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Collision Industry Issues: Then and Now

Mark Clark celebrates 25 years of writing for BodyShop Business with a special new column, the first discussing industry concerns of the past and present – including “dart.”

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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.

“Tempus fugit” is Latin for "time flies," and as I write this first 25th-year anniversary column, it certainly seems so.

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In the Beginning
My auto body career began in 1970 when I opened a paint, body and equipment (PBE) jobber store with my dad. In 1986, I began speaking about auto body topics to manufacturer, jobber and shop personnel (mostly to anyone who would listen to me!). In 1988, I wrote my first article for BodyShop Business. I’m certain neither the magazine nor I knew I would still be at it in 2013. It continues to be a great ride.

Industry Issues
Some industry issues today were present in 1970: insurance company influence, color match, paint and material costs, safe repairs, clean paint work and even cycle time (although we didn’t all call the time the car spent in the shop by that name). Many of my original “Paint Shop” columns were about getting deliverable paint work on the first try.

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I remember being at a national paint company’s school in 1970. Eating dinner the night before the class began, I spotted another guy wearing the paint company logo and we struck up a conversation. He was from way down South and had a real drawl. I asked him what the biggest paint problem was in his market. He said it was “dart.” I was an Iowa boy and didn’t understand how darts played into collision repair. Was this like an English pub game? From both my puzzled expression and my verbal “Huh?” he repeated the issue was dart. Seeing that I still wasn’t getting it, he pointed at the floor and said again, “Like on the ground – dart!” “Aha, you mean dirt,” I replied.  “Yes,” he said, “dart.” And sure enough, controlling the dirt in the paint finish was a problem in 1970 and continues to be one in 2013. Moving more air past waterborne finishes to drive out the water also moves more dirt around the booth cabin. As always, careful prep makes for clean paint work.

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Safe Repairs
Safe repairs for both the vehicles and the technicians are still critical issues today, too. In the early 1970s, I attended the Kansas Jack School in the remote (and “dry”) town of McPherson, Kan. (I was, and continue to be, a big proponent of industry education. You don’t know what you don’t know. Attend some classes and find out!) I was the only jobber there and spent a rewarding week learning about accurate and fast structural repair.

Early on the second morning of class, Larry Booker, who owned Kansas Jack, came into class wearing the local cowboy duds – belt buckle the size of a quart can lid, pearl snaps on his shirt, embroidered arrows around his pants pockets and fancy boots. As he walked up the aisle between the class tables, you could see he had a chrome-plated, pearl-handled Colt 1911 .45 automatic stuck in the back of his pants. My classmates and I looked alarmingly at each other. I hadn’t thought to bring a gun to frame school!

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After welcoming everyone and thanking them for their business, Booker drew the gun and told us he had brought it in to make an important point. When a pulling chain breaks while stretched at 10 tons of force, the broken link moves faster than the slug from a .45. His point was that you should always cover a pulling chain with a blanket, moving pad or burlap bag so when it breaks, the blanket will catch the flying chain. I took his advice to heart and even today nag the techs to cover their tensioned chains whenever I see one uncovered.

Paint and Materials

Paint and material costs remain a concern with many shops 43 years later as well.

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There are several ways to measure paint and material expenditures. Two of the most common are dollars per month per tech, and as a percentage of shop sales.

In today’s business environment, I use $1,000 per tech per month as an easy benchmark for what the shop spends to buy paint and materials from a jobber. Remember to count everyone who touches the car in that head count: the wash person, the painter’s helper, etc. Anyone who has a hands-on role in repair counts toward the total dollars. Part-time people are counted as a percentage of a 40-hour work week. For example, using my math, a shop that has 9.5 techs should spend about $9,500 per month on paint and materials.

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Another way to look at paint and materials is as a percentage of shop sales (before any taxes). I believe that paint and material costs should run between 5 to 7 percent of shop sales; using 6 percent as a middle value, a shop doing about $160,000 per month in total production should spend about $9,600 per month to complete all vehicles.

Make sure of two things: (1) only purchases that are truly paint and material should be counted (no booth filters, tools, equipment or safety gear) and (2) to make appropriate money on the paint and materials expenditures, the shop must sell about 9 percent of sales in paint and materials on the RO. This means adding refinish labor hours until the 9 to 10 percent billing level is achieved.

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While the percentages haven’t changed dramatically since I began in our industry, the dollar values sure have. When I started in 1970, a pint of acrylic lacquer color cost the shop $2.15. Today, a pint of basecoat color costs the shop about $70! Tempus fugit!

Congratulations
Each month throughout 2013, I’ll reminisce a little about how our industry has stayed the same and how it has changed over my long tenure. We’re a unique segment of the American economy, and I’m still pleased to be part of it. Congratulations to you as well for being a key ingredient in keeping the nation’s fleet rolling attractively and safely forward!

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Mark R. Clark is the owner of Professional PBE Systems in Waterloo, Iowa; he’s a well-known industry speaker and consultant and is celebrating his 25th year as a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.

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