Car-care-show season is upon us. As usual, the first round gets started in Arlington, TX with the Southwest Car Wash Association’s annual convention and expo in February. The Automotive Oil Change Association’s iFLEX follows in the Big Easy in mid-March. The International Carwash Association makes its presentation — The Car Wash Show — at the end of March in Chicago.

For the past five years, the ICA has kept its annual get-together in Las Vegas. Orlando in 2008 being the last time the show — then still known as Car Care World Expo — took place outside Nevada. It’s been longer still since car washers gathered in the Windy City for the industry’s largest annual event — 12 years, to be exact.

Much has changed over the course of a dozen shows. The industry has developed new and hybrid wash formats and made significant advances in wash technology and presentation. Management has become more sophisticated with greater reliance on automation, computer control, and web-based tools. All of this innovation has been showcased year after year, as it occurred, at the ICA show. No doubt, this year, too, will see a spate of new products, new ideas, and new solutions to old problems.

With this wealth of information available in one venue, one would expect the event to be overrun by both veteran and would-be operators eager to avail themselves of every learning opportunity. Further, there has been a concerted effort to attract new blood to the industry by offering, for the past several years, new-investor seminars at the start of the show. Alas, recent attendance figures have been disappointing.

In 2002, the show in Chicago attracted 9,163 attendees, a mere 1,000 fewer than Las Vegas did the year before. That was 12 years ago. More recent figures give cause for concern. For example, last year’s attendance in Las Vegas reached 5,900. While that was an improvement over the 5,700 recorded the year before at the same venue, it’s still a long way off the record of 10,605 set in Las Vegas in 2004.

Show program content, too, has changed. Looking back through the Educational Handbook from the 2002 Chicago show (these invaluable reference sources have not been available since 2010), it’s notable that seminars were categorized under five headings: Conveyor Car Wash, Self-Service Car Wash, Detail, In-Bay Automatic/Petroleum/Convenience Store, and Fast Lube/Oil Change. This year, as was the case in 2013, education is offered in a three-track program: Business Management, Marketing and Brand Strategy, and Operations.

Last year, only the Operations track dealt with car-wash-specific issues, and most of those sessions were sponsored. Out of a total of 24 seminars offered, only eight fell in the Operations track. The rest covered general business topics with a car care application appended. This year, the generalists have 21 seminars listed (a few are repeat sessions). At press time, the Operations sessions were not yet posted. There is no fault to be found with providing education on general business topics. Heaven knows, we can all do with the additional knowledge. One might be tempted, though, to raise an eyebrow at the balance.

We said this in 2010, but it bears repeating: The Car Wash Show remains the premier event on car washing’s calendar. If you’re a car washer or planning on becoming one, you need to be there. See you in Chicago.