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Out With The Old

A good place to start when you’re considering upgrading is to take an inventory of your shop.

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“I’m sorry Mr. Fields, your car won’t
be ready tomorrow as scheduled. I can’t get it painted in time.”

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You can’t tell your customer that your veteran
painter quit to go to the fancy new shop that just opened down
the street, and he won’t want to hear that you’ve been working
till 2 a.m. every night just to get last week’s cars done. The
only thing this customer knows is that you made a promise you
couldn’t keep.

This scenario isn’t unusual. In an increasingly
urgent world, you need to eliminate situations that interfere
with customer satisfaction, employee retention and your reputation.
In the above situation, part of the problem was the painter jumping
shop. Another part was the lack of a quality painting environment;
this, however, can be solved a few different ways – one by upgrading
your spraybooth. An upgrade, while not only improving your painting
environment, can also have a positive effect on your entire business.

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Why Upgrade?

A good place to start when you’re considering
upgrading is to take an inventory of your shop. What do you have
to work with? Internal factors – such as the building, the equipment,
the employees and your sales – and external factors – such as
the number of competitors, quality of competitors, EPA and local
regulations, and type of vehicles – must be considered.

From this basic inventory, make a list of
your strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. This list should
help you answer such questions as:

How’s my throughput?
What’s happening in your paint department? If you find that you
have to buff every vehicle you paint and that everything goes
fine until the car gets to the painter, upgrading your spraybooth
should be on your opportunity list. Identifying a bottleneck is
the first step to eliminating it.

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Who’s my competition?
If your region has state-of-the-art shops with large advertising
budgets, it’s not unlikely that a potential customer has visited
one or more of these facilities and was probably encouraged to
look for a repair facility with high-tech equipment. A decision
not to upgrade may eliminate your business from the customer’s
list of qualified repair shops.

Are the natives restless?
The shortage of quality people in our industry is no secret, and
top technicians know what equipment is out there – they’ve attended
paint-company training centers that showcase modern equipment,
and they read industry publications and see what progressive shops
around the country are doing. They know how much more work they
could produce if their facility used the latest refinish systems,
and they feel throttled when they try to fit 1996 paint technology
into a 1956 paint room. They also recognize that modern spraybooths
are designed to be a safer place for them to work. Your decision
to upgrade will not only have a positive impact on the quality
and quantity of paint work your shop generates, but it’ll also
play a part in attracting – and retaining – top-quality technicians.

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Am I utilizing current technology? Most major paint companies
offer a wide range of refinish systems suited for different spraying
and drying environments. If you’re going from an unheated crossdraft
booth to a heated downdraft booth, you’ll have the opportunity
to change the paint system you use. Modern pressurized booths
allow your painters to use faster and wetter paint products, which
require clean, heated airflow and give beautiful results right
out of the gun.

Do Your Homework

Once you determine that a new spraybooth fits into your master
plan – and into your budget – you need to do some homework. Talk
to other collision-shop owners about what they’ve done in the
way of upgrades. What worked? What went wrong? How did their improvements
measure up to their expectations? Would they do business with
the company again?

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If you have never been to your paint supplier’s training center,
schedule a visit. Make sure the instructor knows you’re coming
there to talk about painting equipment and is ready to share his
insights with you. These guys talk to painters from a wide range
of facilities and are a wealth of information. Your paint distributor
should be of great assistance in arranging visits to help you
in your quest for information. A quality paint-store owner welcomes
the chance to help a customer improve his business.

National and local trade shows are usually good places to see
a great deal of equipment. You can make visual observations about
size, lighting, fit and finish. The downside is the pressure at
these shows to get your order in. You’re often better off in the
long run to arrange appointments with booth representatives at
your shop, and use the time at the show to get a feel for how
the company reps handle questions and objections and how well
they understand where your business is headed.

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Paint-company value-added programs also can be helpful because
many of the better ones offer shop-layout and design services.
These include a productivity analysis of your shop, sometimes
a line study that pinpoints bottlenecks in your production system,
and a new layout based on present and future needs. The best of
these programs helps you learn that buildings and equipment do
not repair cars, people do – and people perform their best work
in a well-designed work environment.

