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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…

 

 

Why smaller independent suppliers and producers are absolutely needed for the car repair business.

I am the owner of a relatively small automotive refinishing materials brand. Etalon is not alone. The number of similar companies is increasing, and I am delighted about it. Nowadays, when few big “sharks” try to buy one another, the very existence of companies like Etalon is even more relevant and important.

We do need competition

Unfortunately, without honest, fierce competition this, and any other industry, will not prosper. Public corporations lack human face. Prove me if I am wrong. The owners are investment banks, hedge funds or any other so-called institutional investors. THEY DO NOT GIVE A DAMN ABOUT THE PAINTERS’ NEEDS! What they only care is the current shares price and dividends paid. This is why there has been very little TRULY innovative products, which TRULY solve customers needs. Please share with me, if you believe that I missed something. On the other hands, the management of those companies fly first class, drive expensive company cars and get five and six digit pay cheques.

Does big mean safe?

There is a false opinion that working with “big” names is safe. It is absolutely not true. During my fifteen years career in the car refinishing industry I have seen an international paint producer virtually abandoning the whole continent, leaving its customers with empty mixing machines. I have experienced the results an acquisition of one of the big non-paint consumables producer by a huge multi billion company with a result of the lost customers loyalty, supply disruptions and the best people leaving the brand.

Also, I can bring you the example of the leading equipment manufacturer to raise prices without any particular reason by more than 20% with the ridiculous excuse of “brand repositioning”, but without changing the products itself. You may tell me that small companies can make mistakes too. True. However, the smaller players are more down-to-earth, and the owners of these companies (yes, they have real owners) would think it over before upsetting their customers.

About a year ago I posted on Linkedin the article “Do my company have the right to exist?”. I was really happy to hear that people from our trade share my vision. The main point of this short blog post is to ask you, my dear readers, to give a chance to companies like Etalon. Try us! Be strict, but be bias-free! Our industry needs to escape the hungry teeth of the consolidation. Small can be innovative, small can be efficient, small is an advantage, not vice versa. Governments have anti monopoly rules, but oligopoly is hardly any better. Oligopoly is a market system, which we probably will have very soon if the pace of consolidations will continue at current speed. Two or three paint producers will supply two or three bodyshop groups, paid by a few insurance companies. Is it going to be good for the customers? I have my doubts. And what do you think?

 

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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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.

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