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The next big thing in the autobody refinishing industry will not be a thing.

There is something fascinating about predicting the future. Don’t you agree? Probably every one of us would like to have a glance in to the future. Well, I am not a fate teller, although it would probably make easier money than selling refinishing products around the globe. However, just as majority of you, I try to make reasonable prognosis about the future of the collision repair industry. From my point of view, the last time we had something with profound impact  was a long time ago when basecoat-clearcoat painting system was introduced. Even the waterborne technology hasn’t influenced our business as much as some paint manufacturers would have liked it to. Of course, chemistry is an amazing science, but I do not see any tremendous breakthroughs as far as materials are concerned. On the other hand, big change can come for example from a new player in the supply chain. Have you heard about the “internet of things?”

 

What is the Internet of things?

The Internet of things or often referred to as “IoT” is made up of devices with sensors interconnected into one network. Based of collected and analyzed data, appropriate commands are sent from distance through the network to the devices. IoT is about efficiency, time and money savings; it creates much faster processes with the possibility of usage in every aspect of modern life and business.

IoT in automotive refinishing industry.

In our industry, we have some attempts to optimize the processes through the internet. Mainly I refer to the online softwares for color management and spectrophotometers. On the other hand, I cannot recall any decent smartphone APP from any automotive refinishing company, which would stand out. Most of the existing APPs are just smaller versions of the corporate websites. From my point of view, we experience kind of technological vacuum, which eventually should be filled up by something innovative. I believe that IoT will come to auto body repair business from five directions.

IoT and color matching.

Most of the surveys conducted in our industry reveal that poor color matching remains the biggest challenge and profit-eater for any bodyshop. Expensive re-sprays and failed deadlines are common even among the best of us. Imagine that you have a spectrophotometer, which will be connected not only with your software, but with the computers of the paint manufacturer labs. If the lab doesn’t have the right formula for the color, it will be created and will update the database of every user around the globe.

IoT and stock management for end users and distributors.

Stock management, especially when we talk about availability of mixing toners, is another headache for everyone, who is involved in the car paint business. Probably we all have had a situation when one toner is missing, and, as by Murphy’s law, all today’s colors require this specific toner. Imagine that all mixers served by a distributor are interconnected and create automatic orders without any human intervention. This can be particularly helpful in the markets with the long chain of supply, like USA or Russia, due to the size of the markets and distances the products have to travel.

IoT and manufacturing.

Certainly, IoT will benefit a lot the paint and consumables producers. Distributors’ computers will be connected with the central system of the producer, who in turn can analyze the stock levels and by using various algorithms calculate the required quantities for the factory. As a result, on time deliveries and reduced overstock (especially of the products with short shelf life) will occur.

IoT  and environment.

Automotive refinishing industry has been accused of polluting the environment with waste, organic fumes and carbon output. IoT can be very useful for all involved parts, bodyshop managers, suppliers and authorities to have all the data collected in one place. For example, if a spray booth will work more than certain time period, a message will be sent that active carbon filters must be replaced in the exhaust units. Similarly, waste management can be controlled, helping protection of the environment.

IoT and health and safety in a bodyshop.

Workers in autobody shops are exposed to a number of hazards. Organic and welding fumes, isocyanates and dust from sanding, are among the causes of various occupational health problems. By installing sensors in a working place and sending the data from spraybooth and preparation area to central computer, will definitely reduce the possibility of negligence and poor safety practices. Authorities will have the access to this data and the control will be facilitated.

Challenges

Internet of Things will revolutionize autobody repair industry. It is just the matter of time. However, there will be obstacles, like the reluctance from involved parties to give away the internal information, as well as security and data protection, which is crucial in our era of cyber crime.

Does your customer know what clearcoat do you use?

