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Spray gun vs iPhone. What a dilemma.

This blog post is not about the new technology in automotive repair industry, nor about its challenges or best practices. This post is about a crisis we definitely have in our industry. This is the human resource crisis. No matter how precise the color matching is, or how fast clearcoats dry, if we don’t have skilled, motivated and proud painters, the industry’s future is not bright. In fact, this post blog comes as a continuation of one of my recent articles “The biggest challenge in the collision repair is to keep it young.”

Just last week we had a round of presentations of new Devilbiss spray gun DV1 on the field. Usually I enjoy this part of my job. What can be better than a direct, unfiltered contact with the end users of your products? While the presentations were “business as usual” , one encounter left me very concerned and in doubt.

My sales manager and I visited a very typical for Greece bodyshop. Average size, family owned workshop of three people. The painter was actually the owner’s son, and the next generation of the business. After initial formalities and casual chat, I asked the young guy about his spaying equipment arsenal. It turned out that he is using two spray guns for basecoat and clearcoat applications. One was a Devilbiss GTI – the very first model of the iconic blue spray gun by the British manufacturer. The other piece was a SATA 2000 model. Both spray guns were purchased many years ago by the painter’s father, and they have obviously seen better days. Looks like a good potential customer, you may think. I thought the same exact thing. However, the youngster looked very indifferent and reluctantly asked for the price. The average retail price for a premium spray gun, regardless of the brand is slightly above 700 Euro in our part of the world. If you take in account that with a quality piece of equipment like Devilbiss DV1 or SATA Jet 5500 (I don’t mention other brands, but the list is not all-comprehensive) one could save massively on materials consumption, improve color matching on difficult metallic colors and decrease re-works, purchasing such gun is a no-brainer. Well, for me at least. However, my prospect customer had a different opinion.

“That is too expensive”, he replied indifferently and took a brand new iPhone XS Max out of his pocket. He started clicking through some Viber messages and turned his back to us. Our pitch came to an end.

En route back to my office I was thinking a great deal about this young man. I wasn’t thinking about the rejection. No. If you are in sales, you know that rejection is just a part of everyday life. What stroke me most is that the “professional” painter didn’t show any interest for something new in his industry. It wasn’t the question of money, of course. Someone who can afford buying an expensive gadget worth about 1300 Euro, can afford investing in his job. Unlike pricy phone, the last technology spray gun (or any other piece of equipment) will earn him money. The problem is that investment in his work is not something he wishes to do, and it is important to distinguish between investment and pure expenses. Purchasing a piece of equipment is definitely an investment. Buying a new phone, unless you are mobile app developer, is an expanse.

To conclude, I would like to say that there are people in our industry who struggle to make both ends meet. Probably not everyone, especially in crisis-hit Greece, can buy a DV1 or similar spray gun. However, a serious sprayer would rather save money for a gun, rather than for a phone. This is my humble opinion.Chances are that this bodyshop will not survive until the next generation, unless the owner changes his attitude.

 

The biggest challenge in the collision repair industry is to keep it young.

The biggest challenge in the collision repair industry is to keep it young.

The idea of this post came to me just a few days ago while I was strolling with my family through Athens shopping district, buzzing with last minute Christmas shoppers. We walked into a small candle shop full of candles of all shapes, colors and smells. After a short chat with the owner I learnt that her business has been established in 1888, when candles in Greece were necessity, not decoration items. “How did you manage to survive until now, when light is available even on a smartphone we carry?” I asked. “We adopt and pass our knowledge to our next generation,” she replied.

Since this is the last blog post for this year, I wanted to put the current problems aside for a while and think about the future. So, what does the future holds for the collision repair industry? Optimists will probably think of stable growth. People are not going to stop driving cars for the time being, therefore accidents and repairs are still inevitable. However, our main concern is not the existence of the collision repair industry, but whether there will be enough skilled panel-beaters and painters to cope with escalating complexity of the repairs.

