It’s been a long wait. After two years and six months, The Car Wash Show, car wash’s biggest event, was back live and in person. From November 15 through November 17, car wash owners, operators, managers, and employees could once again meet face-to-face with exhibitors, touch and examine equipment close up, network with peers, and attend seminars in their quest to refine their operations.

After such a lengthy wait, one might have expected an exceptional turnout. On Wednesday morning, the last day of the show, the organizers announced that more than 7,400 “car wash professionals had been celebrating the return of the biggest car wash event on the planet.” By no means a record number. Yet, considering the circumstances, it was a good restart after a long dormancy. Those who might have been scared off by the mask mandate in Las Vegas — something we alluded to in this space last month — should not have been concerned. They could have shown up anyway. Easily half the crowd at the show — whether exhibitor or attendee, whether in a seminar or on the tradeshow floor — simply ignored the mask requirement.

Those who made the effort to attend were greeted by a packed exhibit hall featuring all the familiar vendors, some having merged or been acquired in the interim, making it a challenge to keep straight who belongs to whom. There was also a splash of new exhibitors, notably in the advisory-group category, firms that specialize in mergers and acquisitions. The tradeshow floor was a good indication of recent developments in the industry and a foreshadowing of where things are heading.

For all the hustle and bustle in the exhibit hall, we were presented with a slimmed-down version of the traditional The Car Wash Show. For starters there was no general session, the once-a-year opportunity to hear about the International Carwash Association’s accomplishments and its plans for the following year. Instead, there was one 15-minute talk-show-style presentation every day of the show featuring association CEO Eric Wulf and association president Ken Littrell discussing the state of the industry. These, unfortunately, were scheduled at the same time as the educational seminars and took place on the tradeshow floor. And there was no keynote address, another regular component of the general session. This was not a great loss, though — just about any one of the speakers on the premium education track could have qualified as a keynote speaker.

There were also fewer seminars scheduled than in the past. Aside from the Sunday seminars and Quick Hits, the 2019 show in Nashville offered 61 educational session spread over seven timeslots (14 of the premium category presentations were repetitions). For the cancelled 2020 show in San Antonio, there were 45 sessions scheduled over six timeslots with 12 repeats. The 2021 show featured 35 sessions over four timeslots with eight premium seminars repeating.

Frankly, this was a move in the right direction. With an overabundance of educational opportunities, it becomes a challenge to select the one or two that might hold the most interest. Now, some operations are known to send several employees to show. You’d have needed a minimum of five to cover all the 2021 seminars.

So, what happened to the time gained by limiting the number of seminar timeslots?

It was tacked onto exhibiting hours, allowing operators as much time as possible with their suppliers from whom they had been separated too long.