Before the Big Day

A poorly planned installation timetable can paralyze your business.
Once you’ve decided what to buy, you should carefully look at
ways to get the job done that allow you to maintain some semblance
of production. If you let your people in on what you’re planning
to do, you’ll find that their cooperation can greatly ease the
process.

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For a new downdraft booth, one to two weeks of installation time
from start to finish is not unusual; multiple booths and prep
stations may take longer. If your business is cyclical, plan this
construction when your work load is the lightest. Also, try to
schedule noninsurance work around your installation timetable.

Involve your paint-distributor salesperson and the paint-company
rep in your plans to upgrade. They can spend time with your painters
before your new booth is in place to prepare them for the new
products and possibly the new application equipment that are headed
their way.

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Local and EPA permits should be dealt with early in the process.
Don’t believe that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission
– failure to address permit requirements can be time consuming
and costly.

When meeting with booth reps, ask them about required paperwork.
Are they willing to help secure the necessary documentation?

You’ll also need to determine if you have sufficient gas and electrical
service on site to support the new equipment. A 1 million-BTU
furnace may require new gas service from the street all the way
to the paint department. Electrical service must accommodate exhaust
and intake fans, as well as lighting and controls. In addition,
most communities require the paint booth have fire suppression
– either dry chemical or a dedicated water-sprinkler system. These
details should be in place before the 46-foot trailer rolls
into your lot.

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If you’re replacing an older booth, you need to figure out where
you’re going to paint while it’s torn down. Once again, your employees
can make things happen if they know what’s going on. They have
the ability to work together and coordinate repair and refinishing
operations during the disruption. If you’re part of a strong local
association, maybe some nearby members would share their booths
after hours or between jobs. You might be pleasantly surprised
with the support your industry is capable of.

The Dirt on Upgrades

This new painting environment will require some adjustments for
your paint technicians. Even the world’s-best booth won’t automatically
produce perfect paint work; most booth and paint-industry people
agree that it will, however, eliminate approximately one-third
of the dirt that can be seen in a paint film.

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What about the other two-thirds? The vehicle shares half of the
remainder. Dirt can be tracked in on tires, in door and trunk
jambs, under the hood and behind moldings. When the airstream
from the spray gun hits that dirt, it becomes airborne and lands
on the wet paint. Careful attention to washing and prepping before
the vehicle gets into the booth can minimize – and even eliminate
– this as a problem. The most productive shops have a repeatable
system in place that’s faithfully followed on every car. These
shop owners know that it’s far easier to deal with dirt before
it shows up in the paint job.

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The final responsibility for one-third of the dirt rests with
the painter. Sanding dust, hair and clothing fibers can all become
an unwanted part of the paint work. Spray guns, hoses and breathing
systems are also potential hideouts for unwanted particles. Keeping
equipment operating-room clean and using quality painting garments
that are stored in a clean locker between uses will help eliminate
painter-contributed dirt.

Worker attitude and satisfaction are highest in a clean workplace,
so don’t be surprised if and when you upgrade you see an increase
in productivity – along with a corresponding decrease in mistakes
and rework. And, you won’t have to be embarrassed taking a customer
who’s been shopping for repairs back to your paint department.

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Don’t Be Afraid to Upgrade

Careful planning is the key to a successful upgrade. If you know
your business is ready, you know why you want to do it and you’ve
decided how to go about it with the fewest disruptions, an upgrade
can be a positive change that solidifies your place in the collision-repair
market.

Writer Michael Regan is president of The J.J.R. Company in Cleveland,
Ohio.

Utilize What You’ve Got

It’s possible that the best upgrade for your spraybooth isn’t
really an upgrade at all. Making changes to achieve peak utilization
can dramatically improve booth efficiency. If your booth is being
used to capacity during the day, consider adding a second shift
or a split shift to extend the booth’s hours of operation. In
other words, if your old booth can’t handle any more vehicles
during normal working hours and has become a bottleneck in your
shop, one alternative to replacing the booth with a more productive
one or adding a second booth would be to increase the booth’s
hours of productive time. This approach requires no additional
investment in equipment but does require hiring an additional
employee or extending or rescheduling an existing employee’s hours.

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The economics of adding a second booth probably can’t be justified
unless, one, you have the volume of work to support such an investment,
and two, you’re getting two shifts a day (16 hours) worth of productivity
out of your existing booth.

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