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Cleaning Up with Dirty Work

Martin Bremner, Trafalgar Cleaning

Published 1 April 2017

In the Horsham offices of Trafalgar Cleaning Equipment Ltd you’ll find a collage of photos showing various  ompany products down the years. Each picture tells a story, like the young model who turned up for a photoshoot to promote a new pressure washer dressed as a punk! 

Another photo catching the eye shows a motorbike with a tank and vacuum cleaner precariously bolted on the back. It may look like the idea of a crackpot inventor, yet these early concepts were to evolve into a string of successful cleaning products for Martin Bremner, Managing Director of Trafalgar Cleaning Equipment.

Today, the company’s innovative machines help clean roads, streets, parks and gardens all over Europe, whilst a successful association with Karcher ensures that Trafalgar offers the most extensive range of cleaning products in the UK.We met Martin at the company’s base on Foundry Lane Industrial Estate to find out how to deal with graffiti and chewing gum, and why we should be thankful for a bike called RALF.

When was the business founded?

I formed the company in 1981. I was selling oil and mechanical parts to local garages in the days when many were independent. When Karcher started exporting its pressure washers to the UK, I was among the first to sell them. Karcher was a well-known brand on the continent, but new to people here. Their pressure washers were so much more advanced than anything else on the market that selling them wasn’t difficult. 

Where were you based?

We started out in a small unit at Daux Road Industrial Estate in Billingshurst, then moved around the corner to Gillman’s Road. As we grew, we moved premises to Park Terrace East in Horsham, before eventually moving to our a much larger unit on Foundry Lane in 1999. 

Were you primarily selling Karcher products?

We specialised in Karcher for several years. Every time its range of products expanded, so did my customer base. They introduced a range of vacuum cleaners, steam cleaners and many other ideas. So, having initially dealt with the motor trade, our customers represented trades across the board. Naturally, this meant many other businesses started to jump on the bandwagon and sell Karcher products, but now they only deal with specialist centres, including Trafalgar. We are now the largest UK Karcher centre with a showroom and in-house workshop. We employ 30 people and nine of those are Karcher-trained service engineers.  

You were also developing your own ideas for trade?

Occasionally, we would be asked to design machines that weren’t available on the market. I used to customise cars and motorbikes and have always been a person with an engineering mind, so I can usually put together a bit of cleaning equipment to do any job. A lot of the time, you're not redesigning the wheel. It’s a matter of modifying existing pieces of equipment to suit a job. 

So, the two arms of the business have grown separately?

Yes, although they complement one another. We have the Karcher machines that will do most of the cleaning jobs that are required by businesses and individuals. Then we have the Trafalgar Cleaning Equipment which we’ve developed ourselves. In addition, we are a supplier of larger industrial cleaning equipment manufactured by other companies. We’re an authorised dealer for Multione’s range of front loaders and Dulevo’s road sweepers.

How did the POOVAC evolve?

We were asked by a local authority if we had a machine that could hygienically pick up dog mess, which had become a big problem. I created quite a crude design combining a vacuum cleaner and a pressure washer. The council liked the concept but wanted it on a motorbike so that people could get around easier. So, I designed RALF, which stood for Ride Along Lifting Faeces. Then I was asked to put it on a quad bike instead, which we named FIDO (Faeces Intake Disposal Operation). They were regular quad bikes with a vacuum cleaner and a pressure washer bolted on to the back. But they did the job and over time the POOVAC evolved.

Presumably, other councils wanted one too?

Orders came in from across the country and eventually councils in Europe were enquiring, so we began exporting to the continent. Suddenly, we were becoming a manufacturing base and we were dealing in exports. We used a Kawasaki quad vehicle and they were delighted as they were selling a lot of bikes, so they helped us expand in Europe. That was one of our most successful ventures in the early days of Trafalgar.

What other products have you developed?

