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“Competition is not only the basis of protection to the consumer, but is the incentive to progress.” Herbert Hoover

This year I reached my 20th year in car refinishing industry. I loved it, prospered, lived my ups and downs, and I wish my journey will continue for a long time. I have been privileged to work with  and learn from colleagues in all the inhabited continents. While our industry goes through the rough times now, just like most of the other businesses, I could safely tell that one of the greatest challenges is the lack of proper, honest, forward-thinking competition…

 

Let me be straight, I love the competition, though being the owner of a rather small player on the field of car paint products. Being small can be a great advantage when flexibility, personal touch and best customer service is required. Competition has played a huge role in the automotive business altogether. Remember Big Three – Ford, GM and Chrysler? The rivalry between those legendary companies put the automotive industry to the whole new level and through rough times of the Great Depression. Imagine what would be the cars if Ford would rule the industry with his efficient but boring black T Model? Not much left for car refinishing business, I guess… There are countless examples of how competition changed not only the the industry, but the world. I am writing this article on my iPad, which is one of the wonderful things born from fierce competition between Apple and PC.  The list is endless.

 

The reason I mention all these is because I see a real problem with competition in our trade. Big Four (sorry Sherwin-Williams you are not in this list, at least in Europe) mainly compete on the expensive gadgets, like Moonwalk or Fillon’s Daisy Wheel and acquisitions. I don’t see any significant product development for at least last 10 years. Same technology in different packaging.

 

More than 3 years ago I wrote an article “Is “buying” bodyshops business by paint companies sustainable?” I have to say that nothing changed and probably got worse. More or less busy (?) bodyshop is approached by big paint suppliers with cash. Nobody talks about products benefits, but only the check amount. The problem is that bodyshop owners usually bite in front of cash check, but never actually look in depth of the offering. Is it suitable for their business? What about the long run impact? Is it worth loosing your freedom of choice? Maybe it is better to take a loan for this desired equipment rather than signing a slavery contract?

 

I have learnt that nothing in life comes for free. I strongly advice to choose the paint supplier based on his offer and service, not on his “freebies” …

 

4 + 2 things car painter and a doctor have in common (revisited)

I wrote this article almost 7 years ago in February 2013, and since then many of our readers referred to it, and, actually, used it in the business presentations and discussions across refinishing industry. It is always fun to make comparisons of incomparable things. After the years, I came across of two more things, which are similar in both trades. I hope you will find those interesting addition to the list.

One could say that there is hardly anything in common between collision repair facility and, let’s say, your family doctor’s office. Well, probably it is true to some extent. Nevertheless, besides the fact that some auto paint professionals are called “car skin doctors”, there are some professional attributes we should borrow from doctors.

  1. Place your professional certificates on some prominent place.

Next time you will visit your doctor, pay attention to the walls of his cabinet. I am pretty sure that his diplomas and certificates will be right behind him nicely framed! It is not a show off, but a well understood practice to assure a patient that he is in the right place for treatment.

Car refinishing professional also spends considerable amount of time to learn the craft. Wether he graduated from technical school or attended a number of professional seminars or has been certified by the car colour company, he had acquired quite a few documents certifying his knowledge. So, my advice is to clean the dust from your professional certificates and to place them on the nice spot of the body shop, or even better in your office!

  1. Find some place for the office.

Imagine that you need a minor surgical operation to be done (a really small one). You come to the place to schedule the date with your surgeon, and he admits you… right over the operation table. Sounds strange, doesn’t it?

Believe it or not, but exactly the same applies to any collision and body repair shop. There should be a place, preferably separated from the noise of working compressor or sanding machine, where painter could discuss with a customer all the procedures, costs and, perhaps, additional services to be offered. Let’s face it, selling your service standing in the middle of noisy and dusty body shop, doesn’t look very professional!

  1. Keep the body shop clean as hospital.

I remember my feelings when during my trip to Zambia I looked for a medical help in one small place in the middle of nowhere. The doctor’s place was dirty and old, and I thought my fever probably is not so important, and I should leave or better run away, as soon as possible. Fortunately, most of the doctor’s cabinets are tidy, clean and well maintained. Otherwise how could we trust our health to such a doctor?

Now one could say, body shop is a working place, where old parts are removed, sanding dust is in the air, while spilled paint stains decorate every corner. Big mistake! Don’t expect your customer to respect you, if you don’t respect yourself the place you spend so much time every day. My advice is:

– Clean that dust from the floor, your tools, infrared dryers, and all the equipment. This will give preserve value of your investment and help to “fight” those nasty dust nibs you spend so much time to polish away.

– Remove all those old bonnets, cracked bumpers and smashed doors. You will be surprised how much bigger your body shop actually is.

