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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…

 

Do not start a new bodyshop without thorough consideration of these aspects.

Recently I have been involved in the planning session for a brand new bodyshop for servicing municipal bus fleet of one of the capital cities in Europe. While this process is not something new or unique to me, I had an opportunity to get into customer’s thinking and logic. And, I assure you that there is no better way to understand your customer, than to be in his shoes for a while. During the numerous round table meetings, I realized that there are certain key aspects one must consider while planning a new shop. Failing to make the right decisions on those aspects will make the future of the workshop seriously difficult. Below I will analyze how to make vitally important decisions on a bodyshop space and layout, key equipment and paint supply. Additionally you will find some useful links curated especially for you on this subject.

Space and bodyshop layout

Working space is probably the most expensive and vastly important asset of any business, and collision repair businesses are not an exemption. Here we need to distinguish two possibilities. First possibility is when you are already given a certain building to fit your new shop in. Second possibility allows you to build the new shop from scratch. In the first case, a deep analysis of the given space must be considered. For example, in the project I referred above, the initially proposed building was quickly dismissed, because number of restraints for a spray booth and prep area location. Second possibility is only limited by the budget, and it is a much easier option for any organization.

Advice 1

Never underestimate the importance of space in a bodyshop planning. For example in Greece, more than 50% of the bodyshops lack the vital space for easy moving the vehicles around the shop. As a result, body and paint shops become bottlenecks, causing delays in vehicles deliveries, while decreasing overall profitability. Remember that it is much easier and cheaper to lay out the shop correctly form the beginning rather than make adjustments later on. Additionally, allocate space for spare parts storage, paint mixing room, dressing rooms and a place for employees break.

Additional reading link:

http://etalon.gr/blog/2013/08/08/4-ways-to-speed-up-your-body-shop-productivity-1/

Equipment

Every new bodyshop requires a great number of equipment and tools for its operations. I don’t want to talk about everything, but three main ones: a spraybooth, a bench and a compressor.

Spraybooth

Probably when you imagine a car painting shop, the first image coming to your mind would be a spraybooth. It is probably the most expensive piece of equipment in the paint shop, so, needless to say, it is of a paramount importance to avoid any mistakes here.

Advice 2

Nowadays one can find a great deal of spraybooths for any budget and special requests. From many years of experience, I can assure you that the most important factor for choosing one booth over another should be a supplier, not the technical characteristics. Invest your money having in mind the proximity of the supplier, his experience, technical stuff and spare parts availability. Trust me, you don’t want a supplier of a spraybooth, who can not fix any problem within 24 hours. Ask your colleagues who have different brands of spraybooths installed. Are they happy with it? Are they satisfied with the after sales service?

Additional reading links:

https://www.dtc-uk.com/spray-booths/choosing-the-right-spray-booth/

https://www.pfonline.com/articles/7-steps-to-make-buying-a-paint-booth-easier

https://www.autobodytoolmart.com/paint-booth-size-guide-t.aspx

Bench

If your workshop will perform also the complicated panel beating works then you must decide on the purchase of a bench. Straightening benches are also expensive and require good market research.

Advice 3

Make sure that you understand the insurance companies’ policies on severely damaged vehicles. In many countries, insurers prefer to scrap a vehicle with serious structural damage rather than fix it. Once you know what will be the majority of insurance jobs, you will be able to choose the right equipment without overpaying for the unnecessary options.

Additional reading link:

https://www.bodyshopbusiness.com/frame-rack-or-bench-which-is-right-for-your-shop/

Compressor

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the air supply in any bodyshop. Spray guns and airtools are all essential to the efficiency in any collision repair shop. Before deciding what capacity of the air supply your shop should have, you must study carefully the technical characteristics of the spray guns and pneumatic tools to be used. Place, where the compressor will be, piston or rotary technology, length of the air supply network and potential air losses – all these crucial parameters must be carefully calculated.

Advice 4

Allocate adequate funds for the compressor to cater for all the needs and exceeding the estimated air supply capacity for this workshop at least by 15-20%. Compressor is not a piece of equipment to save money on. Consider a secondary backup compressor in case of the breakdown of the primary compressor. Choose a supplier who has the experience with paint shop needs. Keep in mind that air purity, absence of water and oil in the air system are important in the bodyshops like in no other workshop.

Additional reading links:

https://www.bodyshopbusiness.com/buying-tips-air-compressors/

https://www.bodyshopbusiness.com/air-compressors-what-to-consider-when-buying/

https://www.thecompressedairblog.com/compressed-air-application-automotive-paint-body-shop

Paint and consumables supply

Likewise, choosing the paint and consumables supplier is not an easy task. Probably the two most common mistakes I see in the market are choosing a potential supplier based on price or on “freebies”. Both decisions patterns may seriously affect negatively the future of the business.

