Capitalize on Cold Weather

Capitalize on Cold Weather

A mild winter doesn't have to bring a chilling end to your shop's profits and steady workload. By adding seasonal profit centers and specialized winter service, you'll boost your bottom line and customer relations.

Winter weather wreaks havoc on vehicles, especially for those living in the Northern states. Salt can eat away at the body work your technician slaved over. Blowing snow and ice can scratch the finish of the finest vehicle. And secondary sunlight effects due to reflection from snow on the roadway or piled in parking lots can damage your customer’s perfect paint job.

Winter weather (or a lack thereof) can also mean schedule slowdowns for body shops and a frozen bottom line that sends chills up any shop owner’s spine.

How do you fight back against Mother Nature’s cold spell? By adding a seasonal profit center or two and offering specialized winter services to your customers, you’ll increase profits and improve customer relations – both of which mean better business come fairer weather.

Topcoat TLC

Many of the shop owners I spoke with for this article said keeping a list of customers for whom you’ve done two- and three-stage paint system overalls is a good source of follow-up work. Winter weather wreaks havoc on vehicle paint, so a review with customers about proper car care – such as waxing or polishing intervals – can be a business builder. The word-of-mouth advertising such reviews can generate is a priceless commodity. A few simple reminders or a descriptive step-by-step list can extend the good relationship you’ve established with customers who’ve recently dropped a bundle for a paint job at your shop.

How do you go about offering this new value-added extra? A lot of shop owners mentioned that a “mail out” would work well, but that a customer clinic might be an even better choice and could be a semi-annual event at your shop. You could tie in the event with a “Getting Ready for Winter” campaign and accent it all with a couple give-aways, such as non-silicone based waxes or polishes, for seminar attendees.

A simple car-care clinic aimed at extending the life and maintaining the luster of a newly refinished vehicle might contain the following helpful tips:

  1. Advise the customer to use a good brand of liquid car wash soap. Liquid soap is preferred because, oftentimes, granules find their way into low spots and cause surface scratches later.
  2. Avoid brushes in automatic car washes because curing paint can sometimes take as long as several months to fully harden. Newer paint jobs can’t handle the rough-house treatment from most automatic car washes.
  3. Wash the dirtiest parts of the vehicle first, and then flush the wash mitt clean since it may have picked up road grit or sand. Changing the water and washing out the mitt or sponge before going any further will minimize surface scratches.
  4. Clean inside tight areas like window moldings, cowling and louvers with a small sponge-type painting utensil often used with latex paint. Be sure to cover any metal bands with a soft rag or duct tape to avoid mars and scratches.
  5. Avoid waxing a newly painted vehicle for at least 90 days or until the paint system manufacturer recommends it.
  6. Polishes are designed to clean painted surfaces and remove accumulations of residue. Oxidation can be removed with a polishing compound or a straight polish product.
  7. Wax is designed to protect the finish. A straight wax product doesn’t have to contain any elements for cleaning or shining. Waxes with silicone derivatives are hard to remove if paint touch-up is required. Most paint shops prefer customers use a non-silicone-based wax at least for the warranty term.
  8. Check the label. All polish and wax products should be clearly labeled as to what type of finish – old finish, heavy oxidized finish or new finish with a factory designed clearcoat – they can and should be used with.
  9. Buffing or rubbing out should only be done in accordance with the warranty provisions in place at your shop. Some customers who are used to power buffing routines on older high-mil thickness paint systems will find that they’ll literally “burn through” the newer paint systems before they’re even aware they’re creating a problem.
  10. Realize the problems associated with industrial fall-out and/or acid rain. Flush the vehicle surface with clean water, and wipe it dry with a soft towel or cloth to protect the integrity of the finish.

It’s a Cover Up!

It’d be nice if all of your customers could protect that “knock ’em dead” finish you’ve applied by parking their vehicles in a garage or under a protective roof. This obviously isn’t the case, hence the regained popularity of quality car covers made from water-resistant fabric that actually “breathes.”

Although clearcoat finishes protect the vehicle from the harmful effects of UV rays, a quality car cover will also serve to protect the finish from secondary sunlight effects due to reflection from snow on the roadway or piled in parking lots. A good car cover will also act as a barrier against blowing snow and ice that may be present while the vehicle is parked or stored, adding years to the life of the finish.

