Magic…and Car Washes, Too

Before the International Carwash Association had professionalized its industry, the annual trade show didn’t even have carpet. Well, carpet has since been a staple at the shows for years. This year’s trade show, held April 22-24 at the Sands Expo & Convention Center, featured 305 exhibiting companies and 6000 attendees.
Photo by Diane Taylor

Every Las Vegas convention is a learning experience.

As part of last week’s Car Wash Show at the Sands Expo & Convention Center, Mark Thorsby was inducted into the International Carwash Association Hall of Fame. Thorsby recalled that when he first became CEO of the Association in 1994, he met a car wash owner who said he never told friends and neighbors about his business because he was somewhat ashamed. He would tell folks that he was “a small businessman in the auto industry”.

That was a time, said Thorsby, when the words “professional” and “car wash” were seldom used in the same sentence and when pride in the car wash business was not universal. But over the next 19 years, 15 of which included Thorsby as CEO, and with the help of the “tough-minded entrepreneurs” who were Association members, professionalism came to the Association along with membership increases. “Today,” Thorsby said with pride, “Two out of three motorists in this country now wash their cars at a professional car wash.”

Information about the International Car Wash Association was plentiful at the show. Before the Tuesday keynote appearance of basketball legend Magic Johnson, current Association CEO Eric Wulf told the crowd that Association membership now includes 2000 companies in two dozen countries and 15,000 retail locations. Wulf talked about the growing success of two Association programs, “Wash Count” and “Water Savers”. Participants in Wash Count report their numbers into a database that then tracks counts nationally and regionally by type of service and gives feedback to participants. Members of the Water Savers program agree to a number of water saving practices which in turn are promoted as being environmentally responsible and have been part of a number of states’ drought relief programs.

Association President Mark Curtis noted that the goal of every car wash owner is “fast, clean, shiny and dry”.

The appearance of Magic Johnson at The Car Wash Show was well received. I sat next to a Car Wash owner named Ted from Walla Walla, Washington. He attends the Car Wash Show every year “to learn something I don’t know”. He said Magic Johnson’s appearance was “great” — even better than last year’s speaker Mike Ditka (but I’m from Chicago and “Da coach” is always number one in my book).

Can car washes be attractive? NuStar Inc. features brushes in multiple colors.
Photo by Diane Taylor

Magic Johnson was part entertainer, part celebrity, part successful businessman and part inspirational speaker. Among the statements I particularly liked was, “The money won’t wake you up in the morning; it’s the passion for what you do.” Johnson interacted with the audience and seemed genuinely interested in each person he met. He was very funny and, of course, talked a lot of basketball…and some baseball. I had heard that “Magic Johnson is the most popular person in Los Angeles” and now I can believe it. He was delightful.

And the trade show? Full of movement and light and people. The accompanying video tells the story.

P.S. One little tidbit of car wash uncertainty remains. English majors might have noted that “Car Wash” is two words in the name of this show and one word in the “International Carwash Association” name. Odd.