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That one bug still left on the windshield of a customer’s car can be the difference between a great wash experience, and a lasting negative impression. Bug removal isn’t the most well-known service carwashes offer, but it can be a way to bring in new customers, and sell high-end wash packages.
There’s a major incentive in offering bug removal services, because they’re usually part of the high priced packages, said Brent McCurdy, Blendco Systems president. “Operators need to be vigilant that the top washes offer higher quality and [bug removal] is a reason to buy up ... A clever way to market this service is to offer a guarantee to make it right if vehicles still contain bugs.” Proper removal is an important part of making this wash service work for you.
Bugs tend to thrive in areas that are rural and tropical, said Jeremy Parker, Kidd Wash vice president. He added that they tend to be a bigger problem in the central and southern states. In areas like Texas and Louisiana, where bugs are particular prevalent, McCurdy said that operators get mobbed for bug removal services much like states in the Northeast do after a snowstorm.
It can only take a few days before the harmful chemicals in bugs begin to cause damage to a vehicle's exterior, said Michael Heidenreich, regional sales executive at Shore Corporation. “Carwash customers and owners often don’t realize how quickly that the acidic remains of bugs can permanently damage their finish.”
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Wash owners need to know that proper bug removal takes time, said McCurdy. “It’s a bit like cleaning a frying pan after frying eggs,” he said. “Bugs that have been soaked in bug remover will [come off of a vehicle easier] the same way soaking a frying pan will make cleaning much easier and require much less scrubbing.”
Reading all of the instruction materials, and understanding how things like the application process of a product, and how the temperature of the surface affects the application, are vital to proper bug removal, said Parker. “Raise ratios when temperatures are lower to compensate for the cold,” he added.
Concentration of buffered alkalines is very important, said Stuart Hammerschmidt, Shore Corporation president. “Check your material safety data sheets (MSDS) to ensure that you are receiving concentrated products.”
In order to fully satisfy a customer that arrives with bugs on a vehicle, your wash needs to have a service plan and take the time and care to get the bugs off entirely, said Parker. “With a bug remover at the right settings, a little friction or high pressure will release most bugs. Hot water for presoak chemical will certainly increase the removal of bugs,” he continued. If time and volume permit, Parker added that a prep-bucket with a brush is still a customer pleasing item.
If bugs are not properly removed from a vehicle, your wash has not only done a poor job with service, but could also be causing long-term damage to a customer’s vehicle. “If you apply bug remover early on at the vacuums but use a highly alkaline product, this product can dry and create more issues for the operator,” said McCurdy. He added that “there are specialty, non-alkaline bug cleaners available that, when applied, start to soften the bug early and are not affected by the sun and heat.”
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Bug cleaners containing cheap alkaline that is not properly buffered can damage or mark paint, moldings and possibly glass as well, said Parker. When purchasing a bug remover, he recommends that you expect to spend in the “medium range price for a good performing product.” Parker added that your wash should test any samples to make sure that the product works for your specific environment. Another mistake washes make, he said, is not doing everything that needs to get done to remove bugs. “People tend to cut corners when they should just follow through with all the simple steps to complete the removal process.”
Some manufactures develop products that are not specifically for bug removal, and can be used as a multipurpose cleaner. Parker said these can be effective, but that owners should be aware that employees tend to overuse these types of products when cleaning a vehicle. Hammerschmidt warns to be leery of suppliers that will tell you that a bug removal product can do everything.
Bug removal is one of the least marketed services at a carwash, said Parker. “Owners should have a plan for the bug season and let each customer know that removing the bugs from their vehicles will dramatically help maintain the appearance of their vehicle and the resale value,” he said. Customers should also be made aware of the fact that if bug removal isn’t done within one to two weeks at the most, a more costly “full detail, buffing and polishing, and maybe even a paint job could be the only solution for a good looking car,” Parker added.
For those who love the appearance of their vehicle, Heidenreich said, bug removal is a great way to appeal to them. “It’s the perfect ‘tie-in’ to help educate customers on the importance of frequent washing to keep a car’s finish looking showroom new.”
Some basic marketing tips that Parker offered were to let customers know about your services through “wind master signs, menu boards, ticket writers and personal kiosks.”
Concentrates are becoming more popular in bug removal services, said Parker, though he added only a few manufactures have them so far. “This product can be diluted to a lot higher ratio than you standard bug removers, therefore you order less and change out containers less often. These new concentrates are dedicated bug removers that focus on removing bugs very effectively and efficiently,” said Parker. The removers have also become much safer on paint and moldings when sprayed onto hot surfaces than in past years, according to the experts.
Bug removal services need to be done the right way, with care and time taken to prepare the vehicle, and proper resources being spent on finding the chemicals that can really get the job done. When executed correctly, bug removal is a high-end service that can save your customers money in the long run by preventing costly detailing work, and it can earn you an extra source of revenue.
Brent McCurdy, president of Blendco Systems, has mapped out a strategy he calls the “3 S’s” for proper bug removal: Sooner, Stronger and Select.
Sooner: “It is never too early to start softening the bugs on the vehicle. Get the bug remover on the vehicle early. Preferably, if the vehicle is vacuumed before the wash, get a product on that is designed to be applied early — something high in solvents, surfactants and enzymes.”
Stronger: “Bugs require going beyond the 200:1 or 300:1 dilutions that operators prefer for savings. These products might be twice as strong or concentrated as a presoak to force the bugs to hurry up and dissolve.”
Select: “Be sure [the bug removal product] is something that is specifically designed to remove bugs. Applying a simple foamer will not wet the bug and dissolve it like the proper combination of pH, solvent and surfactant.”