Advice 5

Do not choose your paint supplier based on the price alone. First, the price and the cost are not the same things. Cheap may be very costly when it comes to the productivity. Initial “sweetness” of low price will fade out quickly when quality issues appear or/and due to the bad service a “cheap” supplier provides.

Another common trap is when a potential paint supplier offers expensive “gifts” in order to get your business. “Free” spray guns, tools or even a spraybooth, are actually always included in the future bills. The cost of those “freebies” is disguised, but you will always pay them back with a high interest rate. No suppliers, especially multinational paint companies, are charitable organizations.

Additional reading link:

http://etalon.gr/blog/2017/08/27/buying-bodyshops-business-paint-companies-sustainable/

Sum up

If you are in the process of the new bodyshop set up, please do not rush your decisions. A great number of businesses are doomed to failure before even opening their doors. You might be tempted to speed up the whole process to start working as soon as possible. However, a few weeks delay, spent on the meticulous preparations and research, will save you tones of money and put the solid bases for the future success.

 

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…

 

 

Automotive Paint Supply Shop’s Alternative Paths

The best way to avoid business downfalls is to be proactive. It is just like with our health. Your doctor probably told you that it is much easier and cheaper to treat your body and mind as top priority than to deal with illnesses piled due to bad habits and negligence. Well, business health is no exemption. If you run a shop or a warehouse for automotive collision repair industry, this article is for you.

Threats of the industry

Paint supply in the automotive refinishing industry is a mature and saturated industry. In most of the parts of the world, it grows at a rather moderate pace, and, therefore, doing business becomes more and more difficult. Competition is very high and profits are shrinking. Additionally, international groups buy one shop after another. Consolidation is ruthless and imminent threat to the independent body and paint suppliers. In parallel, supplying automotive paint requires more investment in training, expensive equipment and fine-tuned stock management. Thus, regardless of what state your market is in now, it would be wise to safeguard your future by not putting all the eggs in the same basket. I strongly advice to broaden your products offering and enter one or more from the below mentioned industries.

Industrial paints

Probably the closest product range to automotive paints are the industrial paint systems. Usually the automotive coatings producers can supply mix systems for the light industry as well. Additionally, if you trade automotive paint, then it will not be a big issue to master the niceties of any industrial coating system. However, what is the target market for the industrial coatings? You will be pleasantly surprised how many potential customers are out there. Agricultural machinery, metal construction workshops, various machine shops, sign makers, contractors, you name it. Examples of such mixing systems are Selemix (PPG), Lechsys (Lechler), Ivat, Alcea, Rembrandtin (Helios) and many others. Imagine that with a good industrial mixing scheme you have a mini paints factory at your disposal. Just change binders…

Marine and yachting coatings

If you are lucky to live by the sea, ocean, river or a big lake, then there is a great chance to offer marine and yachting coatings. Whether it is a small fiberglass boat, sailing boat, commercial ship or a mega yacht, they must be protected, refurbished and maintained. The scope of the products include antifouling paints, epoxy primers, topcoats, cleaners, polishes and a great deal of the auxiliary products. Keep in mind that sometimes there is seasonality factor in this industry.

Furniture and wood coatings

It doesn’t matter which country you are in, there are always furniture factories somewhere close to you. Believe it or not, but wooden tables and chairs are painted in a similar way with the car. A painter needs abrasives, spray guns, masking tapes, personal protection products and coatings of course. Even if you decide not to invest in a stock of wood and furniture coatings, there is still a great number of consumables you could sell to this market.

Detailing products and car wash supplies

Detailing shops spring up like mushrooms after the rain all over the place. As people get more educated how to protect their vehicles’ appearance, the demand for the detailing products is growing. Among the products you probably already have on your shelves are polishing compounds, pads, microfiber wipes and polishing machines. Earn new customers by adding shampoos, dressings, washing machines and greater variety of the cleaning products, and you will see your sales growing from the completely different customers pool of hobbyist and professionals.

DIY and construction paints

I have seen many customers of mine, who grew up their range to a full size hardware store with paints, tools and accessories needed for any household. It is a big move, I must admit, because the whole philosophy of the store will must be altered. Selling automotive paints is primarily a B2B business model, while a hardware store carries a big variety of the goods aimed to the non-professional customers or B2C. It is very important to understand the difference. On the other hand, if the collision repair business is declining, then it is a one-way road to enlarge your offerings and target much bigger customer base.

Conclusion

I strongly believe that any entrepreneur should keep his or her eyes open for the new opportunities. The above-mentioned list is not an exhaustive one, of course. There could be many more other related or completely unrelated industries one could consider. The main takeaway from this humble article is that it is much better to stay tuned for an additional revenue, and, who knows, it may turn out a saving vest in difficult times.

