Quantum Leap

Wash It Australia is a story of entrepreneurial vision, independence and unyielding belief with a bit of good luck thrown in.
Isuzu FRR.

In the beginning there was sponges. They were contained in a giant plastic carryall that was so big it took up most of the space in the storage facility Ben Hennock kept it in.

The problem was that he needed to access the space every week in order to do his day job which was filling up vending machines. The sponges were always seemingly in the way.

The subleased warehouse in Chirnside where he would deliver to the nearby Fortitude Valley, was saving Ben from having to pull every single can and coin out and count it each time he returned to the Coca Cola yard.

To avoid having to do that, like all the other drivers, he would instead use this makeshift satellite depot.

Here he did a stocktake once a week instead of three times a day. But the big bag of sponges – $2000 worth to be exact – purchased from Clark Rubber was always in the way.

In fact, the bag, which was bigger than his van, was proving itself an ongoing inconvenience.

Washing trucks was, at first, a supplementary income while Ben, an early school leaver, apprenticed as a chef. It was weekend work that even at a young age he knew instinctively had promise.

The Mum and Pop small business he had been working for three years earlier, while limited to one site, struck him as having great potential as an enterprise.

The bag of sponges, like some nuisance reminder of miscarried ambition, had been his first investment in a future truck wash business.

For the moment, however, all it did was seemingly mock him each time he dragged it out of the way for a stocktake. The year was 2008.

Wash It Australia Managing Director Ben Hennock with Business Development Manager Alana Kennedy.

Every Thursday B105, a Brisbane radio station, ran a competition called the Fugitive. The idea was to find the so-called fugitive who was at an undisclosed location after B105 teased listeners with clues.

Ben was familiar with the competition. The clues until recently had usually pointed to his area on the northside of the city.

That morning he was convinced the fugitive was at Strathmore Westfield, only minutes from his warehouse. He jumped in the van. Coming down the shopping centre escalators his suspicion was soon substantiated. He won $5000.

That money, along with a $20,000 personal loan, was used to purchase some pressure washers and a ute that seeded the national company Ben now owns, Wash It Australia.

At that same self-storage facility, the customers had use of three trucks. Ben used them too, only to show his first staff – two mates from high school – how to properly wash a truck.

The Brisbane business eventually expanded, firstly to Melbourne. Sydney, Adelaide, Townsville, Mackay, and Perth followed.

He scaled the business geographically rather than financially knowing the former, if done right, would lead to positive outcomes in the latter.

Their first two customers were FJ Walker, now known as McKee Distribution, who are responsible for the McDonald’s delivery trucks; and Toll Car Carriers.

At the time Ford and Holden enjoyed strong output from their manufacturing facilities meaning the vehicles needed to be delivered to dealerships and so car carrying was still a significant segment of commercial road transport.

At age 22 when large sections of the male population are adjusting the volume on the test cricket to soothe their hangover Ben was running his own company on nights and weekends.

It paid off. By the age of 35 he moved about the country from the comfort of a private jet — he owned.

The business now maintains national contracts with the likes of Coles, Woolworths, FedEx, Australia Post, SCT Logistics, Team Global Express and others.

Put simply, Wash It Australia is a fully mobile outfit with satellite depots in every capital city.

They attend customer sites where, as part of their unique service, they will lay out a large UV-resistant wash mat that can catch all the water which is recycled and reused. Wash It currently services 6000 vehicles a week nationally.

“We lay out a big environmental PVC mat, which features block up sides,” explains Ben.

“It has a portable catchment area. We will drive a truck onto it, wash the truck, capture the water, recycle it, reuse it, put it down sewer or take it off site, whatever the requirement might be.”

The business now employs nearly 200 staff. There’s a General Manager, Operations Manager, Compliance and Business Development Managers like Alana Kennedy, who has been with the business nine years, that oversee the national business and state managers below that.

Head management and support are scattered throughout Australia. The team, like the vehicles it operates, are uniformly dressed in the distinct bubble insignia of the company.

There are 11 Isuzu trucks in the fleet. They find use for both the smaller Isuzu FTR 150-260s and the medium-duty F Series, mainly the FRRs. Both models are built and designed to a similar application as water trucks.

“We have 15,000-litres of water that we take out to site,” Ben says. “The trucks all have custom bodies to carry the fleet wash and carry water with the pressure cleaners.”

