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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” …

 

What a painter should learn from coronavirus pandemic?

Nowadays press, internet and television bombard us with threatening statistics about COVID-19, or coronavirus in plain English. Everyday a new country is added to the list of infected areas, numbers of sick people with a death toll statistics cause panic and fear. Dust masks and hand antiseptic disappeared. People from all over the world have been chasing for any protective masks to sell to China (50% of all masks worldwide are produced in China, by the way). Yet, I am not writing this article about the virus itself. There more than enough experts and non-experts speculating about this subject anyway.

Last week I visited one of our customers in Greece. During my visit, a painter walked in, asking for the dust masks P2. “How many are there in the box?” he asked. “Twenty?” “Give me five boxes. I have three kids at home”. The guy paid and left within a minute. My distributor laughed after the painter left. “His name is George (I changed the name, of course), and he has never used any respiratory protection neither for prep jobs nor for painting. At least he knows now that there are different masks, like P2 available.” “This virus will do well for these folks”, he added with a smile on his face.

It was somehow funny, but alarming at the same time. The painter took these masks obviously because of all the panic around coronavirus. But, why would he expose his health to toxic dust and solvent fumes? How happened that a very distant danger of the exposure to the not-so-deadly virus outweighs the everyday, very real work hazards? I have no reasonable answers to these questions.

We all have people we love and care about. Often a car sprayer is the only person to provide for his family. Not using personal protection in a bodyshop is not only stupid, but also unfair in relation to the close family, especially children. They need you healthy and well. Car paint sprayers have about 90 times higher risk of getting asthma than other working population. Therefore, the chances of dying from breathing related illness if infected by COVID-19 are negligible if compared to the health issues caused by unprotected work as painter. Personal protection products are affordable, widely available from the paint stores and there are no excuses to avoid using them every time you grab a sanding machine or a spray gun. Stay healthy and, please, protect yourself!

Variety of orbital sanding machines. Difference not to be ignored.

When we speak about different aspects of the car body repairs, usually we mainly discuss the quality of the materials, especially chemicals. No doubt, the final result of any refinishing job depends on paint, clear or primer used. However, it is of utmost importance not to forget how important is the preparation stage, including such a tedious task as sanding.

Just after the Christmas holidays, during the paint preparation workshop in the company’s training center, I came across an interesting question from our customer. This quite an experienced painter was testing different brands of abrasives together with our technical specialist. While I was discussing something with one of our sales manager, I overheard a heated discussion between the painter and our technician. The argument was about using P400 abrasive disc with 5mm orbit sander. “I only use 5mm orbit, and there is no need for any other model”, the painter said with confidence in his voice. “All these different orbit sizes are just made to make us buying more unnecessary tools”, he added. If you ever had an argument with a painter, you probably know that they are hard to convince about pretty much anything. “Show me the difference “, exclaimed the painter. Therefore, we decided to give it a try.

The rule of thumb

Probably you know the recommendations of tools manufacturers. For the abrasives with grits from P80 to P180 use a sander with larger orbit of 5-6mm, while for the finer sanding jobs with P240-P600 – orbit of 2.5-3mm. Some of the manufacturers also offer machines with rather big orbit of up to 10mm for demanding paint stripping operations; however this kind of sanding tools are not common. What is usually missed in those recommendations, it is the explanations behind this information.

In reality the theory behind is very simple. A large orbit allows the abrasive to cover bigger surface and to remove the “picks” of the uneven surface faster and more effectively. On contrary, smaller orbit covers smaller area, but more densely, leaving smoother surface.

From our internal tests, we found that 5mm orbital sander with the same abrasive and all other conditions the same, removes up to 20% more material than 2,5 mm orbit. This is very important especially in paint stripping or body filler sanding jobs. On the other hand, finer grits load up less when used with smaller orbits, like 2,5-3 mm. This allows achieving better quality surface at less time.

Take away

The choice of tools and materials is a painter’s undisputed prerogative, however we all should not ignore the common sense and facts. Doubt is good only when it pushes one to explore and search for facts. If facts are obvious, ignorance in this case is unacceptable. Using recommended sanders will save you time and money. Proved!

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…

 

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