Younger people, who choose craftsmanship over white-collar jobs, have numerous choices nowadays. One could pursue a career as a computer hardware technician, security systems installer, mobile phones repairer, electrician, plumber, you name it. Businesses are hunting for people able to fix stuff with their hands. Actually employment in the trades is growing year by year, because Millennials think more practically. Why spend money and time for college, when you can easily find a well-rewarded job in great working environment after a much shorter vocational training or apprenticeship program?

Situation in the collision repair industry is changing, but not fast enough. I have read that the median salary for a painter in the United States is around 65.000 USD, but I am sure that in many countries this job is very much underpaid. From health and safety standpoint, bodyshop is still highly hazardous in comparison with other blue-collar jobs. So, why bother spoiling your health in a dusty and smelly workshop? In one of the past blog post “How to deal with employee turnover in a bodyshop”, I already emphasized that working conditions are hugely important for the young people joining our trade. Do not expect young guys to work in cold and dirty workshop, like their fathers and predecessors.

To sum up, whether you are an owner of a family owned business or a manager in a big collision repair group, your business future depends on the coming generation. Be it your son, daughter or apprentice, creating pleasant working environment in combination with the fair salaries, would be the bare minimum to keep the industry rolling. As the owner of the candle shop said, we must adopt and pass our knowledge to those who come after us. I would just add that the collision repair industry minds should not be only concerned about technological challenges and productivity, but also invest seriously on its people wellbeing. Otherwise there will be no one to hold a spray gun in the first place.

 

Why do we need more women in the bodyshop?

We are living in a time where clichés are being dethroned. Women serve in the army, run successful international corporations, fly to space and lead governments. Whether we – men – like it or not, women will take up more active role in every aspect of the modern society. Automotive industry is still dominated by men, despite the fact that the number of women behind the driving wheel match the men, at least in the developed world. So, why don’t we have an equivalent percentage of women (I don’t know what percentage this should be) in a bodyshop?

Women in the repair shop. Why we see women only at the reception desks?

I will concentrate on the bodyshop business, since it is closer to my usual readers. Apparently, there are a few reasons why women spraying cars are rather an exception.

  1. Prejudice. I strongly believe the main reason, is the negative predisposition of people – men – in the collision repair industry against women in a bodyshop. Just like with female taxi drivers, men do not like their cars to be fixed, driven or painted by women.
  2. Collision repair job is too hard for women. It shouldn’t be. If a bodyshop is properly equipped than none of the operations, especially in a paint shop, should be physically challenging for women.
  3. This work is too hazardous for women. Again, collision repair work must be safe for any person involved in the repair process, regardless of gender or age. Of course, I have my concerns if women should be working with chemicals, while pregnant, but this shouldn’t be an obstacle for women’s occupation in a bodyshop in general.
  4. Social disapproval. Just like with the first point, modern society puts labels on women. They can be nurses, waitresses, teachers, cooks or doctors. Most of the parents will discourage their daughter to choose a career of a car mechanic or refinisher.
  5. The job is not prestigious. It is hard to deny that the collision repair industry struggles to attract young people. This is the problem, which affects young men and women in the same way. Unless we find proper incentives, our industry will continue to grow older.

Emelie Dammare WorldSkills 2013 Silver Medalist in Car Painting

Why do we need more women in the industry?

The idea to write this post came to me after reading the article “Young Painter Creates “Girls Behind the Gun” in AutobodyNews.com about Konstandina Manjavinos – a young lady who is a very successful sprayer. Konstandina is also the founder of the movement “Girls behind the gun”. I follow her posts and cannot hide my admiration for her enthusiasm and skills. “Girls behind the gun” has thousands of followers! By the way, Konstandina has Greek roots. I tried to recall any female car sprayer in Greece. Never met one, even though a colleague told me that he knew … three!