Wash It operates brush machines that the operator, not dissimilar to a golf cart, sits inside of. The equipment stands at a height of 4.8 metres. In order to reduce the dimensions a special body has been customised.

“They can’t stand inside them or they would take out all the bridges on the highway,” says Ben. “And so the body is customised where it now lays down. Predominantly, these brush machines are imported on trailers that require the operator to lay flat.”

Outside the Wash It headquarters in Brisbane.

Ben came up with an idea so as to maximise what he felt was wasted space.

“We had it put on a bit of an angle, so it doesn’t have to lay so horizontal,” he says. “There’s water tanks underneath the fleet wash as we call it.”

On the FTRs, the mobile brush machine is detached from the truck where it is operated vertically.

The machine is then driven around the truck or trailer that needs washing, saving time and manual labour. The FTRs were initially purchased as a solution to carry an increase in water and to take away more wastewater.

With the light- and medium-duty truck category one of the most competitive product lines in the country, there was never a question Wash It Australia would rely on any other brand other than Isuzu.

The chief selling point foremost, according to Ben, was Isuzu’s standout network.

“With the hours of operation that we work, there’s weekends and a lot of night stuff, we needed someone who has a strong network nationally,” says Ben. “Isuzu offers that without question from a breakdown and service point of view.”

The Isuzu NQRs are nimble enough to access some of the tighter sites like a customer’s wash bay or the smaller undercover carparks often encountered.

Feedback sought out by Ben on these trucks and the team that operates them is used to build a profile to further the efficiencies they can exploit on the next vehicle that is purchased.

The latest unit from Isuzu is a NLR 45 traypack. It was deployed recently at the Wash It site in Perth.

The location is important strategically for the business where three of its biggest clients, Team Global Express, Woolworths and Coles are all nestled side-by-side. This close proximity was the premise behind the latest mobile asset in the business, the Terberg EV yard tractor.

“With the EV vehicle the maximum we can get out of it is 60 kilometres,” says Ben. “Having the site with three customers side-by-side cuts that range limitation out.”

The Terberg EV tractor, according to Ben, is extremely quiet.

“Especially when you’re pulling a loaded semi you can’t hear this thing coming at all,” he says. “That’s the only downside to it.”

To mitigate any risks to safety, the Terberg EV tractor is now equipped with a reverse squawker that works 24/7 once it is activated.

Wash It has fitted it aftermarket. The tractor lives at the TGE workshop where it is charged overnight.

“The beauty about it is we grab the trailer and go to the wash. We turn the vehicle off, and they wash it, and the vehicle is turned back on,” says Ben. “It’s not running all day.”

To lower its emissions, Wash It has recently invested in electric pressure cleaners and electric brush machines as well.

“Obviously, the way the world is going, and our customers are going we thought that it would be the right thing to do,” adds Ben.

Terberg EV tractor.
The new Terberb EV tractor in Western Australia. Image: Wash It Australia.

Contrary to assumption, a mobile truck wash will operate in all kinds of conditions even when it’s raining.

Cold carriers that use refrigerated trailers constantly require that these are cleaned regularly for food safety compliance.

“We can have rain pouring down for a week but we’ve still got to send the crew out to hose out the insides for the sanitisation requirements made of our customers because they cart food,” says Ben.

“We offer small details or blowouts for the insides of the cabs. Deep cleans, also, for COVID.”

The majority of the customers are on either weekly, fortnightly or monthly schedules.

“We don’t just do one-offs,” says Ben. “There are usually 20 or more vehicles at each site.”

The business also performs jobs across the corporate world including the V8 Supercars.

“There is a lot of sites where we refit the wash space or we put staff in to operate it,” says Ben.

The logistics of putting together a full portable wash can be catered to individual customers.

That said, the process of washing the vehicles, from 12-pallets rigids to heavy haulage prime movers, varies little.

There’s some expansion to come later this year. Northern Queensland and country New South Wales are the next sites in the offing after having expanded their network into country Victoria earlier in the year. Ben hopes to be in New Zealand by the end of the year.

“There’s always a lot happening and as we get bigger so do the challenges,” says Ben. “But with every challenge also comes opportunity. Some days it feels like we’re just getting started.”

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