ISTOBAL has become a multinational company with more than 700 employees and 75 subsidiaries worldwide.
In the 1950s, its founder, Ismael Tomás, set out to find a lubricating machine for the vehicles in his repair shop. Yolanda Tomás Puchades, CEO Product Development & Marketing at ISTOBAL, says: “In those years, Ismael decided to design and build his own machine. That is how ISTOBAL emerged, as a designer, a manufacturer and a marketer of its own machines”. The greasing machine was followed by other lubrication equipment and, later on, by automotive lifts.
In the 1970s, ISTOBAL took a quantitative and qualitative step with its car-wash operation. “Following visits to automotive trade shows to see the carwash systems developed in other countries, curiosity and courage prompted us to start designing the first carwash machine in Spain”, says Tomás Puchades proudly. “ISTOBAL started their exporting activity between 1960 and 1970, when Spain’s dictatorship was coming to an end, and it was then that a sales network outside the country was initially developed”.
Asked about differences between ISTOBAL and other companies that failed to be so successful, Yolanda believes the following to be the key to success: “A clear customer focus right from the beginning, our early exporting activity, a strong product orientation -strengthened in recent years- and the ability to stay flexible and meet our clients’ needs”.
Spain’s entrepreneurial mentality is undoubtedly a strength for internationalisation and growth. “Many Spanish companies stand out for their adaptation capacity and flexibility. That really makes a difference”. She admits they have found “a great deal of creativity in Spanish companies” and that creativity must be managed and focused on results. “The key is not being afraid of failing, but unfortunately that is not a well-rooted concept in Spanish culture”. Now, the challenge is to boost certain values and improve those that contribute to the company’s robustness and competitiveness.
Europe continues to be ISTOBAL’s most important market, even though some say it is a mature market. The most relevant countries in this respect are Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Austria, Denmark and The Netherlands. And outside Europe, Turkey, Mexico and the United States. The US market has strong local competition, due to the existence of a settled distribution network. “We seek to be positioned in a differentiated way, with a more European product but one that is adapted to their needs. The potential for commercial vehicles is big and we are trying to make the most of it”, says Puchades.
Rafael Tomás Alfaro, CEO Corporate & Sales Development, explains why the company has a dedicated Research & Development department. Launched in 1992, the machine that really took them to the front line in carwash systems was the M10. A modular and customisable machine, it allowed them to reach the European markets and to participate in international tenders, so they thought that creating new models was the way to go for the future. “Without a doubt, the pioneer for all the machines developed ever since was the M10”.
“In the coming years, we believe India and Brazil can be developed as markets. The existing market there is still very small. The country needs to be more developed for automatic carwash to take off in a serious way”, explains Tomás Alfaro.
ISTOBAL is working hard to be better known in some regions. In Germany, for example, small companies operate as distributors. They receive the Company’s support for them to grow and have a stronger position in the market. “The problem is that our competition is German, and there is also the country’s determination to use domestic products”, says Rafael Tomás. Another country where the Company is not yet present is Japan: “The biggest issue is the country’s culture; there are many entry barriers to overcome”.
From a sales expansion viewpoint, the next steps include growing in countries with improvement prospects such as the US, and following up opportunities in new markets like India and Brazil.
As for corporate growth, ISTOBAL seeks to continue extending the subsidiary network. “Then, we will have a solid global brand, and the company will be identified and recognised wherever it is present”, explains Tomás Alfaro. Finally, he adds: “The focus on final users is more and more relevant; we need to be aware of this. They use our products”.
To improve its machines, ISTOBAL took into account customer needs. That helped the company grow. In the search for quality, new markets were found and product design and creation positioned the company as leaders.