FACTOID: One extra $1.75 per day gives an increase in revenue of over $50. At $1.50, it's $45. R.O.I = 3 months
It's about time!
The foam brush has been around for over thirty years. It became popular after the Federal government put tight restrictions on the use of phosphates in the soaps we used in the self-serve car wash industry. High phosphate soaps did a great job of cleaning a car. Without this chemical, it was necessary to scrub a car clean. So the foam brush was invented to give the customer the tool that they needed to get the job done.
Since then, the foam brush has been used, misused and abused. We pay thousands of dollars to install and maintain our foam brush systems. All we ask of a customer is that they pay a modest fee to use it. Yet, studies show that over 25% of the time, they are using the brush with no time on the meter. It is the only “fee-based” piece of equipment that a customer can use for free.
Too often we get frustrated as we watch customers pull into our bays and proceed to use the foam brush as a broom to sweep out the bed of their trucks or use it dry to clean the wheels. With all the grit and debris that gets imbedded into the brush, we mount signs in the bays that tell the next customers to pre-wash the brush to make sure it’s clean.
What is the Wobblehead?
The Wobblehead is a foam-actuated foam brush handle. Without foam flowing through the handle, the brush head wobbles at the end of the handle making it very difficult to scrub the vehicle. When foam is flowing through the handle, the brush head becomes rigid and useful for the paying customer,” said Patrick Ryan.
It can’t be that simple, can it?
Yes it can. Simply take off your current handle and replace it with the Wobblehead. You need nothing else to make it work. The foam flowing through the handle does all the work. The Wobblehead works with all liquid/air foam brush equipment. It also works with methanol and weep systems too.
How did this all get started?
When we heard repeated complaints by self-serve car wash owners of customers using their foam brushes for free, we could relate. It’s been a part of this industry for such a long time. When a customer approached an owner, blaming him for scratches on his vehicle, we decided to see if we could finally find a solution.
We needed to find something that was simple. We didn’t want to use electricity, or another drop line. We wanted it to be seamless for the customers, maintenance free for the operator and durable enough to last for years.
Our process started with a brainstorming session. We imagined how this device could possibly work. We allowed any idea to be spoken, no matter how impractical, impossible or ridiculous the idea was. We then weeded out ideas that included magical leprechauns and magnetic locking systems. The first breakthrough came when we defined the solution as making the handle useless. We immediately got to work on a proof of concept.
The next breakthrough came when Don discovered that he could make a spring loaded piston rod move forward using the foam pressure in a standard liquid/air foam brush system. He used PVC and a spring from the local hardware store. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t going to last, but it did work.
The real trick was using the right amount of energy from the foam. If we set things too tight, the piston would move forward, but it would crush the foam to bubbly water. Too loose and the piston wouldn’t move.
After a year of working part time out of our basements, we installed our first units at our test facility, a great car wash in Warren, Michigan.
How did that work out for you?
It failed... miserably. We thought that the first piston rod we used (which could withstand 85 pounds of pressure before bending) was strong enough to withstand customer use. It wasn’t. The customers were able to bend the rod, locking it in place, and continue using it for free.
This was a major setback. At one point we gave up. Almost. We were so close to having a workable solution. Our studies had shown that this was a real problem that was costing operators real money, and causing frustration and
confrontations with customers.
The second breakthrough occurred when I made a slight modification to the piston assembly. It allowed us to use a bigger piston. I coupled that with a much stronger piece of stainless steel rod. The result was incredible. We can now run the Wobblehead over with a 4000 pound truck without bending the rod inside. This eliminated the customer abuse problem for good.
You mentioned studies. What studies?
We had access to video files at our car wash test facility. I went through 3 months of pre-Wobblehead files where I watched and recorded how many patrons used the foam brush without paying. I found that over 25% of foam brush users underpaid or didn’t pay at all to use the brush. At another car wash, just 6 miles away, we found that over 40% of foam brush users cheated.
We came up with fun names to keep track of the different type of cheaters. Names like the Tag-Teamers, Weep-Misers, and Puddle-Dippers. You get the idea. I was amazed at how people are willing to risk the finish of their cars and trucks in order to save a couple of quarters.
