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A Well-Rounded Painter

If your customer-service index is high and your marketing efforts are giving your shop a healthy backlog of work, you know that what happens when vehicles reach your paint
department is critical to your continued success. And what goes on in your paint department is highly dependent upon the quality.
of painters you employ.

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What does it take to be a great painter?

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Though technical skill is an obvious requirement,
a technician also needs other not-so-obvious skills.

If your business is in a growth phase and
the amount of work available indicates a need to expand your refinishing
operations or if a valued paint technician has recently left your
employment, careful consideration needs to be given to the new
painter you hire. What should a paint technician know? What skills
does he need to have? What personality qualities does a successful
painter possess? Let’s take a look.

A Great Personality

A number of attributes are shared by successful
people in every walk of life. Many shop owners have found that
it’s easier to teach a congenial person technical skills than
it is to teach a "prima-donna" painter how to interface
with an already-established and efficient team.

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When you’re short handed, there’s a temptation
to just fill the vacant slot with an available body. Be careful
– you might not like what happens. In six months, you could be
spending half of your production time redoing comebacks for unhappy
customers – a painfully expensive way to learn a lesson.

You can avoid this scenario by knowing what
initial traits to look for in a painter:

  • Dependable:

You need a person who takes his job seriously. Being on time is
important. He comes to work ready to hit the ground running, and
he keeps himself, his tools and his work area ready for action.

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  • A team player:

The modern collision shop is a well-disciplined team of managers,
technicians and support people. You want people who are comfortable
with that format and who are willing to make contributions that
enhance the performance of other players.

  • Consistent:

An employee who knows what to do and how to do it. If you don’t
already have written job descriptions, this person is willing
to discuss and implement consistent, repeatable methods that minimize
failures. Your paint distributor as well as your paint-company
representative, can assist you in developing a sound procedure
for each paint operation. A positive side-effect of repeatable
operations is a measurable increase in both efficiency and

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productivity.

  • Willing to learn:

If your shop measures customer satisfaction and offers a solid
guarantee to your customers, you need technicians who are eager
to learn, who read industry magazines from cover to cover, and
who attend clinics and training when available. When they believe
a new idea, tool or method will improve the business, they communicate
their beliefs to management. Shops that have a regular schedule
of meetings are the best at adopting new, productive procedures.

  • Safety conscious:

You want people who care about themselves, their teammates and
your investment as a business owner. An accident due to carelessness
can literally put you out of business. Here again, your paint
distributor and paint-factory rep can assist in outlining and
implementing a solid safety program for your shop.

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Management Skills

Evaluating the above personality traits is a good way to begin
evaluating employee potential, but it takes more than a pleasant
disposition and an eagerness to learn to be an efficient and valuable
worker. Time and resource management is the next building block
for being a good painter.

The most productive painters I see are incredibly adept at making
every minute count. They’ve developed a consistent, repeatable
game plan that maximizes every square foot of refinishing space
and contributes to the smooth flow of work in the metal shop.

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When I ask painters what’s most important for them to know about
a vehicle, they reply: "Exactly what’s to be painted on the
vehicle" and "When the vehicle is promised." This
is where you come in. For your painters to be productive, you
must provide them with the necessary repair information or with
a means to obtain it themselves.

Most current shop computer systems are capable of printing out
a detailed work order clearly indicating refinish operations.
If any additional refinishing, buffing or touch-up work is promised
to the customer, it should be clearly noted on the work order
when the car hits the paint department – not when it’s pulled
out of the booth.

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How do your painters track promised delivery times? A written
delivery schedule, a wall-mounted board with the days of the week
and vehicles to be delivered indicated or a daily update with
the paint-department manager are ways to keep this promised moment
on track.

Spraybooths, prep stations, compressors and other equipment should
be viewed as resources by your painters. After all, it would be
difficult to run a profitable, productive business without them.
But to maintain profitability and productivity, your painters
must maintain clean equipment. It’s a mistake not to have a solid
maintenance plan in place. A painter who’s too busy to clean the
booth and drain the air compressors regularly will inevitably
spend a great deal more time wet sanding, buffing and even touching
up defects.

