The view comprised a sandy beach, blue skies, the ocean stretching to the horizon, and three palm trees. You could almost feel the warmth of the sun and taste the saltiness in the air. Almost, but not quite. Zoom is good, but not that good — yet. This inviting scene was not real, but the virtual backdrop for several presentations offered by the third Women in Carwash Conference held online January 18-20, a meeting that was originally organized as a face-to-face event located in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

COVID-19 has upended the way we do business, conventions and meetings being among the most affected. At the most basic, these are gatherings of lots of people in confined indoor spaces — all no-no’s as far as the CDC is concerned. Most car wash conventions over the past year have either been cancelled or postponed. The third Women in Carwash Conference persisted, transforming seamlessly from a live event to a virtual one. Organizing the switch and procuring agreement from speakers and sponsors — all in a relatively short period of time — could not have been easy. Yet, attention was paid to even small details. Starting the presentations every day at 11:00 a.m. EST, for example, allowed all participants, from east to west, to attend at a reasonable hour.

Virtual events have their drawbacks. There is just no way to virtually duplicate the face-to-face interaction among peers, the networking, the camaraderie. A major issue is the absence of exhibits. Sure, you can display a picture or diagram on screen, but most of us are tire kickers by nature — we want to squeeze the Charmin.

Over the past several months, I have become more accustomed to virtual presentations. From my perspective, they offer benefits that provide more than balance to the perceived disadvantages. For a start, they eliminate the need to travel, saving both time and money, not to mention inconvenience — as much as they are necessary, those TSA lines are taxing, and the less said about cramp-inducing airline seats the better. If you are of a mind to, you can attend in your PJs — or not. Let’s just say there is less of a need to pay attention to your attire. You can jump in and jump out of a virtual conference at will — you’re not stuck in a convention center when there is nothing on the program of interest to you.

This pick-and-choose approach is the one I used in participating in the Women in Carwash Conference. One of the seminars I attended dealt with “Damage Claims at the Car Wash” — both legitimate and fraudulent. Attorney Megan O’Connor organized her comments under four main headings: Prepare, Mitigate, Solve, and Document. It is the first of these that intrigued me. She recommended preemptively establishing a working relationship with both an insurer and an attorney so that in the event of an incident you can turn to professionals already familiar with your operation. She suggested the placement of disclaimer signage and stressed that training employees specifically how to prevent damage, and constantly monitoring and maintaining equipment were important in the prevention of damage and thus damage claims.

When the next in-person car wash gathering will take place is uncertain. Vaccine availability has brought some hope, but the wobbly rollout and virus mutation have complicated the timing.