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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!

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…

 

If you want to have a successful car repair garage, this is the most important trait you must have.

Last week I had a minor health issue, and I had to visit the on-duty hospital during the night. I will skip all the hassle and long waiting in the Greek state hospital. It is awful. It is worth writing about, but not in Etalon Refinish Blog. However, while waiting in an uncomfortable chair for my turn to see the doctor, I realized that there is a similarity between health care providers and automotive repair professionals. But how?

From my point of view, the feelings we experience when we get sick or have an accident with our car, are very similar by nature. These feelings are sadness, distress, anxiety, disappointment and extreme discomfort. In both cases, a person seeks for understanding, quick relief of the pain and, most importantly, for compassion. The very nature of the collision repair business is closely related to negative events and accidents. Nobody likes to have an accident, even if nobody is heart; the view of a crashed vehicle is very unpleasant itself. Right?

In the relation to the above-said, I can conclude that if a car repair business owner wants to be successful, he or she needs to show his understanding of the customer’s feelings. He must express compassion and willingness to guide the customer through this negative experience quickly and as hassle-free as possible. There are many ways to do this. For example, a bodyshop could offer a courtesy car, help to complete the paper works with the insurer, or simply spend a few minutes listening to what the customer has to say. Being compassionate will always pay back with the returning loyal customers and good referrals. Recently, I stumbled upon an ad, where the bodyshop owner was offering a 15% discount for those customers who had to pay the damage from their pocket. In fact, any small move, like the above, will count.

To summarize, I would like to stress one more time that understanding the customers’ feelings are of utmost importance for any business, especially for the people involved in customer service in difficult life situations. About six years ago, I wrote an article with the name “4 things a car painter and a doctor have in common”, but I could add now another thing – a good doctor and a car painter both must be compassionate…

 

UV or not UV?

Those of you, my dear readers, who have taken part in a trade fair as an exhibitor, know how exhausting it could be. However, trade fairs are still the best way to meet new people, catch up with colleagues and learn new things about your industry. Today, when the Collision Repair Expo in Melbourne closed its doors, I look back and think, apart from meeting new and old friends and colleagues on this fair, I definitely take with me the understanding of one future defining technology – UV curing coatings.

While UV technology is not something completely new to the collision repair industry, yet it is now, when all the major automotive paint producers actively market it. During the last three days in the Melbourne Exhibition Center I had an opportunity to get some deeper knowledge of the UV-curing products’ advantages over the conventional 2K coatings, and the challenges, which follow this trend.

Some of you may ask the question: ”Why do the major players in the automotive refinishing industry start marketing UV-cured products now?” Well, benefits of such materials have been known before – ultra fast drying, zero sinking (shrinkage), no heat curing (great for sensitive areas), one component materials (no hardeners required). Yet, what are the challenges? Is adopting UV technology an easy ride? There are a few obstacles though – high initial investment in equipment, products cost (UV materials are expensive) and resistance to change from the painters, when especially the benefits are questionable. Let me analyze what I mean.

Initial investment

One of the largest obstacles for any new technology is the cost and complexity of the associated equipment involved. On this direction I can clearly see some development for last couple of years. For example, I saw some new players entering UV-curing equipment, like the UV-curing brand Lihtan. Australian designed Lihtan brand attracted many visitors in Melbourne Collision Repair Expo this month. Milton Da Silva – cofounder of Lihtan – told me during our conversation in Melbourne that the interest for the UV technology is at its pick; this is why he works closely with all major paint brands to offer affordable and reliable UV light systems. Already many premium automotive coatings manufacturers approved Lihtan UV equipment (www.lihtanuv-a.com). It goes without saying that the more manufacturers of the related equipment appear, the better.

Cost of UV materials

This is probably one of the most important obstacles at the moment. With an aerosol UV primer retailed at more than 70 Euro per can, these products could hardly be described as affordable. What the suppliers of UV-cured materials need to do first – is to explain really well and in details how an ordinary bodyshop will benefit while paying such a high price. One could really claim, for example, that difference in drying time is not that big to justify the premium paid. If, on average, with IR lamp a spot primer would dry in 6-7 minutes, a UV primer would require about 2-3 minutes. Is the 4-5 minutes difference serious enough argument? The question should be answered by each sales rep selling UV stuff. On the other hand, if the UV technology really takes off, manufacturers will achieve economies of scale, and the prices may go down. Time will tell.

Resistance to change

By nature, a human being is reluctant to leave his comfort zone. This applies to all aspects of our life, including our work life. Therefore UV technology will have to go through painters’ and shop owners’ hyper-criticism, skepticism and doubt. However, there is nothing new here. Waterborne paints were met with a lot of criticism too, and now more and more collision repair shops switch to “water”.

I am sure that UV-curing materials will find their place in modern bodyshops only if the paint producers will explain and communicate legitimate, not just on PowerPoint slides, benefits for both painters and business owners. Those benefits must outbalance the expenses and costs of the materials for most of the bodyshops out there, and not only for the very top ones. Only if an average smash repair store profits by the novelty, we would be able to say with assurance that UV-cured technology found its place in the sun…

 

 

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