Recently I was a witness of the conversation between a housewife and an interior decorator (painter). What amazed me in this interaction, was how the painter justified his quotation for a job, explaining which materials he would be using and why. He was very detailed in his pitch, naming products, brands and providing very detailed description of the way he is treating his customer’s walls. After about 20 minutes he has got the job; the woman didn’t go further to request quotation.  Even though drawing parallels between different jobs is not always applicable, I think that auto body professionals can project the above said to their job, particularly on the way they give estimates to their clients.

Vehicle refinishing is a complex, multistage procedure. Each step is important, as well as materials used during the process. If you use quality materials (and I hope you do), why not providing your customer with some basic information about it. Remember, consumers in the era of fast and free information, know a lot more than in pre-internet period. They actually want to know details, names of the products and brands you will use on their precious vehicles. Do not be surprised if the client has already done some research and is waiting from you the assurance of high quality repair and materials used.

Explaining, within the logical boundaries, how you will repair the car to its pre-accident condition, is the best way to sell your service at a reasonable price. For example, if you are quoting a client, who received already another quotation from the competitor, do not start with the price at all. Instead, explain that you will take care about the vehicle’s anticorrosive protection, every sand-through will be treated with epoxy or etch primer, you will perform edge-to-edge blending and the clearcoat you use is top quality (let’s say Etalon Etaclear 970 UHS). Emphasize that the gloss will not go away, like some cheap clears out there, and that the client will not see his paint peeling off from the bumper, because plastic primer wasn’t applied. It is good to have handy some pictures of your previous jobs. If the customer’s car is red, explain how important is to apply high quality base coat and UV resistant clear, since red pigment is weak by nature and can easily fade out. Be specific, but don’t overplay with jargon. Speak plain English or whatever language you communicate in understandable manner.

However, do not blame any competitor. Never try to diminish others, because it may come as boomerang. Concentrate on your strong sides rather than speak about others’ mistakes.

In order to stand out from the crowd, to have healthy margins and to grow, you do not need extraordinary measures. By doing honest and professional repairs and communicating your way to customers, a painter will prosper. So, next time don’t forget to tell that you use Etalon Clearcoat!

Picture courtesy by Ray Penny

Ultimate guide for the time management in a bodyshop. 7+1 tips.

Since early age we have been told that, time is precious, that it is an asset. As we grow, we also learn that time is money. In fact, if you rephrase, wasting time means losing money. And, of course, nobody likes losing money, especially business owners and managers of all levels. Numerous books have been written on time management, dozens of apps and project management software are available, courses are attended where we learn how to manage the precious and limited resource, called time.

As a business owner, I try very hard to optimize my time and to train my team to use their time with maximum output. This subject is too big for just one article; yet, I would like to share with you, my valued reader, some no no-nonsense tips, which, if applied, will save you time and money. Guaranteed, or your money back. Oh, my blog is free. Then satisfaction guaranteed or your time is back.

  1. Prioritizing is the key. Being busy and having things done are not the same thing. You can always put things-to-do into four categories as in the below matrix. Always start from the tasks, which are both important and urgent, dedicate some time everyday to the important, but not urgent staff, do quickly urgent unimportant jobs and ignore unimportant and not urgent things.

matrix

  1. Create meaningful plan of actions for the next day. The best timing for making to-do-list is in the end of each working day. The most important assignments put first in your list. Be very specific. If you need to make some orders for spare parts and consumables, do it first thing you enter the bodyshop in the morning. For many of us it is difficult to jump in work early in the morning (I am the best example of that type of people), but if you have had your plan crafted before, it will be much easier to optimize your time.
  2. Keep tools in designated places. Have you ever met this super busy prep guy, who is always in hectic motion trying to find masking tape, a putty spreader or a box of gloves? Never leave the working place without sorting out your tools and materials; everything must have its place in a bodyshop.
  3. No customers on the working place. Period. Your receptionist is your bodyguard. Otherwise, workers will have to choose whether they should get stuff painted or to keep meaningless polite conversation with a curious customer.
  4. Learn to say no to things and jobs, which won’t benefit your business. Read a separate article on this subject “The art of saying NO applied to car body repair business”.
  5. Stop multitasking. Even if you think that doing prep job with one hand, and mixing paint with another, will speed up your work, do not be misleaded. Chances are you get poor results in both tasks with a result of expensive re-spray and re-work.
  6. Stop procrastinating important chores. Another useful post about procrastination “5 things to stop procrastinating in a bodyshop”. To be short, if you postpone changing filters in the spray booth or cleaning up the workshop, you will spend precious time later on when removing dust nibs or searching for tools.