Check with brand name retailers to find the best way to get into this cover business. You’ll likely see a resurgence in OEs selling the fancy vehicle-monogrammed designs at dealership stores, so know your competition.

There’s a remarkable spread in what’s available – from covers made from gray poly cotton (which sell for around $60) to weather-shield designs (which obviously sell for more). One shop owner in my area who stocks and sells only quality car covers has seen profits averaging 44 to 48 percent on the high-end models and 25 to 30 percent on the lower-end ones.

Tune In for Profits

All of the lowered and reconfigured Hondas, Toyotas and many other brands offer the body shop a shot at the growing market of “tuners.” In this group, speed and vitality are secondary to tire/wheel, lighting effects and especially paint and wheel ensembles. Winter service specials can be offered to this group as a dent-and-nick special or maybe even a clear protective wheel finish or custom glamour paint application for 17- or 18-inch wheels with one of the new spray-on effect colors.

Spot Cleaning

Winter driving always offers the opportunity to go after interior work on a vehicle brought in for other body- or paint-related services. For example, one procedure for dyeing carpet that’s water stained or damaged by salt or other winter elements allows you to repair damage without removing the interior carpet. Keep in mind that when color-matching carpet, selecting a slightly darker shade for the tint that appears to match the actual interior color makes for an easier job.

If you choose to use this method, other basic instructions include:

  1. Clean and vacuum the carpet.
  2. Use the provided color key to find the correct shade of dye to be used for the carpet redo.
  3. Once you have the color code, mix the appropriate amounts of tinting agents – sometimes this can be three or four – into the base solution. Shake well and then position the container in the machine holder.
  4. Use the application wand to distribute the dye in a less noticeable area, such as beneath the driver seat. If the color is right, go ahead and evenly spray the dye onto the carpet. Overlap the strokes by the width of the spray cone pattern, while keeping a vertical distance of about three to four inches from the carpet surface.
  5. Wipe off all excess dye product from any plastic, metal, leather or rubber surfaces with a moderately damp cloth. Follow this procedure immediately with a dry cloth.
  6. Dye the rest of the carpet areas to match your redo area if necessary.
  7. Whichever method you choose, carpet dyeing is a natural offshoot for many body shops looking for an extra way to pick up between $100 to $250 in revenue and is a good way to bring a quality service to your customer base.

When the Cold Wind Blows

The winter months for any body and paint facility will always pull in service related to air and water leaks. But many competent shops don’t go after these extras because they’re unaware a problem exists, feel they don’t have the time to mess with it or think they don’t have the extra skilled help to locate the problems and correct them.

Nate Hines, a jobber/shop owner from Ontario, Canada, who represents a major franchise, told me that he sells seven to 10 weatherstrip jobs a month in the winter.

“Wet weather can bunch up your schedule, I know,” says Hines. “But the chance to sell between $600 and $700 of legitimate service does make it worthwhile.”

Hines says his prep techs find a lot of damaged trim and weatherstrip materials in the process of preparing a vehicle for the spraybooth. Selling the job may be as easy as explaining to a customer where that annoying wind noise has been coming from or how the water leak that’s soaking the rug in a spot or two is making the car smell from mildew.

The marketplace has at its disposal truly easy-to-install weatherstripping complete with tool-installed clips and pins with molded ends that are softer and better molded to fit OE applications. Ozone resistance is a big plus, and the finest sponge rubber cell materials are found in the best stuff you can buy.

Favorites that shops find easy to sell are:

  • Molded roof rail seals, including those for most convertible-top applications.
  • Molded door seals (new ones come ready to install with all of the goodies attached or supplied).
  • Convertible pillar post seals (molded in a single piece like the originals – avoid splice designs, they can have a lot of fitting problems).
  • Auxiliary door, window and trunk seals. The auxiliary door seals can save the day on newer, light trucks. Window and trunk seals use a full steel core, are single-piece molded and are easy to install by one trim or body man in the shop.
  • Front vent window seals. Look for materials with a good mold line and a no-wrinkling lip at the actual sealing surface.

Don’t forget that even synthetic sponge rubber and the latest cell type rubber construction can be damaged by solvents and paint products. The drying and de-masking exercise that takes place during the post paint and refinish routine should include a good look at weatherstripping condition. This is also the ideal time to install new weatherstripping as well as checking fittment of doors and windows, sunroof, etc.

