As Car Wash EXPO 2015 quickly approaches, we caught up with the Australian Car Wash Association’s (ACWA) CEO Diane Ross to discover what the association has planned for this year’s event, as well as how ACWA is addressing current challenges facing the carwash industry.
ACWA was founded in the late 1990s in Melbourne, Australia, by a collaboration of carwash owners coming together to share in their knowledge of a growing industry. From humble beginnings, it has quickly grown into a thriving national organization for the Australian carwash industry.
For Darren Brown, president of ACWA, leading an organization developed with a desire to learn more about the carwash industry just made sense. “I came into the carwash industry knowing little more about it than what the salesman who sold me the equipment had passed on. “I was a hotelier looking for an opportunity to realize a return on some spare land,” shares Brown. “I joined the Australian Car Wash Association as a new carwash operator on a steep learning curve about the industry. The thirst for, or the forced need for knowledge, led me to join the association’s board. To me it was initially a means to getting around people that had the knowledge I needed.”
He continues, “After serving a few years as a board member and continuing to learn what I could about the industry, I was presented with the opportunity to repay what I learned by taking on the president roll in the hopes of contributing through the management and administration skills I had gained through over 30 years [of experience] in the hotel industry.”
His experience paid off and ACWA continues to be a source of knowledge and ideas for the carwash industry. “I am truly excited by the fact that we are making our mark in helping to educate the motoring public about vehicle washing and storm water pollution,” notes Brown.
In this special Q&A, Ross offers insight into ACWA, hurdles faced by the Australian carwash industry, the association’s Stormwater Pollution Educational Awareness campaign and what to expect at Car Wash EXPO 2015.
Professional Carwashing & Detailing: Can you provide a little background on ACWA as well as your role with the association?
Diane Ross: ACWA started in the late 1990s in Melbourne, Victoria, with the first carwash owners coming together as “mates” to learn from each other in this new industry. I joined the group in 2000 when my husband and I bought a suburban self-serve with an auto carwash in Melbourne.
The association grew rapidly in the years 2005-08 and became a national organization while the industry faced the threat of limited water supplies caused by extensive drought right down the east coast of Australia. I became very involved at this stage, gathering both water use and economic value data to convince the authorities that commercial carwashes were not “water wallies;” and that we protected the waterways from pollution and had a significant economic and employment value to the states.
The industry survived the drought in a better condition than before, with a strong nationally accredited water-rating scheme and having gained the respect of the policy makers. The water recycling pressures led us to research the contents of the reused wastewater and gave us the tools to launch a scientifically backed stormwater pollution campaign with the support of the major environmental regulators and influencers.
ACWA now provides a full range of support services to its members, including workplace, health and safety templates as well as full industrial relations support on wages and all other employee matters. The administration manager is full time, and ACWA has had a part-time CEO since 2007 to support the volunteer board of directors. I became CEO in 2011 and still hold that role.
PC&D: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing the Australian carwash industry today?
DR: Although the extensive droughts caused more car owners to use commercial carwashes because of home carwashing bans, they also dramatically changed carwashing habits. The weekly wash seems to be gone forever for personal use vehicles, with the average now close to once every two to three months. At the same time, the suburban carwashes faced new and fast-growing competition from shopping center hand washes; and turnovers took a significant dive, exacerbated by the global financial crisis.
The industry has been seeing a steady growth in turnover in the last three to four years. However, the lack of knowledge about stormwater pollution consequences from home washing and the lack of support from local authorities in enforcing environmental protection regulations has meant that the majority of car owners still wash their cars at home.
PC&D: How have ACWA and its members worked to address these issues?
DR: Nothing can be done to reverse the changed habits in carwashing frequency, nor to decrease competition, but there is huge potential in the recently completed Stormwater Pollution Educational Awareness campaign, to use the friendly animated videos to make the public aware of the difference between the stormwater and sewer systems and the direct pollution of creeks and rivers from various home activities, particularly carwashing.
The key to the widespread success of this campaign is the fact that the videos are not restricted to carwashing but cover all home activities which could cause pollution of the waterways. The range of activities has meant that local authorities are enthusiastic about supporting and promoting the campaign for their own varied environmental goals — without feeling that they are only helping one sector of their community reap a commercial benefit.
PC&D: With Car Wash EXPO 2015 right around the corner, can you provide an inside look at what attendees can expect to experience?
DR: The EXPO was built on the original ACWA concept of mates coming together to talk about their experiences in the industry and to learn from each other. The key platform is, of course, the exhibit hall where virtually all the significant suppliers to the industry will set up booths to bring new technologies to show to the delegates. They have received great support from their international manufacturers, with several countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas being represented at the show.
There will be presentations on interesting industry-related topics, and the major exhibitor sponsors also have a chance to present in the “theatrette.” There are several social events, starting with an Opening Breakfast, with a key note speaker, and a gala dinner at the Melbourne Aquarium. The final event is an international forum led by Eric Wulf, the president of the International Carwash Association (ICA), and followed by a closing informal cocktail party for all the attendees.
PC&D: Overall, how will this Car Wash EXPO 2015 compare to previous events? Are there any new additions being offered this year?
DR: The major difference for the show this year is that it is being held in the big city of Melbourne, rather than at a resort on the Queensland coast. This brings challenges because all the attendees are not “trapped” in a closed location, and the social events have been changed to recognize this (a closing cocktail party rather than a welcome barbeque the night before the start). It has also led to a generally different attitude from the carwash industry members — it is being treated much more as a business event rather than an excuse for a sunshine holiday with everything included; a larger proportion of the delegates are just coming for one day to see the exhibitors and the presentations.