Rafael Tomás is CEO of ISTOBAL for Corporate Development and Markets. Rafael joined ISTOBAL in 1992 as Key Account Manager, and was appointed as deputy to the company’s CEO four years later. In 1998, he was named director of sales, a role in which he was responsible for the export market with the main task of strategically expanding the Technical Service department. In 2006, he became CEO of ISTOBAL, a position he holds 11 years later.
Yolanda Tomás is CEO of ISTOBAL for Product Development and Marketing. Yolanda joined ISTOBAL in 1999 as part of the sales department, coordinating key markets such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Belgium. She later took over the strategic management of large oil company accounts and became director of sales in Spain. In 2005, she was named director of ISTOBAL Deutschland to further the growth of this important market. Four years later, she was appointed to her current position.
Both have excellent management records and ample experience driving growth and profitability in the car wash and car care industry. Strategic leaders and innovators, they have preserved the essence of a family business, now in its third generation, while leading a multinational corporation with 10 subsidiaries and three assembly plants on several continents.
How important is the brand to your company’s strategy? What motivated your recent corporate image change?
Yolanda Tomás: Recognition of the ISTOBAL brand among our clients, collaborators and consumers is the key to the company’s strategy. The ISTOBAL brand has evolved gradually throughout the group’s 67-year history. We have adapted to the needs of our times and surroundings, and our brand has evolved and grown along with us as a company. We made the latest change to our corporate image this year because taking care of our brand has become especially important. The change responds to our need as a multinational to boost brand awareness and recognition worldwide, further our growth and tackle new business challenges.
A number of years ago, we decided to be more open in terms of marketing and communications to improve brand visibility. We started in Spain and are now focusing on markets such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy and Austria. Our goal is to keep gradually expanding in other countries, and continue communicating effectively with our global customers and collaborators as well as the users of our systems. Our message to them is simple and powerful: ISTOBAL is by your side, looking after your vehicle.
Your solid internationalization strategy has positioned you as leaders of the sector in Europe. What role does the brand play in the internationalization process?
Yolanda Tomás: The brand plays a key role in our internationalization process and is the foundation of our expansion plans for the coming years in terms of international growth objectives and developing our lines of business, products and services.
The brand change affects every sphere of our business. It’s a comprehensive change in which we decided to highlight the ISTOBAL brand name and simplify the names of the different systems in each of our ranges of car wash solutions. We have developed a detailed brand manual that has already been delivered to our 10 sales subsidiaries and more than 60 distributors, making this corporate image change effective in all the markets where we operate.
80% of your turnover comes from international sales. What are the keys to success in ISTOBAL’s internationalization process? And its biggest milestones?
Rafael Tomás: One of the keys was going international early. Almost since its inception, ISTOBAL has been an enterprising and ambitious company, unwilling to limit itself to sales in Spain. In the 1970s, we resolved to export our products, and in the 1980s, we began to establish a large European distribution network. We started to focus on internationalization in 2004, making direct investments outside of Spain, and we began to directly control the export markets.
We have expanded our network of subsidiaries at a moderate pace, because our priority is to maintain stable control over the organization. In some instances, we saw opportunities, and in others, we decided it was necessary to make the move and enter relevant markets. Today we have 10 subsidiaries in Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Austria, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Serbia, the United States and Brazil, three factories and an organization that is prepared to continue growing abroad.
Which markets are the most important to ISTOBAL’s global business today, and which are the markets of the future?
Rafael Tomás: We rank among the top companies in our sector in Europe. We are now present in more than 75 countries on every continent, and we are the leaders in Spain, France, Ireland, Turkey, Mexico, Portugal, Croatia, Romania and New Zealand, among other countries. In Europe, our two biggest markets are Spain and France. Italy, the UK and Denmark are next on our list of key European markets. The United States is currently our fourth market worldwide
As for the markets of the future, we are currently betting big on the US, but we also want to continue growing in Italy and strengthening our presence in Germany, where our competitors are.
Additionally, we’re paying close attention to countries in South America. We’ve adapted a number of products for them, and in many cases, we’ve been the first to arrive. We want to make sure to be the leader of the car-wash sector when they become big markets.
ISTOBAL’s allocation to R&D has increased by more than 50% in the past five years. What are your objectives in this area?
Yolanda Tomás: Product development and R&D investments have always been essential to ISTOBAL. Even during the crisis, we boosted our investments to guarantee an up-to-date and innovative product suitable for the different markets. Thanks to our efforts with R&D, we are positioned with a fresh and competitive offer.
Over the past five years, we have completely renewed our product line, and we have more than 30 registered patents. In the coming years, our biggest technology investments will target digitalization and communications: payment methods, the internet of things, remote communication, big data. The machines we have installed contain lots of information about their own performance and the habits of consumers. This data is fundamental because it can help us make our systems more reliable and teach us more about user preferences.
We’re also developing a series of digital innovations to create a car-wash culture. The idea is to make vehicle care a pleasant and fun experience through features that the user perceives as added values or enhancements, helping to foster customer loyalty.
What are the challenges and opportunities for the brand in Spain and abroad?
Yolanda Tomás: Our origins are industrial, and until a few years ago, we did not prioritize marketing activities or the relationship with the users of our systems. Now, we have taken a turn in a new direction and are communicating more frequently about our achievements, projects and activities. We are making our brand more visible not only to the sector, but to the general public.
Undoubtedly, one of the challenges in our sector is that Spain is not as strong a brand as we would like it to be in the global market for industrial and technological products.
However, our commitment to our products is an obvious competitive advantage. Our solutions are generally simpler and easier to use than those of our German competitors. In addition, our flexibility and adaptability are factors that make us unique. We give our clients what they need, and we adapt to local requirements and even individual requests.
Finally, technical service is another winning card for our brand. The most important thing for our customers, whether they own car-wash businesses or use our systems to wash their own fleets, is the ability to provide or receive non-stop service. Whenever there have been problems, ISTOBAL has provided solutions. And this has made us a brand that inspires trust.