Litter is a big problem, so we were asked to come up with a solution. Then chewing gum removal became a hot topic and councils were looking at that. In terms of engineering, the chewing gum remover was relatively simple, as we built a pressurised steam cleaner on a trailer. Councils were also approaching us to help clear graffiti, which needs additional chemicals and higher pressure.

So are most of your ideas a response to a problem?

Often, we have come up with solutions in response to concerns raised by local authorities. We’ve created numerous other machines including paddock cleaners and leaf collectors. Keep Britain Tidy have campaigns tackling certain issues, be it litter, graffiti or dog mess. Depending on that issue, we will see an increase in popularity for any machine that can deal with it.

Do major events require your expertise?

The London Olympics certainly helped us. Every London authority was provided with money to keep its streets clean, so our equipment was in high demand. We are also an authorised supplier of the RS-Platz Max arena leveller, manufactured in Germany. We were needed very close to the start of the Games to level some of the sporting arenas used for competition.

Who comes up with the ideas for Trafalgar’s own products?

Sometimes, ideas just develop from other machines that we have and it’s a matter of altering a few things to suit the job. There are occasions when I  come up with something new and our engineers have ideas too. People still look at me and think ‘Martin is on one again’ when it comes to new designs. I’ll cut up bits and pieces of cardboard and ask engineers if they can make it in metal! I don't have millions of pounds to invest on concepts, but fortunately the ideas often seem to work. 

Presumably, some ideas are less successful?

That’s right. The POOVAC is an example of something that has taken a long time to develop. Because of the success of the commercial product we were making, people wanted a smaller version that could be used in the garden. We’ve been developing that concept for over 10 years as, for a long time, the technology was not there. We could not find a battery to produce enough power. Now, thanks to lithium-ion batteries, we’ve made a smaller POOVAC that’s very popular for homes as well as churches, schools and small parks.

You also created a machine for  much bigger piles of poo...

As well as dog mess, we built a machine to clear horse manure. I went on Scrapheap Challenge in 2001 and we won the challenge by turning an old Transit van into a rubbish collector. The presenter, Robert Llewellyn, first suggested the idea of picking up horse manure. I didn’t know it was important, as I assumed that manure could be left in the fields. But manure can spread disease and reduces the amount of good grazing land. So, we came up with a design that could be sold at a reasonable price on the commercial market.

Where do you source your engineering parts?

A lot of major components are built overseas and are generally manufacturedespecially for us. We have parts made in Czech Republic, Romania andHungary whilst the electric motors are Italian. Most parts were made by ER Edwards, a Horsham engineering firm, but they disappeared and we needed new suppliers. Whilst it was useful to have a supplier based around the corner, the price of European competitors is far less and from a business point of view it makes sense. We do have specialist parts supplied or made by local businesses including Pentagon Plastics, Rylands Engineering, whilst Kelvic Welding do a lot of the specialist welding for us. So we have several key local business relationships.

Has ­Brexit had an impact on your business?

As a lot of our machine parts are manufactured in Europe, particularly Italy, the prices of our imports have increased as the Pound has weakened against the Euro. However, we’re finding that we are exporting more as the prices on the continent are not that much cheaper any longer. We’re talking to customers in places like Qatar, Dubai and Israel as prices elsewhere have risen. So, there are positives as well as negatives. 

Are there still ideas waiting to be developed?

These days, it's very difficult to invent something new because there is something out there for everything. As technology advances, people come up with ideas to solve problems. There are still things we cannot do as the technology doesn't allow for it. We’re currently seeing a big switch from petrol power to lithium-ion batteries, which are quieter and more efficient. Just two months ago, we launched a battery-powered litter collector we designed. Our first corporate customer came back and placed an order for 510, so there’s certainly a demand and there’s plenty of growth areas for us in the future.


Visit Trafalgar Cleaning Equipment at Unit C, Foundry Close, Horsham, call 01403 273444 or visit www.trafalgarcleaningequipment.co.uk