Yet, the most important advice I can give is to know your limits. Business owners’, especially those who run a start-up, biggest challenge is not to burn out. Take breaks, learn to slow down and devote enough time for your loved ones.

time-management

Quality of products or services in the car refinish industry comes only second to …

When we talk about collision repair industry (or, in fact, about any industry) the most frequently used word to describe a brand or business you hear is “quality“. Our clearcoat is of fineness, with that spray gun you will achieve the highest quality finish, in our bodyshop we deliver the highest quality refinishing job … While I has no problem whatsoever with the term, I do believe that quality is not the most important. How is that? Some of my esteemed readers or marketing specialists may not agree. Let me explain myself.

what-is-quality

The problem with the term “quality” lies in its vagueness. Apparently, perceived quality for different customers vary significantly. For example, a high quality clearcoat for a Greek painter may refer to the superior UV resistance, while in humid English Highlands quality has to do with fast drying; a salesman, the owner of hardworking Ford Fiesta wants fast delivery of his vehicle, while Ferrari owner requires the highest possible gloss level for his precious four-wheeled beast. And don’t tell me that you can have it all in one package. Not in this world at least. Let me bring another example, not from our industry. Do you believe that iPhone is the highest quality mobile phone in the market? I can bet that Samsung fans will find dozens of technical features in which the Korean brand is far more superior to its Californian rival. So what? Apple still has the most fanatic fans, which will spend their last savings on the newest model. I don’t remember anyone sleeping outside Samsung store to buy the last Galaxy model (I hope Samsung lovers won’t be upset with me). So, where is the difference? What is the secret? Well, whether you are selling paint, cellphones or spray cars, quality (perceived quality actually) comes second to … Hold your breath… customer experience. The difference between okay business and a thriving one is predominantly in great customer experience!

What is a customer experience in collision repair?

I have a simple definition for customer experience – it is a feeling, smell or taste a customer is left with after spraying  a X brand clear or driving away from Y collision repair workshop. If you understand which things particularly influence this feeling, what ingredients leave sweet taste, and then you can create a unique customer experience.

customer-experience-1

How can we understand what is a great customer experience for our business?

The one and only way to answer this question is to put yourself in your client’s shoes. Ask! Ask! And ask! Don’t rely solely on your perceptions and believes.

 

Great customer experience for a bodyshop.

One research I read a while ago, which was conducted by a big chain of bodyshops, revealed that satisfied customers remembered mostly good coffee in the reception, new car scent used by the bodyshop before vehicle delivery and free touch-up bottle with 10ml car color inside! Keeping acceptable refinishing job constant it is coffee and a small freebies, which made a bodyshop to stand out from the competition.

 

Great customer experience for paint supplier.

Here I will share some observations I have had throughout my career as automotive refinishing products supplier. Many of Etalon customers preferred our products because… they liked the horse image on our cans, because of fresh design and even because the paper in our catalogue “feels like velvet”, and, yes, our calendar is sexy… On the other hand, we had to change one product, because it smelled bad and a packaging company, because the boxes looked like Chinese! One of our customer switched to Etalon simply because we are not arrogant like salespeople of one big multinational competitor. Of course, products must be good and at reasonable price, but it seems that many of us miss the key point – the experience our clients have with us.

To sum it up, I strongly advice to conduct a research on how your clients actually feel when working with you. Fine tune your operations and have the edge on your rivals. And remember, your customers are willing to pay extra for outstanding customer experience!

 

Tip 9. How to grow Bodyshop revenues by providing vehicle undercarriage protection ?

