Drivin' Through - June 2008

Car Care World Expo
by Stefan Budricks, Editor

Car Care World Expo took on a fresh new look for 2008. From a reformatted business meeting to a reconfigured schedule of events, the International Carwash Association’s annual show, held in Orlando, FL April 7-10, offered the unexpected to veteran conferees.

Taking on a talk-show flavor, the business meeting’s traditional State of the Industry Address was replaced with a State of the Industry Discussion. Mark Thorsby, the association’s executive director, playing host, chatted with guests, including Neil Hitchcock, association president; Eric Wulf, associate executive director of the ICA; and Jim Belanger, host of The Cleaning Edge, a video feature on the ICA’s new website, www.carwash.org.

On the exhibit floor, visitors were greeted by a sea of green — figuratively. (Actually, a splash of orange was the first thing one saw — Peco’s monochromatic car wash version of the “Arches” installation-art project in New York City’s Central Park roughly four years ago.) Virtually every exhibitor placed emphasis on the eco-friendly virtues of its products. There were car wash chemicals compatible with green sentiments, equipment made of recyclable materials, and equipment that saves energy, uses less water, and is easy on the ears. Of course, our longtime green friends, the water reclaimers, were there in numbers.

It was fitting, then, that the first issue on the talk-show agenda was “green.” Hitchcock allowed that the industry’s message about the environmentally responsible qualities of professional car washing was getting through. He added, however, that the industry’s challenge in the future would be to demonstrate that it could also reduce its “dependence on natural resources — particularly water.” “Going Green,” beginning on page 28 of this issue, begins to address this challenge, while Robert Roman (page 78) looks at a largely untapped water source.

The panel discussion that replaced a series of educational seminars on the second day of the show offered a rare opportunity to hear the thoughts and insights of five car wash equipment company CEOs. The participants were Murray Kennedy of Mark VII, Russell Coleman of Jim Coleman Co., Paul Fazio of Sonny’s, Thorsten Krüger of WashTec AG, and Charlie Lieb of PDQ.

The environment featured also in the panel discussions. While Krüger felt that green decisions were becoming economic-driven, Murray suggested that government might be driving those economic decisions through regulation. As example he offered the increasing requests his company was getting for information about how much water its equipment uses and what chemicals it employs. Fazio pointed out that there were two distinct sides to the issue — business and marketing.

Regarding gas prices, the audience was no doubt happy to hear from Krüger that high prices had only a short-term effect on wash volumes in Europe. Lieb acknowledged that gas prices were impacting discretionary spending, but felt that wash volumes would return to normal once prices stabilized.

Panelists were generally bullish about the future. Looking 10 to 15 years hence, Lieb saw a continued need for car washes to accommodate the ever-growing automobile population. He expected the unattended tunnels to further expand, but expressed concern for the self-service segment as he discerned the market trending more to DIFM than DIY. Fazio foresaw growth in multiple-site operations and expected full-service sites to concentrate on quality and time. In his view, a movement back into flex — the need to offer after care — was also in the cards.

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