Also keep in mind that if you’re going to be able to sell this type of service, you must offer the customer a good, solid reason to close the deal. Keeping things high and dry might do the trick. In other cases, the removal of an obnoxious noise or keeping fumes out of the passenger compartment might be a more valid way to rationalize the sale. In either case, the work is valid and necessary.

You should see a profit of more than 40 percent on product alone if you hook up with a national jobber. Tools required are minimal, and you probably have a good trim man already on staff who can install the materials without a hitch.

Cold Weather = Cold, Hard Cash

One good thing about the winter season is that customers can’t ignore things like water or cold air leaks for very long. Weatherstripping is a high profit item that we all do a little of anyway, so why not enhance the service offering in the winter months?

Other add-on services, like selling over-the-counter quality breathable car covers, can only add to your bottom line. Advertise the detrimental effect of a poor car cover that keeps the vehicle finish wet and increases the chance for corrosion to make its way to the surface of the metal, and selling quality car covers will become a cold, hard profit center for your shop.

And don’t underestimate the power of the “soft-sell” of a follow-up letter after a repainted vehicle is returned to the customer. Put on a good professional car-wash clinic, and invite dealer, jobber and factory agents to provide demonstrations that emphasize correct car wash and polish and wax procedures.

And keep your eye open for other avenues of profit during the winter months. For instance, spray-on bedliners for pickup trucks can offer excellent profit potential in a short time to fill in dead spots in your winter schedule. Regardless of the seasonal service you decide to add, it can make a big difference in your shop’s profits – and make those winter months a little less chilling to your bottom line.

Getting Your Shop Ready for Old Man Winter

In addition to getting your customers’ vehicles in shape for winter, your shop needs to be “winterized.” If this is your first winter in a new or re-designed shop, you may find your work cut out for you. Shops that have been at it for a while know to prepare early, usually before all of the leaves fall from the trees.

As the thermometer drops, certain things within the shop operations will need special attention:

  • Air Compressor and Plumbing – A good preventative maintenance schedule for air compressors includes changing oil in the early spring and late fall or early winter in piston-type compressor pumps. Axial, or “screw,” types don’t have this requirement in most cases, but servicing these units should include inspection of mounting points, a check for loose or worn parts and a thorough look at the power unit, the wiring, pneumatic safety switches and valves.

As the temperature drops, expect the interior of the shop to accumulate more dirt and dust. Vehicles entering the shop for service may have mud or dirt as well as ice and snow stuck under the wheel well areas, and washing out bays may be hindered by cold weather. Many shops utilize a high-pressure wash station as a solution to this problem while keeping this service area away from prep, paint, drying and detail areas.

  • Spraybooth – VOC-laden overspray is heavier when the shop air is cooler and when the booth is operating in a cooler condition due to colder-than-normal makeup air entering from an outside source. You’re also going to have more maintenance with regard to clean-up of hoses, equipment and the interior of the booth itself come winter.

Air leakage around spraybooth service or entry doors is inevitable as the booth ages, so be sure to replace insulating material as necessary. Any serious leakage will allow dirt to find its way into the booth. This maintenance item is actually more important in winter because high humidity, common in winter months, can also be a factor when the airflow is shut down. When the booth is pressurized, no humidity can get in – regardless if there’s a leak or not.

Nicks and dings used to be a real thorn, but newer powder-coated finishes on the booth have made this problem secondary. If your old booth is still subject to this problem, treat the bare metal and make repairs to prevent corrosion problems down the road. This is particulary important in the winter because humidity is high and corrosion is more likely.

The spraybooth oven or heating mechanism obviously must be in top condition when the Mercury is at its lowest point. Booth defects not noted during summer or early fall usage might “clean your clock” if you add retarders and then the oven can’t respond to the dwell time.

Static in the air will attract dust and other contamination that’s sure to clog filters when the cold, dense, makeup air sweeps through the system on a frigid day. Clean the duct work before the cold weather hits using a detergent-based product that will also cut grease and hold it in suspension. Run the booth airflow on high and bring the temperature up to around 190-degrees F for a short period to dry everything out and prevent mildew formation. This should put everything in order for the next paint job.

