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In the self-serve carwash industry, the owners and managers of each facility face a critical decision when installing the foaming brushes used by customers to remove surface dirt and debris. The choice: Install low-cost, coarse, synthetic brushes that customers suspect might scratch their paint jobs if applied too vigorously; or pay a little more for a higher end, natural foaming brush that is gentle and stands up to prolonged use.
Given that foaming brushes are the single most important item the customer sees and touches when entering a self serve, it essentially serves as a calling card for the business and speaks directly to the care and attention to detail the customer will receive. As such, many self-serve operators are paying more attention to the choice of foaming brush to keep customers satisfied, earn repeat business and word-of-mouth, and at the same time save money and time on frequent replacement.
The Debate: Synthetic vs. hog’s hair
On one side of the debate are foaming brushes constructed of nylon, polyester, and polypropylene. These less expensive options save a few dollars on the front end, but if they scratch the vehicle’s paint are a sure-fire way to lose a customer for life, and even generate negative word-of-mouth. Because they are constructed of fewer, shorter, and coarser filaments per brush head, they wear out quickly, bend out of shape, and require frequent replacement.
“When foaming brushes first appeared in self-serve bays, the nylon type brushes were coarse, harsh to the vehicle surface, and tended to bend out of shape,” said Tom Hoffman Jr., CEO of Hoffman Car Wash, an operation with 19 carwashes throughout upstate New York that was started in the 1960s by his parents. “Painted vehicle surfaces have become much softer in recent decades, so it’s even more important to use a gentler brush to wash cars today.”
The other choice comes from a surprising, but natural source ― hogs. Hog’s hair, it turns out, is the perfect material when made into a brush. Hog’s hair is very soft and gentle. Since the hairs are tapered, they are much softer at the tips for gentle washing, yet retain stiffness for washing up close if scrubbing is needed. At the same time, it is durable and resilient despite bending and prolonged use. As such, one hog’s hair brush can outlive three to four less expensive options.
“The hog’s hair brushes are noticeably softer than our previous brushes, and provide our self-service customers with a much better, safer wash. Customers can feel the difference, and they appreciate the extra gentleness,” said Hoffman, who purchases them from long time industry brushes and detailing supplier Erie Brush. In business since 1948, the Chicago, Ill.-based Erie introduced hog’s hair foaming brushes many years ago and offers a patented design for better foaming.
According to Hoffman, he has installed the hog’s hair foaming brushes in 58 self-service bays. He also purchases non-foaming hog’s hair brushes for supplementary washing at 13 conveyorized carwashes.
While hog’s hair foaming brushes cost a bit more than traditional brushes, they offer 43.2 percent more brush life. In part, this is due to an ability to quickly recover their natural shape even when bent 90-degrees. In contrast, once traditional brushes are bent, they remain out of shape and at some point have to be replaced.
“The hog’s hair brushes offer us about 50 percent longer brush life than traditional foaming brushes, which lowers our cost of ownership,” says Hoffman. “A small investment in hog’s hair brushes can pay off big in the long run. This foaming brush from Erie has helped us grow from our beginning to 19 carwashes today.”
Proper brush lubrication prevents damage
In any self-serve carwash, it is also important for foaming brushes to properly distribute soap foam to cleanse the customer’s car and lubricate the brush for washing. Doing so can not only improve the customer experience but also helps prevent damage to the car’s surface from improperly lubricated brushes. But traditional foaming brushes typically offer only two to three foam holes per brush, which can make this difficult.
“With few foam holes per brush, traditional brushes don’t always provide proper lubrication between brush and car, or between the brush hairs themselves,” says Freddie Seniw, owner of Easy Clean Car Wash, with seven locations in the greater Chicago area. “Large diameter nylon filaments may also carry larger foreign objects such as sand that could damage a paint job if the brush head is not properly lubricated with soapy foam.”
Consequently, Seniw has relied on Erie FoamMaster hog’s hair foaming brushes for decades. Since these brushes have 6 foam holes on a typical 9-inch brush, this spreads the soapy foam more thoroughly than brushes with fewer foam holes. It also lubricates the brush so it cleans better and glides over the car surface.
“With more foam holes per brush, there’s better lubrication between brush and car surface,” says Seniw. “The continuous flow of soap foam helps to cleanse dirt, sand, and foreign objects off the brush, keeping the brush head cleaner so it won’t scratch. The hog’s hair brush has the smallest diameter tapered filament, which helps to make it the softest. Customers come back because they know they can depend on my brushes and equipment to take care of their cars.”
Seniw has found another type of hog’s hair brush to be effective in his automatic, conveyor carwashes. For a soft, safe detailing touch up of tough-to-reach spots such as around headlights, license plates, or around rear wiper arms, a hog’s hair brush called an All Arounder does a better job than typical brushes without pinching any tight areas, according to Seniw.
The brush manufacturer’s 3-for-1 guaranty on all its hog’s hair brushes ― if the product is sent back and a manufacturing defect is found, they will replace it with two additional brushes at no cost ― comforts Seniw, though he has never had to use it. “In 30 years, I’ve never had to use the guaranty, but it helps ensure that my brushes always perform for my customers,” he says.
More repeat business
Carwash owners are recognizing that a satisfying foaming brush experience can be key to self-serve customers judging carwash quality. “Since the foaming brush is in customer’s hands while they wash their car, you need to make sure it feels good,” said Dave DuGoff, owner of College Park Car Wash in College Park, MD, a high volume location with five self-service bays and three automatic bays.
“I decided years ago that I’d use hog’s hair foaming brushes because their longer, denser bristles are more inviting to customers,” concluded DuGoff. “While they cost a bit more than standard brushes, they’ve helped us earn a reputation for quality that’s brought us repeat business and allowed us to remain a high-volume operation.”
Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, CA.
For more info, call 800-711-3743 (ERIE) in US, 773-477-9620 internationally; Fax 800-798-3743 (ERIE) in US, 773-477-6030 internationally; email firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.eriebrush.com; or write to Erie at 860 West Fletcher St., Chicago, IL 60657.