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Getting the equipment and training for welding aluminum can open up doors to new services such as boat, RV and trailer repair.
Changes in automotive repairs are coming at a very rapid pace. Most people don’t like change. Change in the repair industry can lead to some problems in areas such as equipment and training. The one thing that’s always guaranteed in the repair industry and any industry is change. The ability for shops to adapt and change with the industry is how they will survive. Ignoring change and not accepting it has only one outcome.
Technicians will be required to acquire new skills and procedures in the repair of vehicles due to exotic materials: plastics, carbon fiber and metals such as ultra high strength steels, aluminum and magnesium. These new skills will be required for shops to continue in the automotive repair industry. But these same skills and equipment can open doors for new customers and services. Shops are always looking to improve their customer base and services provided. Marketing your shop is always a challenge in any community. What sets you apart from anyone else? How do you get the customer to the door?
Vehicles are a large investment to any family, but one that’s deemed necessary. But another investment can be just as expensive or important to some owners.
We have long had a passion for our cars and trucks, but we also love our toys. In many cases, our toys are more important to us as they represent our fun and relaxation. Look at the bumper sticker that says, “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.” This person usually is towing a lot of money behind that truck.
These toys can have collisions and mishaps, too. Their repair can be an opportunity to build a relationship with a customer – and a profitable one at that. The cost of our toys can range from a couple hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Mishaps will occur as streets, highways, trails and waterways get more crowded. We also must realize that sometimes, we all make mistakes.
Boats, RVs and Trailers
Many boat repairs are similar to the plastic repair procedures we currently use. Some may be on a bigger scale, but similar. In a market where hours are controlled by other sources, a straight time project could be a profitable relief to technicians and shops. But boats are just one of the toys to consider. We know many minor mishaps on RVs can also be handled. By demonstrating the ability to repair more than just vehicles, your shop becomes a staple to many communities for a variety of jobs.
The equipment needed for change on the automotive side is also the best to use for other types of repairs. I recently acquired a spot welder, one of the recommended machines for the 2015 Ford F-150. I bought it to train and practice with and to learn more with aluminum. A friend of mine who I do some cattle competitions with found out I got a new aluminum welder, and just by that word of mouth, I have people from all over asking how much I would charge to do some welding repair on their aluminum horse trailers. Most of the people who do welding for them are accomplished steel welders but are not familiar with aluminum.
The amount of requests I’ve been getting has made me nervous as I can’t keep up with them all. Many trailer repair companies are overwhelmed, and it can take weeks to get a trailer in for repair. Knowing the type of aluminum and what gauge I’ll be welding helps me obtain the correct wire and repair the damage on the trailer. It’s normally less than an hour worth of work as much as it is reattaching a hinge or welding a crack. Hmm, does that sound familiar? I have a whole new service to provide, and the shop sets the labor and prices. What about this does not appeal to shops? And to top it all off, the majority is a cash sale.
This made me think about one of the ABRA Auto Body & Glass franchise shops in Elk River, Minn. The franchise owner, Kedrick Johnson, General Manger Danyell Wendland, and technicians Todd and Scott (Kedrick’s sons), decided to venture into a new market when an opportunity presented itself.
The opportunity: John Doe is at a large sports retailer in Minnesota picking up his new boat. The new Ranger he has purchased has a price of more than $75,000. Mr. Doe hitches up his new boat and is off to the lake. Once he arrives at the lake, Mr. Doe preps the boat for a day on the water. He removes all boat ties and preps to back into the lake. He puts in his gear and backs up. He stops just shy of the landing to wait his turn. You guessed it – he had released the winch lock for the boat, and off the trailer the boat goes. The damage to the transom and engine is $35,000, and the boat has never been in the water yet.
Mr. Doe’s attempt at finding a boat repair facility was slim at best. The sporting goods store where he purchased the boat suggested he try the ABRA Auto Body & Glass shop down the road. At first, he was skeptical, and so was the ABRA shop. After doing some research, Kedrick and his sons agreed the repair could be done. They had all the equipment needed, and ordering materials and parts was similar to any vehicle. What started off as a courtesy by the shop to a customer is now flourishing into a steady flow of work.
It’s not uncommon to see a Ranger or a Sylvan boat right next to a steel version F-150, which is currently the version you would see. But soon, it could be the new aluminum version of the F-150. The interesting point is that there are some similarities in repair procedures between the boat and this vehicle, so a technician with a certain skill set and equipment can handle it. Many of the repairs on the Alumacraft boats are $6,000 to $8,000 with a quick cycle time. Boat dealers are keeping shops with a steady flow of work.
This repair worked by Kedrick and Danyell working the front office and Todd and Scott working as the technical team. This team approach, and the foresight to take advanced training, get the right equipment and see the benefits for the shop, made the change much easier to accept. The parts are all available with some research, similar to any vehicle.
How do you get your team to approach something new? Approaching change as positive is key. Complaining and worrying makes a team apprehensive and stressed. Approaching proactively and training techs to be the best will make change a whole lot easier. Change does not have to be hard. It’s just different.
So what are you going to do? Many want to stay in the past and even ignore the changes. To those people, I wish you the best of luck. To those who want to learn and embrace change as it comes at us, here is some simple advice: research equipment, make some calls and make a decision. Then, get moving on training. Let your techs know they’re the best, and you want to be sure they stay the best. Let them know they’re worth the investment in training. With some positive reinforcement and some good coaching, a shop can make change a good thing. Pride in work makes a shop the top shop to work for and represent. This opens doors for you and builds customers for life. The diversity of services that keep presenting themselves to us every day is amazing, so don’t miss your boat.
Mitch Becker is a technical instructor for ABRA Auto Body & Glass. Contact him at (763) 585-6411 or [email protected].