Bill Harris is a pioneer of sorts in the sprayed-on bedliner business. How else would you describe a guy who was the first to introduce sprayed-on bedliners to the Austin, Texas market in the mid-1990s and go all mad scientist by mixing raw pigments to match the color of a truck before there were any custom colors?
“No one was doing custom colors back then, and I came up with a bright yellow liner with blue splatters on it as my first custom color shot,” said Lewis, who owns Xtreme Street & Marine Customz, a complete aftermarket accessories shop located in Georgetown, Texas. “Now with the system and manfacturer we have, we can get the vehicle paint code and actually get the pigment in a state where we can mix it directly into the product.”
Those really were the Wild West days of sprayed-on bedliners. According to Harris, there was only one manufacturer at the time, and not happy with its franchising requirements and fees, he and his business partner placed some calls to Canada to confer with one of the manufacturer’s ex-employees on how to do it better and not get locked into a franchise. The end result was better tooling and a better product.
Harris prefers color in the actual bedliner product that’s sprayed versus shooting a topcoat color, which is how some other systems work. That way, he says the color is mixed all the way through the liner, plus it holds up better in the hot Texas sun. He also prefers a product that is 100 percent polyurethane solids because it creates a rubber-like finished product that’s flexible and grips well. The other two sprayed-on bedliner product types, 100 percent polyurea or hybrid polyurethane/polyurea, are not as good in his mind.
“The bed of a truck will flex, and polyurea is very brittle and hard so it can crack,” Harris says. “Also, if you throw something hard and heavy into the bed, you could also chip it.”
As far as high pressure versus low pressure, Harris will take low pressure every time. “With high pressure, it dries as fast as you shoot it,” he says. And that’s fine for some jobs, but not bedliners, he says. A friend of his sprayed a pipeline once to make it leakproof, and high pressure was the perfect choice because, what with all the weather elements he had to deal with, he wanted a fast cure. But if you use high pressure on bedliners, for instance in the area where the tailgate shuts or on over-the-rail shots, you’re forced to do razor and wire cuts versus being able to get into the natural seams with low pressure to give it more of a factory appearance. High pressure also makes it difficult to do custom colors or custom graphics as it’s not very color stable. Plus, it’s hard to get the reverse stencil back up because the product dries so fast. And now there is an accelerant product you can add to a low pressure product if you do want it to dry a little faster.
Trickin’ It Out
Probably the wildest custom job Harris has done is a bright orange sprayed-on bedliner with a three-dimensional Texas Longhorns logo on it. The truck started out as a GMC half-ton fleet side 4×4 extended cab shortbed, and his shop turned it into a shortbed dually with what’s called a “smoothie” bed (no bed ribs or under rails). Now he’s converting it into a pro street tailgate party truck. On the custom sound system inside, which takes up the rear extended cab area, is another three-dimensional Longhorn with eyes that light up. Also, the covering material for the system looks like the skin of a football. The interior floor pans and some trim will be finished with custom-colored sprayed-on liner.
Harris is also customizing and spraying a whole golf cart patterned after the new Chevy Camaro SS that will be metallic orange with black stripes. Other things he has sprayed are refrigerators, wood decks, motorcycle bags and…a basketball goal? Yes, that’s right, a basketball goal. It seems he was on a mission from God when he decided to custom spray a basketball goal and donate it to his local church. There was only one problem – his pastor is an Oklahoma Sooner fan, and Harris is a Texas Longhorn fan, and Harris decided his dedication to the church only goes so far.
“I told him we would split the difference and I would do half of it Oklahoma maroon with white logos and the other half the University of Texas burnt orange,” Harris says.
His most challenging job may have been a Moomba wakeboard boat. “That was quite tedious because of all the fine points on it,” he says.
Harris says spraying logos or graphics are very time-consuming to do, especially when you’re spraying a bedliner with a granular look because it’s tough to put detail on that kind of surface. He typically uses a reverse stencil, but you have to take care in putting the stencil down over the granular liner.
“If you don’t apply the stencil right where it’s completely touching the surface, the sprayed-on material you shoot for the graphic could run through the granules and cause a bleed effect,” he says.