After we installed the Wobbleheads, we did the video study again. My favorite one was a pair of Tag-Teamers. As the first guy was using the high pressure wash, his buddy started to scrub the work truck behind him. I watched as he made a couple of strokes and then looked at the brush quizzically. He then said something to his friend. After his friend had sprayed the truck down, he went and looked at the foam brush. He wiggled the head with his hand, said something to the other guy who went over and turned on the foam. With foam flowing through the handle he proceeded to scrub the truck, hard. He really
pressed hard. He scrubbed the rest of the truck, added more money to the box, and rinsed it off. Watching him add some quarters was great, but the initial look on his face was priceless.
How have patrons responded to the Wobblehead?
Our post-install studies showed that most customers are surprised by the brush head bending out of position. Then they drop some quarters and proceed with their wash process. For some, the re-training process takes 2 or 3 visits. They usually start off by grabbing the brush itself and try to clean their car. This doesn’t last very long. The Wobblehead has become the silent attendant that politely says “pay for me, please!”
The diameter of the handle is bigger than the old handles, and a bit heavier. We wanted to know what customers thought. When asked about the new handle, patrons usually responded about the foam itself, not the handle. For the paying customer, the Wobblehead is almost invisible.
For non-paying customers, most just add money to the coin box and resume cleaning their vehicle. Some get frustrated because they can’t use it for free anymore.
Frustrating customers doesn’t seem like a good idea.
This was a big concern for us. Losing a paying customer goes against everything we know. We spent a lot of time tracking customer reaction. We did find a few customers that are only willing to come to a car wash if they can use the brush for free. In general, we think that a non-paying customer isn’t a customer. The vast majority simply pay for the service. And by using a brush flowing with foam, they are now using it properly AND protecting the finish of their vehicle.
We also found that when customers read the in-bay sign or we told them directly, that the new handle was designed to protect their vehicle by making sure the brush was continuously flushed of debris, they always said thank you.
Does the Wobblehead increase revenue?
It does! Please understand, Don has been in this industry for over 40 years; I’ve been in it for over 10 years. Our approach is to under promise and over deliver. We have use the most conservative numbers in all of our calculations. We have been committed to the Wobblehead being a real solution to this real problem.
Depending on your sales and your start price, revenue increases by over $50 a month. Just one more $1.75 a day in a bay, yields an extra $52 a month. That’s per bay, every month from now on. That’s for a car wash doing $50k a year out of a 4 bay. The bigger and busier you are, the more revenue you gain. The reality is this. The conventional $10 handle we have all been using for over 30 years, costs over $600 per year in lost revenue. The Wobblehead earns at least that amount, every year for years to come.
Is the Wobblehead built to last?
It is...now! Our production model has been in the field for over a year. We make it out of stainless steel and brass. The “bendy” part we call the Wobble Zone is made of high grade, industrial strength rubber.
We’ve tested it by repeatedly bending the Wobble Zone, doing solid freeze and thaw cycles, operating it at sub-zero with weep and no weep, operating it at high temperature and doing the 4000 pound truck test I mentioned earlier. The Wobblehead takes it all and keeps working like nothing happened. The only reason the Wobblehead won’t work is if it starts to leak, which has never happened. And, there’s a warranty for that.
How have operators responded to the Wobblehead?
After 30 years without an alternative, the response has ranged from excited to seriously skeptical. And, I have run into more than one operator that scoffs at the idea.
It’s what you would expect with any new approach to doing business. Some get it quickly. Some just don’t get it. Still, others are waiting to see how the industry responds to the Wobblehead.
Most however, listen to the information, consider how different business life would be, and then order some Wobbleheads. After just three days with Wobbleheads at one location, one operator called and ordered more for his two other locations. Some have ordered their second round after a couple of months for additional locations.
After having their Wobbleheads for a while, most enjoy the end of dealing with cheating customers. Everyone enjoys the extra revenue.
Owning a car wash is about selling a time sensitive service. We ask a patron to pay us for the right to use our equipment, in our bay, on our property. In exchange for a few quarters we let them use our equipment for a given period of time. For over 30 years the old foam brush system allowed customers to under pay or not pay at all to use it. For over 30 years we have had to confront customers about using our system for free. The weep system made this problem even worse.
It’s about time we have a choice. It’s about time we update 30 year old technology. It’s about time we get paid for our service ...every time. It’s about time we put an end to the misuse and abuse of our foam brush system. It’s about time we stop confronting our customers.
The Wobblehead allows us to do all this and more. It’s an easy, polite way to ask our customers to pay for the use of our equipment. That’s how it’s been for every other system on our property. Now, we have it available for the foam brush system. After 30 years... it’s about time.