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Eric Wulf is the International Carwash Association’s (ICA) new executive director and chief executive officer, succeeding Mark Thorsby who served in the position for more than 15 years. Wulf joined the ICA staff during Car Care World Expo 2006 as its associate executive director. He recently spoke to Professional Carwashing & Detailing and let us in on his goals and the future of the ICA.
Professional Carwashing & Detailing: What are your goals as the new executive director and chief executive officer?
Eric Wulf: My purpose as the association’s chief executive officer is to successfully assist the board of directors in identifying and prioritizing the needs of our industry and members, and then to execute based upon the strategic direction they set. Therefore, my goals are the Association’s goals.
The Association is fortunate to be led by a diverse and experienced board of directors, the members of which come from and are elected by, the operator and supplier components of our industry. Annually, the board engages in an analysis of the issues of greatest importance to the association and develops goals and objectives for tackling those items.
Our current strategic plan has us focused in three areas:
EW: The challenges faced by the association are in many respects similar to those facing our industry. We are constantly asking ourselves how we can become more efficient, how we can become more relevant (i.e. valuable) to members and customers and what opportunities are available. The association is of course not immune to what is happening in the economy, and this has made asking and answering these questions even more important of late.
I am very optimistic about the professional carwash industry. The challenges we have been facing for the last two years (e.g. gas price swings, irregular weather patterns, tightening of the capital markets) are real, but they are cyclical. As those normalize, or as we evolve our businesses to better accommodate such factors, our industry will continue to grow because larger trends continue to work to our advantage — there have never been more cars on the road and more customers unwilling to do it themselves.
PC&D: What is your advice to carwash owners and operators who have been hit hard by the current economic state?
EW: The perspective I continue to receive from successful operators and suppliers, and therefore the advice that I pass along, is that even in tough times you can never afford to stop investing. Investments may be in the form of new products, technologies and services, but investing can also include changing processes, renewing partnerships and obtaining fresh ideas. Waiting and hoping — while unfortunately unavoidable parts of our weather-dependent businesses — are not viable long term business strategies.
What made and makes this industry great is its entrepreneurial spirit. It takes courage to start your own business, but I would argue that it takes even more courage to reinvent your business — and that is the challenge and opportunity faced by many in our industry. It is interesting to me that there have never been more options in our industry — more ways to wash, more ways to dry, more ways to build, more ways to advertise — the list goes on and on. But what is most important is having the courage to try something different, particularly when times are tough.
I am frequently asked about my prognosis for attendance at Car Care World Expo 2009. I know there are operators and suppliers who are evaluating every expense and asking if it is really necessary, and then I look at what we’ll be offering in Las Vegas. Nowhere in the world can you find more products and ideas, or network with more successful carwashers, than Car Care World Expo. If you think you can’t afford to make an investment like that for your business, just think about what it could cost your business if you don’t.
PC&D: What can we expect from the ICA in 2009?
EW: The ICA has set a very ambitious agenda for 2009.
First, we are making significant investments in Car Care World Expo to ensure it remains the industry’s leading carwash product and idea marketplace. We have made major investments in our educational programming, including dedicated tracks for operators, site managers and distributors.
Second, we are continuing our investment in knowledge and research — such as our monthly Cleaning Edge online carwash tours and a new quarterly supplier benchmarking survey.
Third, we will be unveiling a new program to help member operators market their environmental stewardship (or “green”) practices to their customers and community.
These initiatives will strengthen our ongoing commitment to being our members’ most important business partner.