Body shop owners and technicians are constantly looking for ways to make their jobs easier. It goes without saying that collision repair techs are good with their hands, so many of them invent new tools and processes to help improve the efficiency of their jobs. One such tech, Robert Greer, inventor of the ThumbGun, began such a journey over a decade ago. In fact, BodyShop Business spoke with him back in 2010, and we’ve caught up with Greer to check on the status of the ThumbGun.
The ThumbGun is a holster for polishing compound that attaches to your rotary buffer. With the pull of a trigger, you can squeeze out precise, even amounts of compound without stopping. Imagine eliminating the need to stop polishing, set the polisher down, squeeze on the compound, pick the polisher back up and run it again. Not only does it save precious seconds that add up over the hours one spends polishing (which is generally unpaid work to begin with), but it also saves on polisher compound waste.
Journey of a Decade
For Greer, producing the ThumbGun has been a long journey full of trial and error. “The first one I built — it was not very successful,” he admits. “I made every mistake you could make as an entrepreneur starting a business and building a tool.”
Greer conceived the idea of the ThumbGun in 2009 when he was a flat-rate tech spending three or four hours a day buffing. “You get tired and you start wasting [polisher], shaking it, dropping the bottle. I just had an idea — it was press a button and keep buffing and control the polish without having to stop. It would be a huge time saver,” Greer recalls.
So, he hired a firm to help him build a homemade prototype. The firm also partnered him with a Chinese production company. However, the company pulled the trigger on producing the product before Greer approved the design, and then it would not let him retool it without paying an extra $80,000. So, even though the design wasn’t exactly what he wanted, he had to take it, since he wasn’t about to spend that sort of money on something he had already paid for. The issue with the first version was that it had a pump and only dispensed one viscosity of polish. However, with about 100 different types of polish on the market, Greer knew that would not work for the average tech. Nevertheless, he filed for patents on the product in 2009, although he didn’t get them until 2013.
It took him almost 10 years to get back into production again, and he learned from his mistakes. In 2018, he partnered with Brian Peters, who owns a tech firm, to enhance the tool’s design. The new version of the ThumbGun is one Greer calls “the push model.”
“It’s just a small caulking gun with a gear drive motor,” he explains. “We designed it to push any material. It could be thin, thick, metal. Now, we have a unit that can fit anybody’s preference of polish.”
In fact, that’s a key part of the ThumbGun: Because Greer now manufactures and fills all the cartridges himself (keeping production and sourcing solely in the U.S.), he can fill the cartridges with any type of polish a customer wants. However, for those with no preference or who use Clearcoat Solutions’ (CSI) products, he has partnered with the company to sell its one-step Ceram-X Polish formula with the ThumbGun. The polish bottles are a custom 3.5-oz. tube meant to fit inside the ThumbGun, and while the average tech may think they look “too small” at first, Greer notes that the size is deceiving, because the ThumbGun puts out just as much polish as is needed — far less than what techs usually squirt on.
Hurdles to Selling
When Greer restarted his production journey, he was still working full-time. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he was laid off. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise though, because it allowed him to invest all his time into his business, as opposed to stealing a few minutes here and there in a parking lot conducting Zoom meetings.
Since this whole venture began, he estimates he’s invested at least $500,000 into the ThumbGun’s production. Now, of course, he’s looking to start making a return on that investment. He began selling in August of 2021 and so far has done about $5,000 in sales. At this point, he’s not only looking at individual shops as potential customers but also chains and distributors.
Greer knows there’s an appetite for his product: Almost everyone he’s pitched it to has been interested and seen the potential for efficiency and time saving. Unfortunately, Greer has noticed a trend that he feels is a hurdle to selling the product, and it’s a simple case of human nature. “Getting people to change is another challenge, because they just want to pick up the bottle,” he explains. “It’s ingrained in their muscles now to do so.”
Even so, the potential is there, and one of the highest authorities in the world has recognized it. Greer attended the 2021 SEMA Show with his product and won the 2021 SEMA Global Media Award, which is given to innovators in the automotive accessories industry. With this award, SEMA recognized ThumbGun’s consumer appeal and gave it “a high probability” that the product “will resonate with customers” and fare well as it expands into international markets. In addition, some California celebrity painters and detailers have also endorsed the product, which you can learn more about at thumbguntools.com.
Greer concludes with this note to shop owners: “I can prove to you how much time you’re saving. If I go in your shop and we do four or five cars, I can bring you the empty cartridges, how much we use and how much time we save. But, it’s up to [you] to implement it.”