– Devote one weekend per year to paint your walls. Nothing fancy, pure white or beige colour will refresh the look of your shop. Better mood everyday comes as bonus.

– Improve the lighting, clean your windows, and let the bright side of life in. Having better vision of the place to be repaired is always a big plus.

– Make some shelves and find place for all tools and consumables. One of the biggest problems with clear coat polishing and swirl marks I noticed all those years, was dirty polishing pads covered with sanding dust.

  1. Dress up and look professional.

Why do you think all doctors wear those nice white lab coats? Because they want to look professional, so they must dress up like a doctor. It is an attribute, rather than necessity. White coat inspires confidence.

I do believe that clean overall is a must, especially when you meet a customer. How customers will take seriously your business, if your working uniform is dirty and looks like rag?

  1. Don’t make diagnosis (estimates) over the phone

Have you ever met a doctor, who would give a patient his diagnosis over the phone? I haven’t, and I hope you neither. In order to find out what is wrong with one’s health, a doctor must see him, examine, probably prescribe some tests, and only then – make the diagnosis and proceed with treatment. This is exactly what should be done, when a customer calls you for an estimate and/or sends you the picture. It simply does not work this way. So, next time you receive a phone call for the repair quotation, just think of your physician first.

  1. Never stop learning.

Doctors never stop learning. They attend conferences, seminars and conventions throughout their whole professional career. Nobody would trust his health to a doctor, whose professional knowledge is based solely on the doctor’s degree studies some years ago. Similarly, a body shop professional should continue his professional education regardless of his or her years of experience. Vehicles change, materials change, tools change, so working on the repair “just the way we always do” is not good enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Multi brand paint shop vs a single brand carrier

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while, probably know that I really like comparing how car refinishing industry vary from region to region. It is fascinating how different the business models could be in an industry, where precise (color) match is the main target. What is even more fascinating that there is no right way to do business either. Let me share with you my observations how the paint supplying stores operate in different countries.

Even in the English speaking markets, the name describing automotive paint selling shop differ. Factor, jobber, “paint guy”, distributor, paint warehouse, are just some of the business names I’ve stumbled upon in my career.

Putting the names aside, the look and products assortment usually has a similar pattern. Paint mixing scheme(s) put in the very center of the whole store. Plus a range of clears, fillers, primers, thinners, non-paint consumables, including abrasives, polishing compounds, sealants, aerosols, tapes, and at least basic equipment, like spray guns and sanders. While the number of different auxiliary products brands may vary, what is the main characteristic of a business is whether it carries one or more car paint brands.

Multi-brand store

If you walk into a paint store and your eyes catch more than one mixing schemes from competitive paint brands, then this shop can be considered as multi-brand.  It is important to recognize that the store carrying brands of the same group can hardly be described as multi-brand. For example, if the shop owner has PPG and MaxMeyer mixing systems, he or she probably follows some sort of a corporate strategy in the market. These paint systems could be complimentary. However, if you see Glasurit and Sikkens products side-by-side, than it is a distinctive example of a multi-brand paint supplier.

Pros and cons of multi-brand paint shop

Let’s have a look into the advantages of having more than one paint brand on the shelves. Firstly, if you have a number of paint systems, you can “play” with the approvals, which a particular brand has for certain car manufacturers. If your key customers “require” this or that paint brand because, then you can offer what they require. No need for expensive and lengthy presentations and trials. “You want Spieshecker, here you are”.

Secondly, in reality all paint systems have their strong and weak sides. I mean ALL. For example, X brand may perfectly match Japanese vehicles, while the brand Y does the Americans really well. Having multiple paint brands in store allows a store owner to be flexible.

Thirdly, with multiple brands at your hands, you may cover different customers, based on their price sensitivity.  If a certain customer sprays old cars and have a lot of overall refinishing jobs, then a more economic paint may do the job. There is no need for a high-end, premium paint in this case.

Last, but not the least, the multi-brand store is truly independent business. The owner has more choices and freedom to steer his business towards more profitable solution.

If all the above sound too good to be true, I bring to your attention some drawbacks of having multiple paint brands in your store. The main disadvantage is that no paint producer will view you as 100% partner. There will be always some moaning involved. Usually paint companies will not bring you ready customers to serve, and technical and financial support will be limited.

