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Choosing the Right PBE Jobber

Good jobbers can make the difference between scraping by and earning serious profits. Learn what you should expect from this “vendor partner” – and what’s expected in return.

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Mark R. Clark is owner of Professional PBE Systems in Waterloo, Iowa. He’s a popular industry speaker and consultant and is celebrating his 32nd year as a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.

fully your paint shop is happy with your brand, and hopefully that paint system produces great-looking work – quickly – every day.

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So maybe all auto paint isn’t created equal, but surely it won’t matter which jobber sells it to you, right?

Oh-ho, Grasshopper. Have I got news for you. Good jobbers have made the difference between scraping by and making serious profits for thousands of body shops just like yours.

Having a “vendor partner” is a big advantage. You’ll notice virtually every large American corporation – and certainly all the car manufacturers – have partnered with their vendors.

When the people selling you your supplies have a position of trust, they can join you in working toward a more profitable business. Why are these noble humanitarians helping? If you fix more cars, you’ll buy more paint and materials.

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You succeed, they succeed.

How can you tell if your current jobber is doing his part to increase your success? I propose that good paint, body and equipment (PBE) jobbers offer a combination of two things: trust and good service.

Trust Me
Absolutely the first thing you want in any kind of partnership is trust. If you’re always checking the fine print on the invoices or counting the grinding discs in the box you just bought, this isn’t the vendor you need. Better choices exist.

The vendor partner I’m describing isn’t only scrupulously honest. He has a reputation for it. If you asked his present body shop customers (and you should) if they felt the jobber was fair and honest, the answer should be unequivocal and fast. “Hell yes,” is a good answer.

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For the partnership to work well, the jobber needs to feel the same way about your shop. Jobbers are looking for the same trusting relationship. If they miscount and deliver an extra case of masking tape, you need to phone back and tell them so.

A reputation for honesty is hard earned and worth its weight in gold. The jobber or the shop with the shady aura and the fuzzy ethics is unlikely to make a good vendor partner. You have to keep watching your back instead of focusing on your business.

So my very first criterion for a great PBE jobber is honesty. If your present jobber is this person, congratulations. If your present vendor is just somebody with a delivery truck and a discount, shop around.

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Good Service
Discounts and pre-bates (cash up front) sound good, but a real vendor partner can make your shop much more money than that. With no signed contract either. Here’s how:

Every jobber says he has “good service.” Every shop owner says he does “good work.”

Some really do, some really don’t. At the bare minimum, good service from a PBE jobber should include the following:

  • Adequate on-hand inventory. Most of the time (90 percent works for me), the jobber should have the material you’re looking for in his store ready for delivery. No one will have the left-handed wing nut for the frame machine doohickey, but you should expect it in a day or two maximum. Sandpaper, mixing tints, clears, catalysts and spray gun parts should always be there when you order them.
  • Friendly counter people. The main point of contact with virtually every jobber store are the people who answer the telephones. Many body shops talk to the folks on the jobber’s counter a couple of times a day. They need to sound like they’re glad you called and always follow through on what they said they’d do. It’s part of that trust thing.
  • Regular sales calls. The outside salesperson comes to the shop not to load you up with more stuff on your shelves, but to personally see what’s happening and what you’ll need to keep everyone hard at work. Once a week should be plenty if you’re really partners. Twice a week could work in very large shops. More often than that, and the salesperson could waste more time than he saves.
  • Delivery service. This is what many PBE jobbers mean when they say they have good service. They mean they have lots of delivery trucks and drivers. While you may be impressed that your jobber delivers 11 times every day, that’s really a symbol of a bigger problem. Disorganization and outgoing phone calls are eating up valuable shop production time. Two deliveries a day should be plenty in my model. Of course, your true partner will drop everything if you really, really need it right now. ( Just don’t be pleading every day at 4 p.m.)

Sound like your jobber? Of course it does. It’s what jobbers do. And, you say, they give you a discount, too? How nice for you.

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Great Service
Let me tell you how much money you could make with a great PBE jobber. My elements for great service include:

  • Technical help. Today’s paints work very well, but they’re very complicated. Getting the right mix and the correct flash and bake times are critical. My great PBE jobber has the answers to your questions. They have people on their staff who can answer your paint questions right now, and they can accurately diagnose problems and suggest solutions without consulting others. Not that it’s wrong to ask the factory paint rep. However, that person may be far away out of touch. Paint problems need solutions right now, not next Thursday.

