If you’ve ever thought about diving headfirst into boat repair, now could be the best time to jump in. With the economy still struggling, many boat owners are likely to keep what they have rather than buy new, creating a demand for repair and refinish work and a potential profit pool for enterprising collision repairers.
With 35 years of experience in the collision repair industry as a technician and paint company technical trainer, I’ve seen small shops struggle to keep up with all the changes the industry had undergone and lose sight of customer focus, service and, most importantly, profit. Here’s a way to restore faith in what you’re doing and put some extra profit in your pocket.
And don’t worry – just because the economy still hasn’t recovered and gas prices have gone up doesn’t mean there will be a lack of work. Boaters are a funny breed, and I should know because I’m one of them. When gas prices are high, they still use their boats, only they find themselves doing more sitting in them than driving them. From a boater’s perspective, as long as you’re in and on the water, it doesn’t matter if you’re actually cruising the waves. But we still want our boats to look good, so we’ll still get them repaired if need be!
Location Is Crucial
The location of your shop is the most important consideration for doing any kind of boat repair. If you don’t have 3,000 registered boats in your county or in the surrounding area, you may pick up a little business but not enough to make much profit. A nice storefront and street advertising is good to have, but you also have to advertise elsewhere to get any significant business. Obviously, you have to advertise to a different type of customer.
A must in the boat repair business is pick-up and delivery, whether you eat the cost or not. This includes, at times, driving to the boat lift or dock with two people, running an unfamiliar boat to the launch, loading the boat onto the trailer, towing the boat to your shop, and praying that something doesn’t happen that requires you to use your liability insurance.
|7 Reasons to Consider Boat Repair|
|1. National labor rates average between $65 and $85 per hour.
2. Average repair bill of $500 to $600 with less than 10 percent for material cost.
3. No DRPs.
4. Average insurance job around $2,000.
5. Boat owners typically carry a lower deductible than with their auto insurance.
6. Less competition.
7. Minimal investment (around $4,000, assuming advertising for 1 year = $1,000, 2 designated spray guns = $650, marine repair materials = $500, training for 1 person = $ 2,000.
Staffing is the second most important thing to consider when looking to add boat repair to your suite of services. Regardless of how busy you think the boat business could be, designate only one person to do the repairs. You have to have a specialist in the shop who can do marine fiberglass repair, tint, spray and blend gel coat, and occasionally work with wood and composites.
In the boat repair business, the specialist will use different spray guns and tips, fillers, solvents and chemicals than he or she would use repairing motor vehicles. The bottom line here is to get your potential “specialist” professionally trained.
Gimme My Space
Space is another consideration for doing boat repair, specifically that you must have space exclusively dedicated to that activity. If you can follow the “one-stall-does-it-all” theory and afford to designate a 400- to 500-square-foot area for it, you’ll eliminate a lot of headaches down the road.
Some ventilation is necessary, but don’t make the mistake of moving the boat around from shop to spraybooth. Most, if not all, of your boat work is done in one stall. The average size of repair is quite small when compared to doing automotive collision and paint repair. Everything is different in the boat repair business, including types of dust, abrasives, lighting and heat, masking requirements, overspray, dry times, etc.
On the Move
Another thing to consider if you’re thinking about getting into boat repair is to offer mobile service. Mechanical-oriented marinas are often more than interested in having a mobile service come in to do their fiberglass and gel coat repairs. The reason is because their mechanics are terrible at doing those kinds of repairs, there isn’t enough work in their shops to employ a full-time specialist, they’re a service shop and not a body shop, and ultimately, their customers want to know where they can have some fiberglass work done. Lining up several marinas with this type of an agreement will pay for everyone involved.
Though it’s not for everyone, higher labor rates, lower deductibles and scarce competition for boat repair jobs are attractive bait to some repairers. If you’re fishing for extra profits, translating your collision repair know-how to boat work can be worth the extra effort.
|Boat Repair vs. Collision Repair|
• Pick-up and delivery services are popular
• Both require stringent safety precautions
• Poor economies equate to more used auto/boat sales/service
• Both have seasonal aspects in four-season climates
• Location of shop and number of auto/boat registrations is important
• One stall does it all
• Less overspray while spraying
• Uses epoxies, vinylester- and polyester- type resin chemistries
• Smaller repair size
• More wet sanding/block sanding
• Labor rates are considerably higher
• No direct repair shop competition
• Mobile service is popular
• Slower product cure times
• More hand sanding/compounding/polishing
• No national VOC regulations
John Sutherland retired as an instructor from PPG Automotive Refinish and started an Ohio-based boat repair business in 2006 that provides fiberglass and gel coat repair. Sutherland visits shops all over the country to train their staff on professional boat repair. For more information, visit www.boatdocktor.info or e-mail Sutherland at [email protected].