Single brand shop

On the other side, a paint-supplying store with the only one paint brand (group) inside, can be described as a single brand shop. Often, this kind of business is called, unofficially, by the name of paint brand. Sikkens shop, Standox stocker, Axalta jobber, Glasurit guy, etc. Besides being identified as a famous brand, carrying a single paint system has also a number of benefits. Firstly, you enjoy a full support and area protection from the paint producer. Secondly, often a “mother” company brings you good customers to serve. Literally. Thirdly, stock management is much easier. Less stock, means less frozen money. Sounds great to me! Nevertheless, don’t jump into conclusion so fast. What if the idealistic relationship may stagger? You may loose a key supplier overnight. What if your preferred paint supplier is too expensive or weak in certain important aspects? What if your paint supplier decides to leave your market? Yes, it happened in the not-so-distant past. No jokes.

Conclusion

As you realized, both strategies have strong advantages and potentially dangerous disadvantages. I usually do not advocate for any particular way of doing business. Your decision though should be based solely on your own interests. Don’t be trapped by any sales manager, however capable he is. The managers come and go, while your business is here to stay…

 

Automotive Paint Supply Shop’s Alternative Paths

The best way to avoid business downfalls is to be proactive. It is just like with our health. Your doctor probably told you that it is much easier and cheaper to treat your body and mind as top priority than to deal with illnesses piled due to bad habits and negligence. Well, business health is no exemption. If you run a shop or a warehouse for automotive collision repair industry, this article is for you.

Threats of the industry

Paint supply in the automotive refinishing industry is a mature and saturated industry. In most of the parts of the world, it grows at a rather moderate pace, and, therefore, doing business becomes more and more difficult. Competition is very high and profits are shrinking. Additionally, international groups buy one shop after another. Consolidation is ruthless and imminent threat to the independent body and paint suppliers. In parallel, supplying automotive paint requires more investment in training, expensive equipment and fine-tuned stock management. Thus, regardless of what state your market is in now, it would be wise to safeguard your future by not putting all the eggs in the same basket. I strongly advice to broaden your products offering and enter one or more from the below mentioned industries.

Industrial paints

Probably the closest product range to automotive paints are the industrial paint systems. Usually the automotive coatings producers can supply mix systems for the light industry as well. Additionally, if you trade automotive paint, then it will not be a big issue to master the niceties of any industrial coating system. However, what is the target market for the industrial coatings? You will be pleasantly surprised how many potential customers are out there. Agricultural machinery, metal construction workshops, various machine shops, sign makers, contractors, you name it. Examples of such mixing systems are Selemix (PPG), Lechsys (Lechler), Ivat, Alcea, Rembrandtin (Helios) and many others. Imagine that with a good industrial mixing scheme you have a mini paints factory at your disposal. Just change binders…

Marine and yachting coatings

If you are lucky to live by the sea, ocean, river or a big lake, then there is a great chance to offer marine and yachting coatings. Whether it is a small fiberglass boat, sailing boat, commercial ship or a mega yacht, they must be protected, refurbished and maintained. The scope of the products include antifouling paints, epoxy primers, topcoats, cleaners, polishes and a great deal of the auxiliary products. Keep in mind that sometimes there is seasonality factor in this industry.

Furniture and wood coatings

It doesn’t matter which country you are in, there are always furniture factories somewhere close to you. Believe it or not, but wooden tables and chairs are painted in a similar way with the car. A painter needs abrasives, spray guns, masking tapes, personal protection products and coatings of course. Even if you decide not to invest in a stock of wood and furniture coatings, there is still a great number of consumables you could sell to this market.

Detailing products and car wash supplies

Detailing shops spring up like mushrooms after the rain all over the place. As people get more educated how to protect their vehicles’ appearance, the demand for the detailing products is growing. Among the products you probably already have on your shelves are polishing compounds, pads, microfiber wipes and polishing machines. Earn new customers by adding shampoos, dressings, washing machines and greater variety of the cleaning products, and you will see your sales growing from the completely different customers pool of hobbyist and professionals.

DIY and construction paints

I have seen many customers of mine, who grew up their range to a full size hardware store with paints, tools and accessories needed for any household. It is a big move, I must admit, because the whole philosophy of the store will must be altered. Selling automotive paints is primarily a B2B business model, while a hardware store carries a big variety of the goods aimed to the non-professional customers or B2C. It is very important to understand the difference. On the other hand, if the collision repair business is declining, then it is a one-way road to enlarge your offerings and target much bigger customer base.

Conclusion

I strongly believe that any entrepreneur should keep his or her eyes open for the new opportunities. The above-mentioned list is not an exhaustive one, of course. There could be many more other related or completely unrelated industries one could consider. The main takeaway from this humble article is that it is much better to stay tuned for an additional revenue, and, who knows, it may turn out a saving vest in difficult times.

