This is the sort of progress we can all root for. Two years ago, contrary to the expectations of many, The Car Wash Show in Nashville, TN drew close to 8,000 attendees, making it the largest show in 10 years. It even topped the attendance at the previous show in Las Vegas by 16 percent. Forward to 2017, with the show having returned to Las Vegas, and David Begin, then president of the International Carwash Association, was able to pronounce that event the biggest in 10 years.
With a preliminary tally of 8,788 registrants, the ICA, in a now familiar refrain, has declared the 2018 show, held in Las Vegas, the biggest in over a decade. We are inching ever closer to that five-figure attendance the association’s annual event was able to attract in 2004. Will we get there? With larger and larger numbers of car wash locations concentrated in the hands of fewer owners through consolidation, and with M&A activity on the rise among industry vendors, is the number of participants in the industry growing or declining?
In his address at the State of the Industry Breakfast, ICA president Haji Tehrani drew sharp distinctions between his experiences in the corporate world and those in the car wash business. While he labored in the former, information was kept close to one’s chest, lest a competitor gain an advantage. In the car wash business, operators share information as a matter of course, perfectly willing to help newcomers and peers alike. Imagine that, was Tehrani challenge to his audience. It was almost wistful, as if this unique industry characteristic was in danger of expiring. With the industry destined to become more corporate, that notion might not be farfetched.
Consolidation and mergers and acquisitions are not the only changes impacting the industry. Technology, both inside and outside the car wash business is advancing at a fast pace and, whether part of our industry or not, has an effect on how we do business. Within the industry, tech was evident on the show floor and in the seminars. From equipment control to access to payment methods to marketing — everything is being automated and/or digitized.
Perhaps the most daunting challenges come from the auto manufacturers. The connected car is now not only a mode of conveyance, but also a communication instrument, and a co-driver. Advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) help motorists to safely negotiate the roads, but create headaches for the car wash operator. In his presentation on New Car Technology at The Car Wash Show, Derek Kaufman of Schwartz Advisors foresaw the day, admittedly a long way off, when either a car wash button or recognition through vehicle telematics will alert the car that it is entering a car wash and automatically disengage the ADAS for the duration of the wash. Autonomous cars are a huge step up from ADAS, and while their presence is not an immediate concern, it serves those in the auto service industries well to monitor their progress. Kaufman figured that while individually owned cars would rack up approximately 15,000 miles a year, autonomous vehicles could be expected to do 150,000 miles a year. Those cars are going to get dirty real fast, real often.