Automotive Coatings Chemistry 101

To be honest chemistry wasn’t my favorite class at school. Probably it was because of the teacher, but I didn’t succeed in getting an A on chemistry no matter what. However, life is unpredictable, and sometimes things you wish to avoid, become part of your life or career. I began my entrepreneurial path with trading chemical raw materials for coatings manufacturing, and now I am in automotive refinishing business, where the greater part of products are chemicals. I don’t know if you experienced my difficulties with chemistry, but if you use or supply automotive painting products, then chemistry is important for your work too.

Chemistry is an exact science

You may wonder what this article is about? Well, I intend to stress the importance of understanding and respecting chemistry as science, and not just any science, but an exact one. Chemistry is in the heart of the automotive refinishing industry. Paints, clears, primers, bodyfillers, sealants and other paint related materials are developed based on the fundamental rules of the applied chemistry. We all know that.

The exact sciences are characterized by accurate quantitative expression, meaning that the reaction between the chemical elements happens in accordance with the quantitative parameters of these elements.

You do not need to know the chemical formulas, but understanding the essentials is the key to success in our trade. Failing to do so will cost you money and reputation. Below you can find the most common examples how chemistry can “punish” you if you didn’t learn the lesson.

Adhesion problems

Unfortunately adhesion problems are very common paint defects in collision repair works. Painters many times fail to understand that adhesion of one material on another depends on two parameters: mechanical bond (this is why we use abrasives to create the right scratch pattern for the subsequent coating’s bonding) and chemical bond, which happens on the molecular level. If you do not remove the waxes and release agents from the new OEM bumper, for instance, it will cause flaking. Similarly, silicone particles can not mix with any other liquid, therefore the so-called “fish-eye” defect will appear on the contaminated surface. Proper surfaces preparation and following the TDS will help to avoid unpleasant situations of poor adhesion.

Problems with curing of 2K materials

If a clearcoat’s technical data sheet says that the mixing ratio is 2 parts of clear to 1 part of hardener without any thinner (or “reducer” as our American colleagues call it), it means exactly that. Not 5%, not 10%, not “I am used to do it like that all the time!” Period.

Similarly, if you add more benzoyl peroxide hardener to polyester-based body filler, it will not speed up the curing process, simply because the crosslinking between hardener and resin can happen only given a certain amount of available styrene and polyester molecules. More benzoyl peroxide will not “find” free elements and just stay unused, causing problems like bleeding.

Problems with expired products

You wouldn’t eat smelly meat or drink expired milk, would you? Just like we respect the shelf-life of our food, we must respect the indicated storage times on your fillers or clearcoats.  I have seen dozens of times how easily painters mix and use coatings, which are expired. While sometimes one can get away with this, in the majority of cases problems are almost guaranteed. It is worth mentioning that even similar products, but from different suppliers may greatly vary as to the shelf-life of the materials. You can find in the market primers ranging from 12 to 36 month’s storage. Needless to say that treating all the primers the same way is a big error. Careful stock management and implementation of the logistic practices like FIFA (first in, first out) will save money both for the bodyshop and coatings supplier.

Incompatibility of the coatings

In chemistry there are two main scenarios how two substances can react in case of contact: no reaction or intermixing or some kind of reaction. In the paint shop we observe both of them. When hardener is mixed with clearcoat, we have chemical reaction, which leads to fast curing of the mixture and crystallization. This is a desirable outcome. On the flip-side, we do not want any chemical reaction between bodyfiller and primer, for example. What happens if we spray etch-primer over the bodyfiller? Aggressive acids in the etch-primer will react with bodyfiller, causing lifting and adhesion failure.

Problems caused by using wrong thinner/reducer

Many products in the market are designed to be used with certain thinners (reducers) in order to get the desirable viscosity. Unfortunately, not all thinners are created equal. In the paint workshop you can find different types of thinners: acrylic thinner, base coat thinner, nitro thinner and epoxy. All of them have different base and purpose. One of the most common mistakes I have observed is using of nitro-based solvent in the 2K primers and clears (for the cost reasons mainly). The vast majority of 2K materials in the collision repair shop are made on the acrylic-urethane resins. If you use nitro thinner, for example, which is much faster than acrylic ones, it may cause gloss reduction and orange peel effect.

Good news

When you are taking exam at school, you are not allowed to use any help or source of the information. The good news is that in our business not only we have the cheat sheets available, but we are encouraged to use them as we wish. I am talking about TDSs or technical data sheets. I am confident that if every painter used TDS whenever doubtful, the amount of the paint defects and costly re-sprays would have dropped significantly. Nowadays, thanks to the internet connection and smart phones, you can find the needed information within just a few minutes. TDS is the best source of information for every single product you use. Chemists and technicians worked hard to put the necessary information together for you, so use it. No need to re-invent bicycle… Well bicycles are more about physics, but this is another subject though…

 

 

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