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Sure, starting a spray-on bedliner business sounds like guaranteed money in your hands, but if you aren’t informed on the technical aspects, then you may soon find yourself empty-handed instead.
After reading this issue’s previous article, you now may be convinced that branching out into the spray-on bedliner business is an easy way to become a millionaire, all without having to sit across from Regis Philbin. So is saying "yes" to spray-on bedliners your final answer?
Before visions of 100-foot yachts and white mansions with Corinthian pillars dance in your head, remember that huge profits aren’t a guarantee. In fact, before you get started, you need to make some important decisions on the technical aspects of the bedliner business.
Do you know what type of spray-on bedliner you’ll specialize in? Do you know what kind of gun to use? What type of delivery system is best for your shop? What about chemicals, colors and stability? What sort of marketing support is best for you? And finally, what sort of characteristics should you look for in a mother company?
How you answer these questions will play a significant part in the profitability of your bedliner business. Of course, the cash won’t just roll in by itself (you don’t own an Internet company, after all), but by making the right choices for your shop, you could soon find those decisions paying off.
Getting Bedliners Out of Your System
Several different systems are out there, but the main four are do-it-yourself paint-types, do-it-yourself roll-ons, the hopper-gun style and polyurethane.
For a lot of shops, the choice of which system to use comes down to the hopper-gun style and the polyurethane. With the hopper-gun, you get a solvented product that’s pre-mixed. This mix goes into the hopper-gun, and the technician has about 45 minutes to spray it on before the mix turns solid in the gun and becomes unmanageable. For the first few minutes of spraying, the mix runs fluidly. During the middle portion of that 45 minutes, what comes out of the gun is less liquefied, but it still sets quickly because it doesn’t drip. However, during the last part of that 45 minutes, the spray becomes more viscous and it may be more difficult to get the substance to set correctly and evenly. Since the hopper-gun style has solvent in the product, it may leave an odor that smells like tar in the back of the truck for a few months after spraying.
The polyurethane system is the one most widely used. It’s also the most expensive but is relatively easy to apply. The polyurethane system has no solvent in the product, so it’s odorless after it’s applied to the truck bed. This is beneficial for shops in states where regulations restrict what you can spray. (California, I’m talking about you.) With polyurethanes, there are two basic systems: The heated, high-pressure system that’s sprayed at a 1:1 ratio of resin to isocyanate, and the warm, low-pressure system that’s sprayed at a 2:1 ratio.
What follows pertains mainly to polyurethane systems, since they’re the most prevalent systems — and because we have limited space.
When Do We Get the Guns?
When it comes to guns, collision repairers are generally most familiar with paint spray guns (unless they were once affiliated with the Dallas Cowboys. Then it’s the .38 special). Spray-on bedliner guns are not related at all to those paint guns, so using them may take some getting used to, which is why training can be valuable.
Your choice of gun depends on how you’d like to apply the spray-on coating. First, there’s the low-pressure gun, which has a static mixing tube. This tube is a foot-long piece of plastic at the end of the gun that causes the two chemicals — isocyanate and resin — to swirl vigorously and mix together as they’re ejected from the gun.
Low pressure here really is low pressure. If you expect to send Fred the technician flying into the wall when you fire the mix at him — which isn’t a good idea — you’ll be unsuccessful.
The mix comes out of the low-pressure gun almost like a controlled pour, with a firepower that runs at 40-60 psi, setting the chemicals up in 15 to 25 seconds. A couple of the low-pressure guns on the market have an on/off trigger mechanism, which means the sprayer can be shut off at the gun, specifically at the trigger. Most of the low-pressure guns with the static mixing tube have a combination of electronic switches not on the gun. Those switches are either on the machine or on a belt the operator wears.
All high-pressure guns have the on/off switch at the trigger, making it easier to quickly stop or start the flow. This is important because with high-pressure guns, the mix is coming out very fast. These hoses run at 1,400-1,700 psi, so you could probably knock Fred through a brick wall in this case, leaving a Fred-shaped opening on the side of your building (but please don’t do this, even if Fred asks you to).
The high-pressure guns don’t have the static mixing tube. Instead, the chemicals are mixed together right at the tip of the gun. Since the product is so hot and under so much pressure, it sets — meaning it goes from a liquid to a solid — very quickly, in about three to five seconds. Because the 1:1 ratio of chemicals in the high-pressure yield a product that’s very rigid, you’re limited on the texture — which resembles the surface of 80-grit sandpaper.
With the low-pressure guns, the substance flows before it sets, leaving a flat glossy surface. Then, if your customer desires, you can add a specific texture. Depending on which low-pressure gun you choose, liner texture can vary between raindrops and cottage cheese. However, the textures are more easily created with the guns that have the trigger switch, since you must periodically turn the system on and off to create the effect. Also, the guns without the trigger switch require you to check the chemical ratio each time you turn the gun on and off. Ratio is very important in all polyurethanes. If you’re not within a couple of percentage points of being right on the money, you’ll end up with goo.