Besting the Competition
In the early days, Harris was one of the only people around spraying bedliners, which was a good thing. The bad thing was customers were afraid of it because it was new and they had never seen anything like it. Now, both of those market characteristics have changed – customers have well accepted sprayed-on bedliners, and there are plenty of guys out there spraying them. With mounting competition came ridiculous claims on application time and pricing, which leads to some shops putting out an inferior quality product.
“There are guys out there who say they can do a bedliner in three to four hours, but as long as I’ve been doing it, unless you have a crew of four or five guys working on the same truck, I don’t see it happening, especially if you’re going to prep it and shoot it the proper way,” says Harris.
Harris says his actual prep work takes one person three to four hours, and shooting takes between one to one-and-a-half hours, with teardown and put-together taking another hour or so. To be safe, he tells the customer to expect a 24-hour turnaround, mainly due to his strict guidelines and procedures. All of these factors depend on the type of truck and type of shot he’s doing.
He also tells customers to leave the tailgate down for 24 hours after pick-up and wait three days to haul anything heavy like a washing machine that could leave indentations in the liner material.
“Liners cure from the outside in, so they’ll get a hard shell on the outside but still be soft inside,” he says. “If you’re just putting a flat cooler or ice chest in there, I tell them give it a good 24 hours.”
Unlike some systems that require you to buy a franchise, Harris’s system does not, which is good and bad. Good in that it’s cheaper, but bad because it may be hard to protect your territory. But in a real-life situation that happened to Harris, the manufacturer stepped to the plate and cut off a competitor. Harris had been spraying bedliners for a body shop down the road, and the shop decided it wanted to start doing them on its own. The owner contacted, set up an account and bought product from the same manufacturer Harris uses, telling them his shop was located far away from Harris’s shop when it was actually only a few miles away. When the manufacturer found out, it cancelled their account and refused to sell more product to the shop.
With a steady workflow, Harris says the average person could get proficient in spraying bedliners in about six months. But there is a certain skill to it.
“If you don’t have some of the painter skills to apply the product correctly, like using the proper air pressures, flowing the material and overlapping patterns of the material, you may just not have it,” he says.
Harris prices the average job on an under-the-rail shortbed truck spraying a standard black color at $399, with the gross profit margin being about 30 to 40 percent. The price goes up if it’s an over-the-rail or long bed, and custom colors add another $100 or more to the price depending on how much pearl or metallic is in the pigment. Just as body shops have seen paint prices increase drastically over the last few years, so has Harris but he has tried to keep his price steady.
“We should probably be higher but with the way the economy is, I’ve tried to keep my prices where they are to keep sales rolling,” Harris says. “I’ve seen cheaper prices with lesser quality materials or shortcut methods, but you get what you pay for.”
Selling the Job
Harris doesn’t advertise his sprayed-on bedliner business other than educating customers at his shop who inquire about it. He tells them that he can spray product on most anything, including boats and trailers.
A bonus is that the product has natural slip resistance but an additive can make it even more slip resistant for step bumpers, trailer fenders or boat swim platforms.
He also tells his customers he can spray custom colors, metallics and metal flakes. Hauling around his tricked-out Longhorn truck to various shows and having it featured on his manufacturer’s Web site also serves to show potential customers what he can do.
He also educates customers on the merits of sprayed-on bedliners versus drop-in liners. With drop-ins, dust, dirt and water can get trapped underneath, and no one ever bothers to pull the liner out every two to three months to clean it out. Plus, drop-ins are constantly moving and vibrating and thus can take paint off and rub a surface down to bare metal. Also, cargo on a drop-in liner surface slides all over the place, whereas the heavier the item placed on the rubbery texture of a sprayed-on bedliner, the more it will grip into the surface and hold in place.
Sit Back and Watch
Harris’s advice to people who want to get into the sprayed-on bedliner business? Do your homework. Research all the products and your market. Also, visit a shop that’s spraying bedliners and watch how the work is performed – but chances are the shop won’t welcome you if it views you as a competitor.
“I have a guy coming down from Dallas who’s thinking about getting into it and wants to see how the process works, and I’m more than happy to show him because he’s not a threat to my market,” says Harris.
That’s the spirit!