Bedlining Your Pockets - BodyShop Business

Bedlining Your Pockets

As pickup trucks continue to grow more popular, so does consumer demand for bedliners. In fact, the spray-on bedliner aftermarket hit $90 million ’98. But how much of that $90 mil went into your bank account?

What’s durable, profitable and insurer-free?

This isn’t a cruel hoax. There really is such a thing. No kidding.

The spray-on bedliner industry has grown substantially in the past few years, and many collision repairers have identified its potential and jumped on the bedliner bandwagon.

And what a big bandwagon it is. According to research conducted by Frost & Sullivan, the spray-on bedliner aftermarket hit $90 million in ’98. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Pick-up trucks continue to increase in popularity — and in price — and consumers are more willing than ever to protect their investments.

That’s where spray-on bedliners come in. Polyurethane spray-on bedliners are superior to drop-in liners in just about every way. Drop-in liners tend to vibrate and scrape off paint over time, and if moisture finds its way between the liner and the bed’s metal surface, rust and oxidation occur. Because of this, manufacturers may void their new-vehicle rust and corrosion warranties if a drop-in liner is added. Drop-ins are also apt to fade, warp and crack and may not hold up to chemical spills.

On the other hand, polyurethane spray-on liners:
• Protect the truck bed from scratches, dents, gouges and the elements;

• Form a watertight seal to the truck bed, preventing rust and corrosion;

• Won’t crack, split or warp;

• Are available in a multitude of colors;

• Insulate the truck bed from noise and road vibration;

• Cause virtually no loss of space;

• Reduce load slippage.

Spray-on liners sound great for the consumer, but you’re probably wondering what’s in it for you, right?

Cash. Hassle-free cash.

Benefits of Bedliner Businesses
"Not everybody has an accident every day, but a lot of people buy new trucks and want bedliners in them," says Jeff Stanley, general manager of Competition Collision Center in Flagstaff, Ariz. The shop was established in 1988, and in 1990, it ventured into a second business: polyurethane spray-on bedliners.

"We thought it might take off, that it might be good in this area, and it turned out to be a good investment," says Stanley, whose bedliner business operates out of the same facility as the collision center, performs about 16 jobs per month and brings in about 30 percent of the overall business — with less equipment, labor or manpower than collision work. "Lots of people don’t know anything about collision work, but they come to us for bedliners. Then they come back to us when they need collision work. We’ve gotten a lot of collision customers that way."

Arlan Scholl, owner of Connie & Sons in Bismark, N.D., agrees. "We originally started [the bedliner business] to fill in the slow times, so to speak. We didn’t anticipate getting as many liners as we have," says Scholl, who started the bedliner business in January 1994 and does about seven bedliner jobs per week. "And as these trucks get wrecked, they come back to us to get their liner coated — so even if they don’t get the repair work done by us, they still end up coming back to us for the linings. But I’d say more than half get the collision work done with us, too."

Scholl says liner-application jobs constitute about 30 percent of his business’ profits and offset his shop’s slow season. "When you only have one aspect to your business — like repairing cars — you better hope business is good," he says. "That’s why I got into bedliners. When collisions are down in the summer, liners are up. When liners are down in the winter, repairs are up."

What kind of profit can be made from bedliners? Many spray-on bedliner manufacturers say their brands are set up for the authorized dealer/shop owner to achieve a 40-65 percent gross profit margin after accounting for both material and labor. Don’t believe it? "It’s a fact," says Scholl, adding that the longer you’ve been spraying bedliners, the more money you’ll make — because you’ll get better at spraying them and at keeping costs in line.

Another benefit to bedliner businesses: Since the process isn’t related to collision repair, you don’t deal with any insurance companies. You set your prices, and the vehicle owner is the only person you have to please.

"I don’t want to get into the whole insurer thing," says Scholl about insurance-company involvement in the repair market, "but with the liners, it’s nice."

Getting Started
Depending on which spray-on linings dealer you decide to partner with, your business may be part of a franchise or part of a dealership. With a franchise, you typically pay the company a percentage of your gross sales. With a dealership-type setup, there’s typically a contract between you and the mother company, in which the dealer offers you a protected territory (a defined area in which no other dealerships will be set up) and, in exchange, you purchase a certain amount of chemicals from the mother company. Each spray-on linings dealer has its own system that works for certain people — the key is to find the dealer that works best for you. Check around. Do your homework. Don’t spend your money until you have a firm grasp of what you’re spending your money on.