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This great jobber wasn’t born with these technical experts on staff. He built them by spending a fortune on training. Training is expensive. Sending an employee away to school to learn anything costs plenty. Airfare or mileage, hotel rooms, food, class tuition and lost production while others cover for the absent employee adds up fast. Great jobbers have their people enrolled in training throughout the year. That’s how they can usually diagnose your paint problem right away.

When he can’t solve your issue without help, this great jobber takes the initiative to find the person who can answer your question. All paint manufacturers have technical help available over the telephone. Great jobbers make the initial contact, find the qualified person and pave the way for a solution. Many times, the shop painter must speak with the factory tech person directly; great jobbers are part of that process, not just a link to it.

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By the way, a great factory paint rep will make both the jobber and the body shop more successful. It’s that vendor partner idea again. The paint company territory manager should be the jobber’s first point of contact in most issues. Look for your jobber to have a trusting partnership with him. If they’re unable to form a cohesive team (jobber and paint rep), the shop will miss some benefits.

  • Tech rep. Some great jobbers go so far as to hire their own technical person. Remember how expensive training is? Well, add the cost of a competitive wage (a good painter can make lots of money in production), plus the extra 30 percent in benefit costs, and this is the most expensive thing a jobber can do for his customers.

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Think about it. A nice training room at the jobber’s store costs money, but it’s a one-time cost. The wages, benefits, vehicle expense and training costs for a tech person are ongoing every day. If your jobber has made this incredible investment, make sure you use it correctly.

Some jobbers will go so far as to have their tech rep actually paint cars in production while the regular shop painter goes to training or even on vacation. Wonder why that jobber can’t sell seam sealer tubes as cheaply as the once-a-month guy in the bread truck?

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Use the tech rep for in-shop training, and schedule him for quarterly visits to learn firsthand the fastest and best ways.

  • An understanding of shop operations. My great jobber understands how body shops operate. As a result, he offers tangible services such as value-added programs that help produce more work and cut operating costs (more on some of these later). Cut costs? Yes, a true partner doesn’t want you to spend any more than necessary to get the work done. You can use those resultant profits to buy more equipment. And more and faster equipment will produce more work, which will require more paint and materials!
  • Inventory management. The great jobber does a fine job managing his own inventory. That’s how he can keep more than 90 percent of what you’ll want to buy on hand all the time. My great jobber has a system, not just a concept, of how to manage the body shop inventory, too. He sold it to you; enlist him to help store and manage it profitably.

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Are individual technician cabinets better, or should the materials be housed in one central location? Should the painters have one vault and the bodymen another? How many items are too many? I’ve seen firsthand almost every method and combination of stocking, counting and retrieving a body shop’s inventory. Individual cabinets work. So do central locations. What makes them work is a specific method and continuous supervision.

My great jobber has the shelves marked with part numbers and minimum quantities. The shelves themselves are wherever they work best in the specific inventory management model the jobber will implement for your shop. By my reckoning, the jobber could tailor the system to your shop, but he’ll have a proven written system in place across his market. It’s easy for him to say he’ll manage your inventory; it’s much harder to do it. Great jobbers put in the time and pre-planning to make it work smoothly.

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Any inventory management system has only one goal: to stock enough backup supplies on hand to keep the technicians working. Balance that with the opportunity to buy larger quantities of popular consumable items at a large lot price. (Don’t pass up the special on 12 logs of masking paper.)

How much money should you have in inventory anyway? Use a three-month average of your total material bill. My rule of thumb is you should have one half of one month’s purchases on hand – not counting mixing tints but counting all open cans and partial rolls. Most shops buy heavily at the first of the month to reach the large quantity price breaks, and they buy lightly at the end of the month to push the bill off for 30 more days.

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If your material bill each month is $5,000, figure that on the 15th of the month, you’ll have a total of $2,500 in all backup stock and open cans. As you know, mixing banks can hold many thousands of dollars in open and backup tints. Actual investments vary by paint brand and paint type. Don’t count them in your mid-month total. (Do remember that mixing your own paint is the single best way to save money on materials.)

  • Tools to increase shop productivity. Equipment is the secret to beating the flat-rate times. Using air, hydraulics and electricity to power the tools and speed the repair is the easiest way to go faster. I’ve been telling the same story to illustrate this for years.

