This one was different. Although back in familiar territory — Las Vegas — The Car Wash Show 2015 differentiated itself from previous shows in several ways. What really set this show apart, though, was the buzz. Overall, exhibitors expressed satisfaction with both the number and quality of the attendees. The general sentiment seemed to be that the industry is well on its way back. While the attendance of nearly 6,900 was still small by early-2000 standards, it was the largest number since 2008 and a 22 percent increase over the figure recorded at the Chicago show last year.

This show was the first joint effort by the International Carwash Association and Western Carwash Association partnership. Several WCA-specific educational sessions were on offer, but aside from these presentations (and the WCA-inspired Quick Hits), there was little evidence of the WCA’s presence. At the General Session, for example, we saw and heard from ICA officials only. Even the awards presented were all ICA honors.

The organizers went to some lengths to make sure attendees had enough opportunities to network and to that end tried several new approaches. For example, working from the premise that it would be helpful to group together individuals with common interests, three separate “Special Interest” receptions were arranged for women in car washing, emerging leaders, and international attendees. I managed to stop in at two of these.

To say attendance was disappointing is to be kind. Similarly, two nights later, five separate receptions were held for different wash formats. Here, too, turnout was less than stellar. It was a great idea and deserved better support.

On the educational front, the show introduced a new format, categorizing sessions by the nature of the presentation: interactive, lecture, panel discussion, etc. The improved balance between general business topics and car wash specific subjects was notable: This year, two thirds of the 37 presentations were dedicated to car wash subjects. Last year, and the year before, it was one third. And while all the car wash specific sessions were sponsored in 2014, less than 50 percent were this year. Left out of the above accounting are the Quick Hits. A holdover from the WCA shows, where they were known as Nuts and Bolts presentations, Quick Hits are brief, 20-minute sessions presented on the tradeshow floor — a great opportunity to learn a lot in a little time. Few, however, seem to share this view resulting in rather poor attendance.

Regular seminars were generally well attended. One in particular drew a lot of attention: a first look at some of the findings of the ICA’s 2014 Consumer Study. The study, conducted every three years, found that the percentage of consumers who wash most often at professional car washes continues to grow steadily, reaching 71.6 percent in the latest study, up from 47.6 percent in 1996. According to the study, four of the top five reasons why consumers use a professional car wash are emotional (i.e., makes me feel good, special occasions, reflects well on me, and makes me feel proud). Maintaining the vehicle’s value comes in third.

The study had something to say about the express-exterior/full-service divide, and it was interesting: 43 percent of professional car wash users say it’s important having the interior vacuumed for them; 44 percent say it’s worth the extra cost. There’s hope for full-service operators after all.