On the surface, aspiring to be environmentally compliant and a leader in the waterborne conversion process seems to be a smart business decision. However, the bottom line in every shop is profit and productivity. So how do you become environmentally friendly without it costing you money and efficiency?
Green vehicles are not a new idea. For years, manufacturers have been unveiling hybrid cars, each more fuel efficient and economic than the previous ones.
I still own a gas-guzzling diesel for towing trailers and cringe every time I have to fill it up, but I recently moved a customer’s Prius across the lot and was impressed with the quietness of its electric motor. I was hardly able to tell when it was in gear as it glided across the lot. According to my customer, it requires very little maintenance, and fill-ups are infrequent.
The move to hybrid and electric vehicles is just one signal for the need to conserve energy and resources. That movement is even becoming evident in rural areas like ours. My generation is more aware than ever of the need to conserve and preserve our natural resources. As a whole, we’re transitioning our lifestyles from disposability to sustainability.
To me, however, as a business owner, the green effort has to make sense economically as well as environmentally.
Bureaucracy and Red Tape
How often over the years have you heard grumbling and complaining in your shop and others about compliance with OSHA and state and local environmental ordinances? Some old-school guys used to say that since oil comes from the ground, there’s no reason you can’t dump it back on the ground when you’re finished with it.
Fortunately, we’ve advanced far beyond that school of thought, and most of us are happy to comply with any and all regulations. Still, these environmental agencies seem to have the market cornered on bureaucracy and red tape, making even the most simple task complicated and tedious. Despite this, following green practices is now even easier than ever.
Our shop was built on a brownfield site but was recently removed from the list. Local agencies wondered how beneficial it would be to have a body shop built on this converted site, which originally was the home of a service station. It was up to us to start fresh and prove just how green and environmentally sound a body shop could operate.
Converting to a green shop wasn’t easy, though. You can imagine our frustration when we tried to educate our local fire marshal’s office on waterborne/low-VOC paint. As of last year, their department, which also regulates our paint booth system, was totally unfamiliar with these refinishes!
To even consider surviving in this economy, you must have a loyal and established customer base and be turning a somewhat reliable profit. Repairs are down, and we’re seeing an ever increasing number of damaged vehicles on the roads. Encouraging customers to get their vehicles repaired by your shop is a prime concern. To that end, I have two thoughts to make green work for your facility.
Customers are being driven to “clean and green” purchases by other companies outside of the collision repair industry. Let these companies that are doing this green marketing work for you and your customers.
Advertise in conjunction with other businesses that promote conserving energy with conserving money. For example, you could link your brand with a dealer that’s selling fuel efficient vehicles.
Another strategy to cross promote a green body shop is to do what my shop did and link to an electric co-op that promotes a “beat the peak” program to conserve energy and keep costs lower. The customer is already equating saving energy with saving money, and if you’re already marketing in this manner through web or print ads, placing yourself alongside other businesses that are like-minded will put your shop in a more positive light. Also, a customer may view a shop that’s concerned with the environment as one that’s just as concerned with their vehicle.
Many paint manufacturers are paving the way for shops’ entry into the green world with their introduction of waterborne/low-VOC paints. They have excellent tools and promotional materials you can use to market your switch to more environmentally-friendly refinishes.
If you’re one of the first shops to use their new paint or maybe one of the first shops in a specific market to convert, you might ask them to use your shop as a prototype and earn extra promotion that way.
When you think lean and green, you know you need to make every dollar in your advertising budget work for you. Think about using green not only as a way to draw new customers but also as a way to save money on operating expenses. Making the switch to a waterborne/low-VOC system might require some initial start-up costs, but since it features a better and more efficient product, you may find that you use less paint per month than you did when you were using solvent-based. Plus, you’ll save money on disposal and thinners.
Using waterborne, we experienced better coverage and color match with proper application. I now view going waterborne as a way to increase cycle time. Plus, it’s better for my employees’ health.
An Inevitable Change
We know that some day, waterborne/low-VOC paint will be mandated across the entire country. But we can also use these changes to our advantage. Make your green shop a lean shop and reap the benefits.
Hannah Thomas Butler has been the co-owner of East Coast Restoration & Collision in Bridgeville, Del., since 2004. She can be reached at (302) 956-0248.