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Many painters perform a weekly ritual on Saturday while the office
is open for estimating. They have a checklist and assign responsibility
for regular maintenance to each painter. Responsibilities might
include draining the air-compressor tanks, changing the booth
exhaust filters, changing the solvent in the gun cleaner, hosing
down the floors, emptying the trash cans and cleaning the paint
bench. Depending on your flow of business, you might have a weekly,
biweekly and monthly checklist. Reiterate to your employees that
preventative maintenance prevents downtime and loss of production.

As for Technical Skills …

As the collision repair industry continues to reinvent itself,
the demands for consistently high production in the paint department
have never been greater. This is where the final and most important
building block – technical skill – comes in. Without time-management
skills, a painter won’t be as productive as he could be. Without
the necessary technical skills, a painter won’t be, well, a very
productive painter. A great painter possesses the following technical
skills:

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  • Mastery of the shop’s paint system:

Today, your business relationship with a paint company has more
value than ever before. In return for your commitment to use their
products, paint companies offer accreditation, lifetime warranties
for your customers, color and technical resources, and, in many
cases, management- and marketing-assistance programs that rival
expensive private-sector offerings.

Your paint technicians should be masters of the shop’s paint system;
they should know the products your shop uses inside and out. They
know what to do, how to do it and how to achieve virtually failure-free
production. A master of the products used in the paint shop allows
a painter to make instantaneous judgments on each vehicle refinish
to minimize downtime.

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  • Management of color books and technical information:

These tools should be maintained as carefully as the spray guns.
The notes a painter makes about a color match today is valuable
information to save time tomorrow. Which variant matched best?
Where was the paint code? Which gun setup with what air pressure
matched the texture on that imported luxury car? Unless your painter
has an incredible memory, notes can save him – and any other paint
technician – valuable time.

  • A complete knowledge of each piece of equipment in the
    paint department:

Spraybooths – A paint technician should know that the filters
are changed at regular intervals and what those intervals are,
that all lights must be clean and operable, that the thermometers
for paint and bake temperatures are calibrated and accurate, and
that the walls must be kept free of dirt and overspray. A painter
must also know what temperature to set during spraying and baking
to get the maximum performance out of the paint line.

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Spray guns – As compliant products come into play, a painter should
work carefully with the paint distributor and paint-factory rep
to be sure the correct needle, nozzle, air-cap and air-pressure
combination is being used to achieve maximum results from the
paint system. One or two thousandths doesn’t sound like a lot,
but it can make a dramatic difference in the final result. A good
painter also knows that a drip from a clean gun and cup will always
be the same color that he’s spraying. On the other hand, a drip
from a dirty gun and cup will be a combination of every color
left on the gun.

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Sanders and buffers – Different dual-action sanders produce different
scratch patterns. Your painter should know which patterns are
preferable for initial feathering and final sanding. As for buffers,
controllable speed has as much effect as the choice of pads. These
new urethanes don’t melt like lacquers did – all progress comes
from pure abrasion. Matching the paint products to the right speed
and the right pad to the right compound or polish is essential.

Compressed air – A good painter knows the quality of compressed
air is a critical factor in achieving quality paint work. He checks
for nonrestrictive fittings and couplers, proper inside-diameter
air hoses, clean intake filters on the compressors and clean,
well-maintained regulators and coalescing filters.

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It Takes More Than Great Technique

To be a great painter – and, subsequently, a great employee –
it takes more than technical talent. It takes a combination of
skill and personality. After all, what technician wants to work
beside a painter with great spray-gun technique but terrible communication
skills? Or with one who refuses to be a team player and thinks
the shop – and its repair schedule – revolve around him?

Be sure your painter is a well-rounded individual with a high
work ethic and a positive attitude. You’ll see the results of
his technical skill in the quality paint work he puts out, and
you’ll see the results of his personality in the team spirit within
your shop.

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Michael Regan is president of The J.J.R. Company in Cleveland,
Ohio, and a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.

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