How much will you spend? Start-up costs vary, but most would agree it’s a sizable investment. "I can’t say exactly what it cost me," says Scholl. Thousands of dollars? "Yes," he says. Tens of thousands? "Yes. It’s not cheap."

But was it worth it? "It must have been," says Scholl. "I’m still spraying bedliners. The profit is there. You just need to make sure you find a dealer who’s going to stay in business. I’ve seen a lot of bedliner companies come and go."

But Scholl admits he spent more money to get set up than he needed to. "I went a little more elite than many bedliner dealers do," says Scholl, who not only bought the necessary liner-application equipment and supplies, but also purchased a booth in which he can spray three applications at once.

But you don’t need a spraybooth to apply polyurethane spray-on bedliners. A body shop with an extra 350 to 600 square feet can create an application area using curtains made from inexpensive polyethylene tarps. And if you use taller doors/curtains, you can further increase your business by applying spray polyurethane to specialty applications, such as motor-home roofs (helps seal leaks), street sweepers, dump trucks and more.

To set up a bedliner area, you’ll have to allow enough space for the equipment room (120 square feet is usually more than enough), which needs to be next to the application area so the line set can pass from the equipment room into the spray application area (typically through a small 1-by-1-foot trap door or port). The equipment room should contain a work bench, equipment and chemicals.

You’ll also need a good, strong source of dry air, which you probably already have in your shop. A five-horsepower or stronger compressor with in-line desiccant dryers or a refrigerant drier will work well.

Liner Notes
Spray-on linings application is a fairly simple process, requiring only a few hours to complete. To get started, you thoroughly clean the surface to be sprayed of any dirt and oxidation. This should include the removal of any grease, oil or wax. As an added precaution, remove attachments such as a fifth-wheel gear and reaffix them later. Some liner experts also recommend scuffing-up the paint on the surface to be sprayed.

Second, mask off the rest of the vehicle to prevent overspray. Remove access plates, such as those on the inside of tailgates, and spray them separately to avoid sealing them shut. Customers may opt for either over- or under-bed rail coverage.

The actual polyurethane is sprayed up to one-fourth-inch thick on a bed floor and tailgate and one-eighth-inch thick on sidewalls and rails. A thicker coating can be applied in industrial applications and by request. The coating dries almost immediately and fully cures in just a few hours. Once the coating is set, remove all masking, and trim and correct any irregularities.

You’re done. Collect the check.

What can you charge? Prices range from $300-$500 or more — depending on the options the customer chooses, such as color and over-the-rail protection. Stanley says the average ticket price for bedliner jobs done by his shop is $449. Scholl says the average price charged in his shop is $461.

"We can bring two jobs through the door at 8 a.m., get them out the door by 4 p.m. and charge $461 per job," says Scholl. "We do about seven a week. Think about it. That’s thousands of extra dollars a month, a year."

But beware, say many polyurethane bedliner manufacturers. "A main issue in our industry is the infiltration of copycats that claim to be a bedliner when they’re truly a mere coating that’s not much more protective than the original paint," says one manufacturer. "This isn’t to say these products don’t have their place among consumers. However, they shouldn’t be marketed the same. What often happens is consumers are promised spray-on bedliner quality in a D.I.Y. kit consisting of 2 quarts to 1 gallon material. No customer should have the same expectations of an over-the-counter product like this when compared to a professionally installed polyurethane."

Lining Up for Bedliners
The North American light truck accessories aftermarket is surging, thanks to booming light truck sales and an increasing desire by consumers to personalize their vehicles. The North American light truck accessories aftermarket generated $1.61 billion at manufacturer-level prices in 1998, posting a 24.8 percent increase over 1995 revenues. And according to the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), forecasts show that light truck sales will continue to grow: By 2002, SEMA predicts that more than 8.5 million new trucks and SUVs will be produced for the American market.

With the light truck boom expected to continue and the U.S. economy expected to remain strong, the accessories aftermarket is also expected to keep growing — reaching $2.58 billion by the year 2005.

What does all this mean to you? That the demand for bedliners will continue.

"We’ve been in the autobody business for 37 years, and I really enjoy working on cars. But … the profits just aren’t there," says Scholl, who isn’t sweating bullets since he started spraying bedliners. "What started out to be a little extra cash flow has become a main portion of the business."

Writer Georgina Kajganic is editor of BodyShop Business.

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