  1. Women are more efficient and accurate in the routine tasks.We all know that vehicle’s preparation before it enters a spray booth, requires a certain routine of masking, sanding, de-masking, priming and cleaning chores. The importance of these jobs are difficult to underestimate. If you ever have visited an OEM paint shop, you would know that the majority of employees there are women. I guess that the biggest car manufacturers realized a long time ago that women are better than men in many tasks in the paint shop.
  2. Women are better in distinguishing colors.According to the research in the CUNY’s Brooklyn College, “women are much better in noticing subtle differences among shades of a color”. We all know how important this capability in colormetrics and color-matching is. Automotive refinishing business will benefit from more women in a spray booth or behind a color matching bench.
  3. Women handle better multiple tasks. According to the research of University of Glasgow, women outperform men when asked to do multiple tasks simultaneously. I think that in a bodyshop, employees have to run many things at the same time. For fact.
  4. Women keep their working place clean and tidy.Every year dozens of productive hours are lost because employees are searching for tools, equipment and consumables around the shop.
  5. Women are better in communication. It is not a secret that timely delivery of a vehicle doesn’t depend only on bodyshop capacity. Estimators, insurance companies, parts and consumables’ suppliers all influence delivery times. I am sure that more women in all positions in a collision repair shop will benefit the business overall.

 

Finally, I would like to mention another influential woman in the collision repair business –Kristen Felder – founder at Engage Target Media and Collision Hub. I follow Kristen’s work for a while now, and she is probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the automotive refinishing industry I know. I am sure there are many other women who make our trade move forward.

Why being “a Jack of all trades” in bodyshop is a disaster.

Not a long time ago I met a bodyshop owner in Greece, with whom I had a long and friendly conversation about life in general and business particularly. The guy, let’s call him Giorgos, gave me his courtesy card, which looked like it was designed by a five year old child. Giorgos was very proud and told me that he created his business card himself… I put the card in my pocket trying not to stare at it too much. “I do everything myself”, Giorgos told me, and invited me for lunch. To make the story short, we had a good meal enjoying sunny Greek afternoon. While having frappe – very popular iced coffee in Greece – Giorgos asked me what would be my advice for him to grow his business. My reply came rough. “Stop doing everything yourself”. Naturally, I didn’t have any intention to upset otherwise a good professional car painter and a friendly person. In fact, I really wanted to give a valuable advice. Frankly speaking, I meet people like Giorgos a lot in the collision repair industry, so below is my vision.

Jack of all trades, and master of none.

Probably you already know this proverb. Luckily, most of the people I rub elbows with, are real masters, craftsmen in their job, whether it is doing quality car repairs or selling materials for the bodyshops. On the flipside, many of them try, like Giorgos, to do every single business related function themselves. But until now I haven’t met a “master of all trades”. If you are good at color matching, it doesn’t mean that you will choose the right color for your business card. If you have deep knowledge about automotive refinish products, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be that great in bookkeeping or advertising. Having two thousands friends on Facebook doesn’t guarantee that your company page will bring you any customers. “Maybe you are right”, said Giorgos reluctantly while studying my business card. “But I can’t afford any employee or marketing manager”. My reply was laconic…

Outsourcing

What big international companies understood quite some time ago, yet small businesses struggle to comprehend? You have no reason to do everything in house, yourself or by hiring an employee. Business tycoons in every imaginable industry outsource a good deal of their operations. Call centers, customer care, accountancy, logistics, IT security, legal issues, advertising, organizing holidays, you name it, have been outsourced by narrowly specialized professionals from different parts of the world. So, why, for God’s sake, Giorgos designs business cards himself?

In Etalon we outsource accountancy, logistics, legal matters and IT. Our team is concentrated in developing, sourcing, testing and marketing the best car refinish consumables. This is what we do for living. I cannot imagine doing everything within the company.

Family affair

In order for the outsourcing to be successful, what you really need to do yourself is a good market survey. Ask people around you, not only colleagues from the trade. If you liked your doctor’s business card, praise it and ask for the reference. She will be more than happy to give you the contact details. Do not fall into the trap of giving the job to your cousin, who “is good with computers”. Do not delegate the bookkeeping to your wife just because she was good at maths in high-school. Frequently relatives or close friends are the worst help, even if it comes free of charge.