  • Mixing Room – If you’re lucky enough to have an attached paint-mixing room, your maintenance here will be light. Any filters that service the booth may also take care of the VOC levels in the mix area. But some systems are set up with a separate battery of filters. Remember the air will be heavier in the winter, so intake filters may clog sooner since they may have a lot of extra humidity to deal with.

Separate thermostatic controls are used in mix areas, so be sure to test their function by comparing cut-off temperatures with a known good indicator. Some booths with pits will run the exhaust air underneath the floor of the mixing station to keep the room cool in the summer. If the exhaust duct-work has a two-way door, be sure to trip the door in the straight exhaust position to bypass this function, allowing the mix room a more stable temperature during cool or cold weather.

Some shops bump up the “stir” times for the mixing room paint and tint inventory. Whether it’s necessary to do this in your shop depends upon the constant temperature kept in the area. But with the advent of brownouts and blackouts in the Western part of the country, shop temperatures certainly aren’t a given anymore.

  • Shop HVAC – The ordinary shop heating ventilation and air conditioning system can lose its effectiveness as the summer months come to an end. The heating system, which might have been lying dormant for an entire three or four months, must now spring into action to keep the office, service area, metal shop and other shop areas up to an average temperature of 70 degrees F in most cases. Many shop owners who used to run their facility’s interior temperatures much higher than 70 degrees F are now fighting the cost of high gas and electrical bills while still trying to compete. Filters will need replacement, duct work will need cleaned and blowers may need service by lubrication and/or bushing and bearing services. Consult with the manufacturer’s service literature before servicing any system.

Solving “the case of the eroding zone control” – cold or hot spots in a zone-controlled service area – isn’t always easy. Sometimes the services of a good HVAC person can save money and time, as well as prevent unnecessary costs like buying mismatched thermostats and other frequently tabulated problems.

  • Lighting – Replace electrical lamps in all areas that are sub-standard, and don’t forget the cut-in booths, prep stations, estimating area and service areas. Lack of natural lighting because of cloudy days or storm fronts can make for interesting discussions over color match if interior lighting isn’t up to snuff.
  • Equipment – Safety being the first consideration, winter use with wet or humid weather should always prompt a look at small tool electrical cords, as well as for problems with individual plug outlets or at the fuse-box.

Any measuring equipment of the hang-on design must be cleaned, checked for calibration and made ready for use on vehicles that may be on a lift or rack in the estimating area. Be sure to treat bare metal on equipment to prevent corrosive salts from diminishing the useability of the older gear.

Computer-based dimensioning equipment should have sensors cleaned and well protected. Equipment consoles should have software stored to avoid humidity problems during cool or wet weather. Other similar considerations involve gradual warm-up for equipment that’s not in continuous use. Locating the console unit in a warm, protected area is becoming more popular, and will serve to add years of service life to this type of delicate electronic format.

Air tools can pick up a lot of water during winter-time usage, and water traps are the most effective way to eliminate this problem. If the air plumbing system has manual drains, this procedure should be done several times a day to keep tools moisture-free. This takes into account that the painting-only side of the air system is already equipped with a dryer type of arrangement or sophisticated water and filter separator

Solvent recovery systems are commonplace in more than half of today’s paint shops. Maintenance items include filters, sediment traps, air conditioning refrigerant systems and specific service procedures as recommended by the manufacturer. More paint product drying on guns will produce more hard waste residue, so frequent monitoring in the winter months is necessary.

Welders and ventilation equipment for welding booths need to be looked at for wear and evaluated for electrical condition. Ground problems that may have been passable when the weather was hot and dry can now cause real problems with humidity and wet conditions.

And don’t forget to service ventilation filters and suction blowers to prevent contamination of the work as well as corruption of the shop interior air supply.

Getting your shop in shape for winter service doesn’t have to be a painful ordeal. Start with these suggestions for common shop areas and equipment and add to the checklist as your shop requires. With a thorough inspection, your shop will be ready for Old Man Winter in no time.

Writer Bob Leone, a retired shop owner and contributing editor to BodyShop Business, is ASE three-way Master Certified and is a licensed secondary and post-secondary automotive instructor in the vocational school system in Missouri. He is also a former NAPA A.S.E. Technician of the Year.

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