mr. Wash as a place to work. For exam­ple, all employ­ees get their birth­days off, at full pay. And in the inter­est of his employ­ees’ fam­i­ly lives, Enning halt­ed the prac­tice that some loca­tions used to have of open­ing on Sundays.

Hail­ing from 73 dif­fer­ent coun­tries, the employ­ees are Enning’s great­est asset. But not the only one. If you have the occa­sion to visit his office, you might spot real estate offers and land reg­is­ter maps on his two mon­i­tors. The com­pa­ny is expand­ing, and is there­fore always on the look­out for new loca­tions. Enning only rarely signs a lease, how­ev­er. “When­ev­er pos­si­ble, we buy the prop­er­ty,” he says. Sites on thor­ough­fares in major cities are choice pieces of prop­er­ty and enor­mous busi­ness assets. They also keep costs sta­ble. No land­lords can help them­selves to a slice of the expand­ing sales pie.

The com­pa­ny recent­ly made a pur­chase, name­ly 22,100 square meters on a major artery in the east­ern Ger­man city of Leipzig, near the cen­ter of town. “We’re plan­ning a new Mr. Wash with attrac­tive archi­tec­ture,” says Enning. Each site has its own indi­vid­ual design. In the port city of Ham­burg it takes the form of a cruise ship. In envi­ron­men­tal­ly con­scious Mün­ster it fea­tures enor­mous leaves on the ceil­ings and walls. And graf­fi­ti art graces the premis­es in hip Cologne. The com­pa­ny invests an aver­age of 20 mil­lion euros in each new wash factory.

Richard Enning regularly visits his car wash sites, like here in Mülheim an der Ruhr with site manager Simon Kampermann. Ideas for improvements and innovations often arise from everyday operations.Martin Möller/Funke Foto Services
Cars move through the hall on a conveyor line. The basic wash includes a thorough cleaning of the rims. “When we do something, we really want to do it right” is the CEO’s guiding principle.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Customers enjoy free freshly brewed coffee in white porcelain mugs. Sustainability is a priority for the CEO, including green energy, solar power systems, water reduction measures, and wastewater processing.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
An open book by Mr. Wash describes how the free library works. Employees keep the shelves and their contents in good order.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
A basic wash costs 10 euros. Regular customers can book a flat rate that gives them automatic access to a fast track at all 38 sites.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Richard Enning (right) with Tanja Krupp and Heiner von der Laden from Porsche Consulting Magazine at the customer lounge in Essen.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Nothing off the rack

There’s more to see in the CEO’s office, such as pro­to­types of tech­ni­cal advances that are soon to be intro­duced. But Enning doesn’t divulge any specifics, nor about poten­tial new loca­tions in the future. The rest of the indus­try watch­es the ever expand­ing dom­i­nant play­er with wide eyes. How can he do that: offer superb ser­vices with free extras at com­pet­i­tive prices? One key fac­tor is sheer stub­born­ness — in a pos­i­tive sense. The com­pa­ny designs its tech­ni­cal facil­i­ties itself, with its own per­son­nel includ­ing elec­tri­cal engi­neers, mecha­tron­ics spe­cial­ists, and experts in automa­tion engi­neer­ing. “Noth­ing here is off the rack,” remarks Enning on a tour of his site in Essen. “We draw on our expe­ri­ence in every­day oper­a­tions to keep refin­ing the tech­nol­o­gy in our machin­ery and process­es, which means we’re always becom­ing a lit­tle bet­ter.” This new site in Mül­heim is also now home to the company’s own 15-mem­ber mechan­i­cal engi­neer­ing team, which is respon­si­ble for equip­ping exist­ing and future loca­tions and updat­ing the rel­e­vant technology.

It’s abun­dant­ly clear that the head of this fam­i­ly-owned com­pa­ny loves inde­pen­dence in every respect. To main­tain this free­dom, he needs to stay on the ball, keep abreast of the times, and con­tin­u­ous­ly devel­op his com­pa­ny. Can we real­ly say that trans­for­ma­tion isn’t a con­cern for Richard Enning? It might be that trans­for­ma­tion sim­ply comes nat­u­ral­ly to him, and is an inte­gral part of his every­day oper­a­tions. At any rate, this son of the com­pa­ny founder is con­stant­ly rein­vent­ing his own busi­ness — with a sharp eye for detail. And an unswerv­ing focus on his cus­tomers. “But as you know,” says Enning as we part, “that’s also a key part of the phi­los­o­phy at Porsche.”

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