“The largest convention we’ve had in 10 years.” That was the welcome statement David Begin, president of the International Carwash Association, made at The Car Wash Show during the State of the Industry Breakfast. It was all the more gratifying as pretty much the same was said of the previous year’s convention in Nashville, TN. Growth was not seen only in the number of visitors, but also in the number of exhibitors and in the size of the tradeshow floor. We’re on a roll.

Organizing the tradeshow is the ICA’s most visible activity, but at the same breakfast event the association’s CEO, Eric Wulf, discussed some of the heavy lifting the ICA was doing behind the scenes. For one, an update of the association’s water usage study is under way and should be completed by year’s end. Previously the study had provided information on water usage, evaporation, and carry-out in three distinct geographic areas in three industry segments (self serve, in-bay automatics, and conveyor). For operators this proved an invaluable tool in cementing their reputation as responsible guardians of the environment and in discussing sewer rates with the utilities.

The Car Wash Show also gave attendees a first look at the ICA’s latest Consumer Research Study. Bob Klein of Blue Chip Marketing presented a few highlights. After consistently increasing in study after study, the percentage of consumers who wash most often at professional car washes has declined for the first time — from 71.6 percent in 2014 to 69.2 percent in the current study. Here are some specific findings:

• Top reason for not washing, or not washing more often: price
• Top factor that influences location preference: convenience
• What consumers most value: clean wheels and rims

This one is encouraging: The study finds there has been a 91 percent increase in the percentage of respondents who are members of unlimited wash clubs, programs Klein characterized as “enormous business drivers.” Club members see car washing as something more than a mundane chore: they rate the car wash as their number two retail experience. Non-members rank car washing number five out of 10. And here’s a number that will calm the nervous operator who worries club members will wash too often to the detriment of his business: 85 percent of club members wash less than once a week.

Through its partnership with Schwartz Advisors, an automotive consulting firm, the ICA is also keeping tabs on advances in vehicle technology and how they affect the car wash business. This includes gathering information on advanced driver assistance systems, the problems they can cause in the car wash, and creating an online portal with instructions to overcome these challenges. Wulf sees this as a long-term partnership that will see operators through future developments in, for example, autonomous cars and fractional vehicle ownership.

The association displayed some prescience in arranging for Governor Tom Ridge, the first Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to deliver the keynote address. During the course of his address, which centered on cyber security, Ridge identified protection of customers’ personally identifiable information (PII) as a top priority for every business operator. Within days of his presentation, press reports started appearing about data breaches at car washes around the country: from Colorado to South Carolina, from California to Massachusetts. Reportedly, the hack attack collected customers’ names, credit card numbers, and security codes between mid-February and early March.

Small businesses are not exempt from hacker activities. Know how to minimize your risk and how to protect yourself against loss. For more information, read the article “Data Theft” by Dan Tharp in the June 2015 issue of Auto Laundry News.