Automotive Coatings Chemistry 101

To be honest chemistry wasn’t my favorite class at school. Probably it was because of the teacher, but I didn’t succeed in getting an A on chemistry no matter what. However, life is unpredictable, and sometimes things you wish to avoid, become part of your life or career. I began my entrepreneurial path with trading chemical raw materials for coatings manufacturing, and now I am in automotive refinishing business, where the greater part of products are chemicals. I don’t know if you experienced my difficulties with chemistry, but if you use or supply automotive painting products, then chemistry is important for your work too.

Chemistry is an exact science

You may wonder what this article is about? Well, I intend to stress the importance of understanding and respecting chemistry as science, and not just any science, but an exact one. Chemistry is in the heart of the automotive refinishing industry. Paints, clears, primers, bodyfillers, sealants and other paint related materials are developed based on the fundamental rules of the applied chemistry. We all know that.

The exact sciences are characterized by accurate quantitative expression, meaning that the reaction between the chemical elements happens in accordance with the quantitative parameters of these elements.

You do not need to know the chemical formulas, but understanding the essentials is the key to success in our trade. Failing to do so will cost you money and reputation. Below you can find the most common examples how chemistry can “punish” you if you didn’t learn the lesson.

Adhesion problems

Unfortunately adhesion problems are very common paint defects in collision repair works. Painters many times fail to understand that adhesion of one material on another depends on two parameters: mechanical bond (this is why we use abrasives to create the right scratch pattern for the subsequent coating’s bonding) and chemical bond, which happens on the molecular level. If you do not remove the waxes and release agents from the new OEM bumper, for instance, it will cause flaking. Similarly, silicone particles can not mix with any other liquid, therefore the so-called “fish-eye” defect will appear on the contaminated surface. Proper surfaces preparation and following the TDS will help to avoid unpleasant situations of poor adhesion.

Problems with curing of 2K materials

If a clearcoat’s technical data sheet says that the mixing ratio is 2 parts of clear to 1 part of hardener without any thinner (or “reducer” as our American colleagues call it), it means exactly that. Not 5%, not 10%, not “I am used to do it like that all the time!” Period.

Similarly, if you add more benzoyl peroxide hardener to polyester-based body filler, it will not speed up the curing process, simply because the crosslinking between hardener and resin can happen only given a certain amount of available styrene and polyester molecules. More benzoyl peroxide will not “find” free elements and just stay unused, causing problems like bleeding.

Problems with expired products

You wouldn’t eat smelly meat or drink expired milk, would you? Just like we respect the shelf-life of our food, we must respect the indicated storage times on your fillers or clearcoats.  I have seen dozens of times how easily painters mix and use coatings, which are expired. While sometimes one can get away with this, in the majority of cases problems are almost guaranteed. It is worth mentioning that even similar products, but from different suppliers may greatly vary as to the shelf-life of the materials. You can find in the market primers ranging from 12 to 36 month’s storage. Needless to say that treating all the primers the same way is a big error. Careful stock management and implementation of the logistic practices like FIFA (first in, first out) will save money both for the bodyshop and coatings supplier.

Incompatibility of the coatings

In chemistry there are two main scenarios how two substances can react in case of contact: no reaction or intermixing or some kind of reaction. In the paint shop we observe both of them. When hardener is mixed with clearcoat, we have chemical reaction, which leads to fast curing of the mixture and crystallization. This is a desirable outcome. On the flip-side, we do not want any chemical reaction between bodyfiller and primer, for example. What happens if we spray etch-primer over the bodyfiller? Aggressive acids in the etch-primer will react with bodyfiller, causing lifting and adhesion failure.

Problems caused by using wrong thinner/reducer

Many products in the market are designed to be used with certain thinners (reducers) in order to get the desirable viscosity. Unfortunately, not all thinners are created equal. In the paint workshop you can find different types of thinners: acrylic thinner, base coat thinner, nitro thinner and epoxy. All of them have different base and purpose. One of the most common mistakes I have observed is using of nitro-based solvent in the 2K primers and clears (for the cost reasons mainly). The vast majority of 2K materials in the collision repair shop are made on the acrylic-urethane resins. If you use nitro thinner, for example, which is much faster than acrylic ones, it may cause gloss reduction and orange peel effect.

Good news

When you are taking exam at school, you are not allowed to use any help or source of the information. The good news is that in our business not only we have the cheat sheets available, but we are encouraged to use them as we wish. I am talking about TDSs or technical data sheets. I am confident that if every painter used TDS whenever doubtful, the amount of the paint defects and costly re-sprays would have dropped significantly. Nowadays, thanks to the internet connection and smart phones, you can find the needed information within just a few minutes. TDS is the best source of information for every single product you use. Chemists and technicians worked hard to put the necessary information together for you, so use it. No need to re-invent bicycle… Well bicycles are more about physics, but this is another subject though…

 

 

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