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Meeting in the middle in Orlando

October 11, 2010
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It was a slightly “off” year for Car Care World Expo; off the standard Las Vegas location, off the typical 9,000+ attendance, and slightly off balance in general. While several new initiatives hit the mark in Orlando, FL, several others missed it entirely — and at a time when the industry needs this show to prove it is capable of handling whatever gas prices or economic hurdles it may face in the latter half of 2008.

But let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water — the show still boasted over 100 new products and 364 exhibiting companies spread out over 146,300 square-feet. The expo’s location, the Orange County Convention Center, gave a renewed beauty and prestige to the world’s largest carwash trade show, and several new education initiatives were well-attended and well-received.

Best of times, worst of times
As for off the mark, the International Carwash Association (ICA) tried a new format for the State of the Industry address that did not seem on par with the serious situation the industry is facing this year. In a casual, talk show-like setting, Mark Thorsby opened his monologue by quoting Dickens. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” he said, pointing out that some operators are reporting growing volumes and revenues, while others are posting their biggest losses in years. Thorsby cautioned that now is not the time to panic — instead it is time to reevaluate your carwash business model and services and tailor it to your customers.

Thorsby then invited ICA President Neil Hitchcock, Associate Director Eric Wulf, and Director of Education Jim Belanger to discuss new initiatives the ICA is trying, in a Q&A format suited to the talk show theme. Those initiatives include a market task assessment force and a redesigned website. Thorsby also announced the show will return to Las Vegas next April 1-4 and stay in Sin City indefinitely.

A presentation later that day by industry-leading CEOs was also a bit off-key. “Leader Viewpoints: What Car Wash Leaders Are Doing to Change with the Industry” focused less on innovation and industry changes and more on operational topics — topics the forum presenters (Russell Coleman, President, Jim Coleman Company; Paul Fazio, President, Sonny’s Enterprises, Inc.; Murray Kennedy, President and CEO, Mark VII; Thorsten Kruger, WashTec AG; and Charlie Lieb, President, PDQ Manufacturing) were less familiar with, as they head manufacturing companies and not carwashes.

Although the presenters did an excellent job of working with the material (what sort of charity initiatives should I try at my wash? what kind of marketing is best for a carwash?), they would have done even better had the ICA’s pre-recorded questions focused more on technology and the changing face of the industry.

Along with the show’s attendance, the educational offerings at this year’s show seemed slimmer than in years passed. One attendee pointed out the difference in size of the 2008 educational seminar book compared to the 2007 book. Attendees had 13 sessions to choose from — but only two time slots. However, according to several attendees, supplementary education (like the “educational amplified” and the always-popular early bird forums) was right on target andmade up for any missed opportunities.

Hitting the target
The kickoff event was also a success. Held in Disney’s World Show Place, part of its Epcot® park, the night included a buffet dinner and networking followed by a light show.

Although the keynote presentation by General Richard Myers, retired, fifteenth chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was a first-rate speech and enlightening on America’s foreign policy situation, it hardly ventured into the generic leadership topics that carwash operators would be able to adapt to their businesses. The ICA’s pre-show description of the speech’s topic — “discover how you can prepare for unexpected changes in the carwash industry and become an effective leader at your operation” — never came up in the hour-long address, although attendees were impressed with Gen. Myers openness and his predictions for America’s foreign policy.

All in all, reaction on the show floor ventured toward the positive — if not somewhat clichéd. Exhibitors said they came expecting light attendance and were in fact, impressed with their leads. “When attendance is down, it just means we’ve weeded out the tire kickers,” several exhibitors said. Most expressed sympathy for “the vendor next door” — who they imagined was suffering, although no exhibitors PC&D talked to would admit as much. Attendees seemed happy to have more one-on-one time with vendors and were satisfied with the show’s family-friendly location.

Attendees were also pleased with the selection of new products, which were mostly grouped into two categories this year: eco-friendly or cost-effective (in some cases, both).

And as the industry prepares to round the corner and finish 2008, it can also look forward to a return to Vegas and hope for a bigger, better show next year. The “build it and they will come” mentality has been replaced by ICA leadership who says they are dedicated to improving the show next year and will work with vendors and with attendees to determine how best to suit their needs. If this year marks “the best of times, the worst of times,” then things are looking up.

Kate Carr is the editor in chief of Professional Carwashing & Detailing® Magazine. Carr can be reached at

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