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Imagine your shop has a contract to modify and paint box vans. To get the job done, you must remove the rear bumpers. You hire a high school kid who comes in every day at 3:30 p.m. and unbolts the bumpers using a 3/8-inch drive ratchet with a 9/16-inch socket. The kid works hard and spends all his time removing the nuts with the hand ratchet. At the end of each day, he’s removed three bumpers.

Can you afford to buy this kid an air-driven ratchet? Heck, yes. And with no more effort on his part, the power ratchet will spin off five times as many bolts.

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Great jobbers stock and sell productive body shop equipment. My model jobber understands body shops and comes back from trade shows with the latest in productive, time-saving tools and equipment. And since you’re partners, you know he’s not just trying to unload the latest gimcrack.

He’s thoroughly researched the new tools and has them – and their common replacement parts – in stock. (He realizes he can’t sell equipment from a picture.) In many cases, a demo tool is available for your shop to try. How much better to actually use the equipment first in your own environment before you buy? But remember that this costs your vendor partner money. If you demo the tool from one jobber and actually buy it from the wagon peddler who can order you one for 10 percent off, you’re not the partner shop my great jobber is looking for.

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  • Knowledge of financial benchmarks. My great jobber understands his own business very well. That’s why he’s successful. Many body shops, on the other hand, could use some business help. For many shop owners, actually doing the work was the easy part – making money at it was much harder. My model jobber is willing and able to help.

Your business is just like the jobber business. Sell something to create a gross profit, subtract your operating expenses and the result is the net profit from operations. If your jobber has a successful business model (newer delivery trucks, nice salesman cars, attractive building, long-term employees, multiple locations), he can probably help your shop prosper, too.

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What kinds of things does my great jobber know? He knows the national average close rate (percentage of estimates turned into repair orders) is only 64 percent. He knows the average shop stall should produce about $65,000 of billing each year. He knows the shop should spend 5 to 7 percent of its total billing on paint and materials. He knows it takes $900 to $1,100 in materials per technician each month. He knows how a profitable body shop runs.

He doesn’t need to see your financial statements to be able to help. He knows body shop benchmarks (realistic averages) for many areas of production. He has a vested interest in your success (fix more, buy more), and he can help.

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A discounted selling price is nothing compared to an increase in production and profitability. The shop in my earlier example spent $5,000 a month. A 10 percent discount is $500. The same shop has five technicians ($1,000 of materials each) who produce about $12,000 each month (another useful benchmark) or $60,000 in total shop sales each month. A 10 percent increase in production (instead of a 10 percent discount on purchases) equals another $6,000 in production. On average, a body shop has a 40 percent gross profit margin – or $2,400 in this example. Would you rather have $500 each month or $2,400 each month? A great vendor partner can lead the way.

  • Clinics and training. Great jobbers have local, easy-to-attend training for their customers. If your jobber has made the huge investment in a training room at his location, make sure your employees are taking advantage of it. I understand that you find it difficult and expensive to send your painter thousands of miles away to the factory paint school. But when your jobber hosts and sponsors training locally, either in his facility or at a meeting room, make darn sure your people are in the seats. Training makes money, period. The shops that struggle the most to make ends meet and get the work out on time often skip training because they’re behind and can’t spare the time away. Hello! Attend the training and get better.
  • Community involvement. Great vendors in all industries support their communities. The guy in the roving bread truck sells sandpaper a nickel cheaper. The great jobber I’m talking about donated money and time to the local charity campaigns, the building fund for the new “Y” and hosted the Big Brother/Sisters golf tournament. The extra nickel you spent with him for sandpaper came rolling right back into your community. Look for your great PBE jobber to make a charitable contribution in your name at Christmas rather than giving another calendar.

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Successful local business people make every community better. You and your vendor partner should be involved. And it’s good for business when your name is associated with a community project.


Choose Wisely
Paint is paint and jobbers are all the same, right? Wrong! Both paint brands and PBE jobbers have significant features and advantages, which lead to real-world benefits for your body shop operation.

Find a trustworthy, successful vendor partner who wants nothing more than your success, and the result will be more-profitable businesses for you both.

Writer Mark Clark, owner of Professional PBE Systems in Waterloo, Iowa, is a well-known industry speaker and consultant. He’s been a contributing editor to BodyShop Business since 1988.

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