I have to admit that these tips series for Etalon Refinish Blog is my favorite. I am happy with idea that a bodyshop somewhere could earn extra buck by offering profitable and beneficial to customers services. The key is to identify untapped demand for additional services, other than common auto body refinishing jobs. In this post I suggest yet another potential earner – application of anticorrosive and sound-deadening coatings.

Who needs undercarriage protection?

In fact, most of the car owners need this service, depending on the climate, vehicle age and road conditions in the area. I would identify the following vehicles as potential market for underbody treatment:

– All vehicles in areas with harsh winters.

Snowy weather

If your bodyshop is located in the climate zone with heavy snowfalls and low temperatures, most certainly the roads in the region will be treated with special snow-melting agents or salt. Those agents and salt virtually ruin underbody surfaces exposing them to air-induced corrosion.

– All vehicles in the areas close to the sea.

In the regions close to the sea or ocean, the air is very humid and enriched with salty water, which corrode even well-protected new vehicles within a few months.

– Vehicles, which are driven in the rural areas and regions with poor road conditions. Most common problem in such areas is rust starting from stone chips.

– Older vehicles (five years and older) with high mileage usually incur rust spots on undercarriage surfaces

– Vehicles for resale. It is a well-known fact that a potential buyer most probably would like to check the vehicle’s underbody condition. Rust will be a big turn off, and, therefore, the value of the vehicle will be significantly lower.

– Old-timers. Vintage vehicles are subject of pride for its owners. However, those cars are in need of frequent inspection for corrosion, and underbody protection is necessary for those vehicles.

 Salt on the road

What about OEM anti-corrosion warranty?

The common misconception about the newly acquired vehicles is that they are fully protected and covered by anti-corrosion warranty. Unfortunately, most of the car owners do not pay attention to the warranty exemptions and terms. In fact, most of the OEMs refer to anti-perforation warranty, which covers in reality only, holes caused from corrosion inside out the part, and strictly under the condition that a yearly anti-corrosion inspection is performed by authorized repairer. The cost of the inspection will be chargeable to the vehicle owner.  So, if you forgot to take your car for such an inspection, forget about warranty. In addition, the rust caused by outside parameters like salt or stone chips will not be covered. Below you can find a typical exclusion case from a big car brand:

“The exhaust system, petrol tank, mechanical components or corrosion on or originating from exterior surfaces, including seam corrosion or damage caused by stone chipping, scratches, abrasion or paint failure. Exterior paintwork damage is readily visible and should immediately be rectified by the user”

 

What type of materials to choose?

I would distinguish to main categories of underbody coatings: stone chip protection and sound-deadening.

ETUC-1000BSound-deadening Etalon

Stone chip protective coatings could be water-based or solvent-based. These coatings are usually sprayed with UBC gun, but you can also find them in aerosol sprays. Typically black, grey and white colours are available.

Sound-deadening coatings are of higher viscosity. Usually this coating is applied by brush or roll in thicker layers to achieve better sound-deadening properties. Also, if diluted, sound-deadener can be sprayed.

What is very important in every type of underbody jobs – proper surface cleaning. It is strongly recommended to follow the material’s technical data sheets for proper application techniques.

 underbody coating

How to market your offering?

First of all, you need to identify the target market. Owners of the relatively new vehicles are less inclined to pay for extra protection of their vehicles. It would be wise to prepare a short informative leaflet explaining all the pitfalls of OEM anti-corrosion warranty.

Secondly, if the you have the vehicle for a body repair paint job, take time to examine the vehicles places prone to be affected by rust. In case you spot rust or paint bubbles, take pictures. Nothing will be the better argument than a visual proof of the undercarriage poor condition.

Third, ask a customer if he is happy with his vehicle’s sound proof condition? Apparently, there are many vehicles, especially in smaller categories, which have very poor soundproofing.

Finally, have some photos or even better videos of the application process and treated surfaces conditions before and after underbody coating has been applied.

 

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