Many things have changed over the past seven decades in the world of car wash— equipment, chemicals, formats, and regulations, just to name a few — but this publication has remained a constant, faithfully serving the car care industry since its infancy.
This issue marks the 70th anniversary of Auto Laundry News, a pioneer in the car care industry that has helped inform and shape the industry we all love.
Below, long-time ALN publisher Andrew Williams tackles a few questions on the history of this publication and the car wash business and where he sees the industry headed.
When did you first get involved with Auto Laundry News, and what drew you to the car care industry?
Williams. E. W. Williams Publications purchased ALN in 1995 as part of a package of trade magazines. At the time, the company that was started by my father in 1934 was publishing magazines in the store brand and frozen food industries, so car care was a bit of a departure.
However, even though the magazine was losing money, the industry was strong, and being a lifelong car enthusiast, I was eager to take over its operation. It was not an easy task. The editor must have been absent the day his Journalism 101 professor stressed the importance of meeting deadlines, and the salesman was more interested in pursuing a singing career (he was awful) than his day job. Staff changes were quickly made and within a year, ad sales more than doubled and ALN was in the black. Turning the magazine around was a highlight of my career and a lot of fun.
I tried to find a list of magazines, both consumer and trade, that
have been around for more than 70 years, but my search was fruitless. However, I reckon there are not more than a handful which makes the publication you’re holding quite rare indeed. It’s hard to believe that a magazine devoted to the car wash and car care industries began in 1953, never missing a single monthly issue, and is going stronger than ever.
As a publisher, you have covered several industries over your career, what makes the car care industry unique?
Williams. The company has published magazines covering seven or eight different industries over the years. What makes ALN unique is a bit hard to define, but frankly, there were some industries where I didn’t particularly care for the people. Except for the food industry, I felt a lot of them could have had sales or marketing jobs dealing with any product. I didn’t see the dedication that I see in the car wash industry.
It’s kind of like a family in a way. At the trade shows, I still see most of the people I saw when I started out 27 years ago, which I find astonishing. Men and women might change companies, but no one ever jumps ship for another industry. Speaking of trade shows, another thing I like about car care is that it’s the only industry I’ve ever worked in where I don’t have to wear a suit to the shows!
There are a lot of components that are necessary to wash a car. Apart from washing equipment, there are dryers, soaps, waxes, chemicals,
electronics, conveyors, etc. This is something you don’t see in other businesses.
What are the most significant changes you have seen in the industry since you purchased the magazine?
Williams. Of course, everything has been kicked up a notch over the years. Equipment has become more sophisticated, and soaps and chemicals just seem to do the job better. Electronics and computerization have changed everything, allowing operators to streamline their car washes and cut costs. Every trade show seems to have a new application.
One of the biggest changes is that people have nearly stopped washing cars themselves, which has been a real boon to the industry. People have more active lives between work and leisure, so time has become a valuable commodity. This began in the 80s and accelerated through the 90s until, today, you hardly see anyone washing their car.
The consolidations of recent years have also been a big change. I think the number of them and the speed at which they took place took many people by surprise. This has calmed down a bit now, perhaps due to the disappearance of cheap money.
What does the future hold for the industry in the next five to 10 years?
Williams. Predicting the future is always tough but I’ll throw in my two cents.
The cars themselves will, of course, change. While self-driving cars have certainly not come on-stream as quickly as people thought, they will be here within 10 years. Cars that can take themselves to be washed will present challenges in terms of handling them, payment, etc., but I think there will be some easy solutions. Electric cars are already here and will increase in popularity as prices come down and governments continue incentives.
Predictions of newer generations not being as interested in cars and driving less have been largely overstated. To date, there hasn’t been much evidence. I think people will still want to own and drive cars as much as they do now.
Artificial intelligence will change many things. Robots will easily replace people in car washes, helping solve labor problems. People won’t take to interacting with them at first, but this will quickly change.
Consolidations will continue, but as has happened in other industries, eventually, some of the companies that have been combined will be sold off. Also, some entrepreneurs will see opportunities to start new companies, filling a void that may have been left by a larger conglomerate.