The Southwest Car Wash Association’s annual convention and expo has long been known as the first big car wash show of the year. Its usual scheduled dates in January or February each year assured this ongoing distinction. Even the postponement of the 2021 event to this past June due to the pandemic did not dent its reputation. It was still first — in fact, the first in 16 months — and, boy, was it big.

For this year’s event, held June 9-11 in Fort Worth, TX, the organizers reported attendance numbers of more than 2,400 from 45 different states — an all-time record. Attendee registration remained steady, even during the second, and last, day of the tradeshow. Growth was also evident on the expo floor, which housed more than 350 booths covering in excess of 80,000 square feet. Exhibitors were rewarded with pressing foot traffic, which hardly eased up on the second day when activity is usually expected to measurably slow down.

We were brought to Fort Worth in early June rather than February 17-19 because of COVID-19 concerns, but the postponement turned out to be a blessing in more ways than one. Had the event gone ahead in February as originally scheduled, it would have fallen smack bang in the middle of the great Texas freeze. Four million Texans lost power during the winter storm that started on Valentine’s Day and lasted to Saturday, February 20, when the last hard-freeze warning expired. Strange but true, on Sunday, June 13, when most of us had only just gotten home after the show, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) issued a warning to Texans to cut back on energy use or face new extended outages — this time due to a heat wave. It gets better still: Just in time for the show, mask mandates across all of Texas were dropped, with the governor enjoining local authorities from imposing same in their jurisdictions. Even the CDC obliged SCWA by relaxing its guidelines ahead of the convention.

If show goers did not recognize their good fortune in the event’s timing, they were reminded of how much cause for gratitude there is in the car wash industry in the midst of the pandemic. While most car wash operations have long returned to pre-pandemic business volume — with some actually reporting substantial gains — the hospitality industry is still lagging. In his excellent address during the CEO Forum, Michael Dominguez, president and CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International, said he expected the hotel industry to be back to normal by 2023/2024. He expressed confidence, though, that the “dust will settle.” Regarding technology, he stressed the importance of business operators keeping up with developments, sharing this startling assessment: Technology is outpacing human ability to adapt — and the gap is growing.

Attendees clearly came to learn. The general sessions, seminars, quick talk presentations, and roundtable discussions, with few exceptions, drew capacity crowds. Crowd size was actually a good indicator of the state of the industry. For example, the Self-Service/In-Bay Automatic Idea Exchange session was lightly attended while it was strictly standing room only at the Conveyor/Exterior Idea Exchange session. At the Fast Tracks table discussions attendees appeared to gravitate toward tables dealing with labor: Target Marketing to Attract Top Talent, Labor and Other Legal Issues, and Training 101.

During the Virtual Car Wash Tour on the last day of the convention, Rick Price of 808 Car Wash in Kapolei, HI shared his keep-it-simple approach to the car wash menu. His wash offers one wash, one price. The tagline says it all: “Only the best, nothing less!”