Giorgos was clever enough to listen to my advice. Now he has new business cards, website and corporate identity. Luckily he didn’t print too many of his previous cards.

Jack of All Trades illustration by Matthew Stumphy

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Sent from my iPad

 

Automotive clearcoats survery. Thought provoking findings.

Without a doubt, clearcoat is the King of automotive refinishing materials. Well, paint is equally important, but it comes second. Let’s call it … the Queen. Paint is designed to match, but clearcoat … to shine. A safe guess would be that there are much more brands and varieties of clears in the market, then basecoat systems. Clearcoat, for every big or small refinish materials supplier, is the matter of pride, the reason for war (price war I mean) and the vehicle for sales growth. In fact, some fellow rivals in the industry virtually oblige their customers to buy the correspondent quantities of clears related to the paint consumed. Free market, you tell me…

As with other important components of autobody repair puzzle, there are many misconceptions about the clears. For example, “only high solid clears are good” or “low VOC” clearcoats outperform by all parameters their solvent packed cousins. Furthermore, every paint supplier claims that he or she knows what exactly a painter asks from his clearcoat, and, usually, low price is on the top of the list (it is not, check the below survey findings). Lack of transparency (we talk about clearcoat anyway) in our industry, plenty of questionable marketing and absence of standards (read the article on this issue here) confuse the main person in the trade – painter – completely. Therefore, I decided to launch a short 10 questions survey to clear up things about clearcoats.

In the below chart you can see the results of the above-mentioned survey. It consisted of 9 clearcoat characteristics, which the participants were asked to grade from 0 (unimportant) to 10 (extremely important). The last, 10th question was asking about brand/product, which our participants considered as benchmark in quality. The whole list is presented below as well.

Survey findings

Based on the collected answers and from the additional comments we received from the participants the following conclusions can be drawn.

  • The level of shine and gloss retention are the most valued properties of any clearcoat with almost 100% of the respondents gave it a sold 10.
  • Transparency of the clearcoat comes second. From the information we got, there are still a few clearcoats in the market, which are not completely transparent. Usually slight yellowish color is the biggest problem.
  • Ease of application, flow, productivity and consumption – all these parameters – are highly valued as well. Painters like “forgiving” clearcoats, which will not run or solvent pop in case of thicker than normal application. Similarly, clears with high productivity and relatively low consumption are popular too for obvious reasons.
  • Final hardness, chemical and UV resistance are very important to about 85% of the respondents.
  • Drying and flash off times and ease of anticipated buffing (removing dust nibs etc) is crucial for 80% of survey participants.
  • Surprisingly price and solids content (VOC compliance) clearly came the last.

Between the lines

While we had an opportunity to discuss with the survey participants, a few thought-provoking points, which are not depicted by the chart, came to the surface.

  • Price of a particular product is more important to re-sellers than to painters. Paint sprayers care less about price, and more about the result and ease of application.
  • Gloss retention is the biggest challenge for the manufacturers, because a lot of clearcoats in the market loose the shine after only a few days.
  • VOC compliance is the last clearcoat characteristic, a car sprayer considers before the purchase.
  • Among the products, considered as benchmark there are many so-called “non-premium” brands.

The list of cleacoat mentioned as benchmarks  presented below:

Mipa CC8

Spieshecker HS 8055

Novol Spectral Klar 565 VHS

4CR HS Rapid 7235 and 4CR 7262 UHS

Sikkens Superior LV

Debeer Supreme HS 420

Glasurit 255

Roberlo Premium 250HS

HB Body 496

Silco Airmaxx 9600

Etalon 970 UHS

Carsystem Speed Plus VOC clear

Troton Master HS

PPG Deltron D880

RM Crystal Top HS

 

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