How do you create the texture? What if your customer asks for the cottage cheese or raindrop effect? Do you give them a pint of Sam Breakstone’s and spray them with water? Maybe if they’ve pre-paid. Otherwise your best bet is to apply the product, shut off the gun and a minute later apply a flash coat — which yields a flat and smooth non-textured surface. Then you wait five minutes, change the atomization air and literally throw the droplets on the truck bed, resulting in the desired texture.
Getting Returns on Your Delivery System
UPS, Fed Ex and the U.S. Postal Service. Which of these delivery systems is right for you? Who cares? When it comes to spray-on bedliners, the delivery system you’re interested in is the one that mixes and forces the chemicals from the gun to the truck bed. UPS, Fed Ex and the U.S. Postal Service would never deliver the mix fast enough, no matter how much they charged.
All polyurethanes are a combination of two chemicals being pushed together, so within all these systems are two pumps. It doesn’t matter if you’re using low-pressure or high-pressure guns. Each pump pushes their respective ingredient — resin and isocyanate — toward the other, causing the two to mix.
Delivery systems vary in their technology. The simpler ones have two belt-driven pumps. Some of the more advanced systems have microprocessors built in at many points along the hydraulic system route of the chemicals. These microprocessors enable the system to shut itself down the moment it detects a problem in the delivery componentry. Otherwise, a delivery system that goofs up could leave you with a truck bed of goo, which will take Fred hours to clean.
Chemicals and Colors to Consider
Most mother companies you do business with will have you enter into a contractual arrangement. In other words, you promise to buy their proprietary chemicals and, in return, they give you a particular territory in which to conduct your bedliner business.
There are a couple of things you may want to think about when it comes to chemicals. For instance, even though their bases are similar, particular additives make them different.
First, look at isocyanate. With all polyurethanes, isocyanate is one of the two main ingredients. There are many grades of isocyanate, and the higher grades are derived from what’s called pure, modified di-isocyanate. If you were to compare this to grades of gasoline, the pure, modified di-isocyanate would be like the more expensive 93-octane fuel. The higher grades are clearer and more expensive, while the lower grade isocyanates have a yellowish cast to them, making spraying colors more difficult.
The other component in polyurethanes is resin. The base of resin is polyol. However, numerous additives go into polyol, and each company has its own blend of additives, which offer different benefits and characteristics to the bedliner. In some cases, there can be as many as a dozen additives, and each combination can yield a different result. Make sure you know what you’re getting from your mother company.
You also may want to consider a UV stabilizer as an additive. All polyurethanes have a tendency to be degraded by ultraviolet rays from the sun — or if people insist on parking their trucks in a tanning bed. The stabilizer acts like a sunscreen. However, it can be pretty darn expensive. For example, adding a quart of the UV stabilizer sunscreen to a 55-gallon drum of chemicals adds 10 percent to the total cost of the drum. Is this too expensive? That’s for you to decide.
Suppose you don’t add the stabilizer, and the customer’s bedliner fades in two years. He may not be too happy. Now suppose that customer is in a wreck. Will he come to your shop for repairs, or will the effects of his faded bedliner reflect, in his eyes, on the quality of your collision work? If you choose to add the stabilizer, then you can pretend to be a tobacco CEO. Upcharge customers for the additive, shifting the added costs to them.
Another upcharge could be colors. A few years ago, only 15-20 percent of spray-on bedliner customers wanted a color besides black. Now that number is closer to 50 percent. And why not? With the sales of pick-up trucks higher than Robert Downey Jr. at the Viper Room, you can expect their owners to be willing to spend more on their bedliners. If you want to have colors as an option for your customers, you should ask potential mother companies how easy it is to manufacture color with their product, what colors are offered and how stable those colors are.
Are You My Mother?
So you have your mother company all picked out. It’s a big decision. Are you sure that’s who you want to get into bedliners with? Sure, they may offer a variety of products at a great deal, but do you know if they’ll be there when you need them? You’re not Jerry Hall, and the mother company certainly shouldn’t act like Mick Jaggar. If that’s the case, you’ll get no satisfaction.
Suppose you’re getting ready to spray a truck. The truck is sanded and prepped. You pull the trigger on the gun and … nothing. Not even a cloth that unfurls and says "BANG." You have a real problem now, don’t you? The customer is coming back in a few hours to pick up his truck, and unless he has a really bad memory, you’ll never be able to fool him into thinking he got a new spray-on bedliner. Instead, you better have someone readily available to call. That’s when you cry to your mother company.
Your mother company should offer technical and marketing support. Would you like them on call 15 hours a day? Maybe it should be 24 hours a day. How fast is their response time? On the marketing side, does the mother company do a significant amount of advertising to bring business into your doors? A lot of success comes from what the mother company can teach you. Will they teach you how to train new employees on the technical aspects of spray-on bedlining?
If you ask prospective mother companies these questions, chances are they’ll tell you just what you want to hear. But you need to make sure it’s the truth. Call several dealers within the company you’re looking at and ask them their thoughts. Look them up in the phone book or on the Internet. In fact, you may want to talk to a dealer the mother company didn’t recommend. You’ll probably get straight answers from them.
Spray-on bedliners can certainly enhance your cash flow, but make sure you know all the angles before getting into bedlining. If not, you could end up rolling in goo instead of money.
Writer Mike Lawrence is associate editor of BodyShop Business.