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The new International Carwash Association

October 11, 2010
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The Chicago-based International Carwash Association has grown from representing about 50 carwash professionals in 1954 to 2,600 members in 2005 — and about 22,000 of the estimated 101,500 carwashes in America.

The Association’s day-to-day activities are administered by association management company Smith-Bucklin. The staff roster for 2005 includes 22 persons (10.1 full-time equivalents) involved in conventions, education, marketing, accounting, technology, website and government relations.

Annual dues are $225 for operators and provisional members and $295 for vendors.

What does the Association offer its members?
According to Captain Car Care, the Association’s advocate for the professional car-care business operator, the Association offers an excellent value proposition and does so chiefly through its website.

This website is a cornucopia of virtual assistance and includes modules that address the marketplace, education, business tools, the carwash community, new investors and trade shows.

The business module features a vehicle damage control center, government and environmental news center, Car Love Campaign, research such as the cost of doing business report and study of consumer attitudes and habits, and business section that features shop talk, archives, up close and personals and an on-line bookstore and more.

The Association is fleshing out a module to assist new investors; it offers discounts through a credit card processing company and freight provider.

Finally, the Association pays host every year to the Car Care World Expo which routinely attracts over 10,000 attendees and 300 vendors.

With all it offers, why low membership?
Given the current value proposition, why does the Association continue to represent less than 22 percent of the estimated total number of carwashes in America?

Even if we exclude the number of in-bays in gasoline stations, this percentage would only increase to 40 percent. Clearly, the International Carwash Association should have more members, considering what it has to offer.

If the Association represented 75 percent instead of 40 percent of the adjusted number of carwashes (40,800 locations instead of the current 22,000), annual dues from the estimated 5,100 operators and 400 vendors would amount to $1,147,500.

This would be a $652,500 or 106 percent increase in dues based on my estimate of the Association’s dues for 2005. These estimates are not accurate but they do conjure up the notion of what the Association could buy or provide its members given a modest increase in membership.

An expansion for the Association
One of the initiatives in the Association’s Strategic Plan (2003-2005) is to expand the influence of the Association through membership.

This was to include a comprehensive plan, survey of members and non-members, refinement of the value proposition, assessment of partnership potential and a goal of increasing membership by 10 percent in 2004 and then again in 2005.

The Association realized a 6 percent increase in membership in 2004. Why was the target missed?

According to Mark Thorsby, the Association’s executive director, one of the reasons is that the Internet has rendered the association membership paradigm obsolete, which has led many professional groups to become more industry-centric or industry-driven.

In the past, professional groups would send members a package of literature and business tools and would gauge the success of the association based on the number of members it had.

However, with the advent of the Internet, you have folks who believe that if they use the right search word they will get the right answers — free.

So why join a professional association and pay dues? Unfortunately, this is a short-sighted perspective.

In a time when there is so much emphasis and pressure on increasing value, membership in the International Carwash Association actually seems to be one of the better deals out there.


Robert Roman is a former carwash, express lube and detail shop operator and is president of RJR Enterprises (www.carwashplan.com), a Clearwater,FL-based company that provides professional advisory services to the carwash industry. Roman is also a member of PC&D’s Advisory Board.

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