In search of a niche where the insurance industry isn’t involved and consumers pay out of pocket? Research shows that spray-on bedliners generate $110 million a year. There’s money to be made there. Could it be yours?
You know they’re out there. You see them in your shop all the time. You’re even fairly sure someone’s making pretty good money on them – but it’s not you. You send those jobs to the guy down the street. But why?
In 2002, automotive specialty equipment retail sales reached a total of $26.84 billion, up from $25.89 billion the previous year, according to the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA). Appearance accessories – like bedliners – account for 57.6 percent of the market. More specifically, in 2001, the spray-on bedliner segment of the accessories market generated more than $110 million, according to Frost and Sullivan, a marketing and consulting firm.
So what’s all this mean to you?
Potential profits, my friend.
Show Me the Money
Bob Adney, owner of Body Tek, in Merrillville and Valparaiso, Ind., says that on a $400 spray-on bedliner, his shop pays out $140 in “dead cost.”
The profit potential was attractive enough that Adney decided to add bedliners to his struggling repair business. Now, 10 years later, Adney does more bedliners and accessories than collision repair work. For Adney, no insurer involvement means less stress and more profit. Besides, collision repair happens because a customer needs a repair. Bedliners are something a customer wants.
“That makes for a better atmosphere all around,” Adney says.
Tom Gibney – owner of Mt. Airy Collision Center, in Mt. Airy, Md. – agrees: “I don’t have anybody telling me they’ll only pay ‘this much.’ Instead, I tell them how much they’ll pay.”
Shops are charging between $385 to $475 and up per job, depending on the size of the truck bed and the area of the country where they’re located. Most manufacturers say that, after the cost of materials is factored in, a shop can make a 50 percent profit or higher on each liner sprayed. A $400 bedliner job breaks down like this: Miscellaneous incidental costs (sandpaper, masking tape, paper, rags) come to about $25. Add this to the $140 in “dead cost,” and you get a total cost of $165. That means your profit on materials for each bedliner is going to be around $235. Labor should be no more than $35 (this is excellent work for painter’s helpers), yielding a gross profit of $200.
Add to that the opportunity with many of the systems to upsell the customer by adding a custom color option or a special effect, such as a glow-in-the-dark liner, and the price can go up another $200.
How long does a job take? You’ll invest less than three hours of shop labor per job, and two guys can turn out three or four of these jobs in an eight-hour day.
But, like any other life-altering decisions, before you jump head-first into the bedliner business, crunch the numbers for yourself.
“There’s a lot to include when you’re looking at the cost,” says Gibney, adding that he’s not making a 50 percent profit –Êit’s more like 25 to 30 percent. He says that the chemicals for his spray-on bedliner business are the biggest expense and that there’s a lot of waste when applying a liner.
“[My manufacturer] didn’t tell us that,” says Gibney. “And chemicals alone, figuring in shipping, cost about $25 a gallon.”
Best advice: Do your homework before you make any decisions.
Dealership Vs. Franchise
Once you’ve decided that you’d like to spray bedliners and determined that your area will support such business, you need to make yet another decision. Each spray-on linings dealer has its own way of doing things. Your business could be part of a franchise or part of a dealership.
What’s the difference?
With a franchise, you typically pay the company a percentage of your gross sales and often sign a contract for a specific time frame. Benefits of buying a franchise might include training, advertising expertise, startup assistance and bulk purchasing.
With a dealership-type setup, there’s typically a contract between you and the mother company, in which the dealer offers you a protected territory (a defined area in which no other dealerships will be) and, in exchange, you purchase a certain amount of chemicals from the parent company.
Each spray-on linings dealer has its own system that works for certain people – the key is to find the system that works best for you. Check around. Don’t spend your money until you have a firm grasp of what you’re spending your money on.
What’s it take to get started? It all depends on the bedliner system you choose. For the most part, however, it’s going to take what you already have. Your people already know how to spray. They also know how to prep. These are the two most important jobs in spraying a bedliner.
Sure, you’re going from paint to polyurethane, but anyone with paint experience can make a smooth transition, say the bedliner manufacturers. Some even say that you don’t need paint experience to do the job well.
But be careful. Gibney says he was told by his manufacturer that any guy off the street could spray a bedliner. Six off-the-streeters later, Gibney hired someone with painting experience and found his match.
“Shop people are the only people who are really qualified to do this. [The manufacturers] don’t tell you all of this,” he says. “They tell you that you can hire someone off the street for eight or nine bucks an hour to do this, and you’ll make all this profit. … You mess up a [bedliner], and you’ve got problems. It’s not like messing up a fender. That’s just paint on a car – you can re-do it. But if you mess up a [bedliner] job, you’ve got problems. You get one shot with this stuff.”
Gibney says that although someone off the street might not be able to spray bedliners, you can easily put a good painter’s helper or someone with more experience in the spraying position and he’ll do fine.
As for setup, some say a body shop has nearly everything needed to spray truck bedliners – a spray gun, a compressor, a spraybooth and people who are used to doing prep work.
Gibney says an add-on bedliner business is the perfect complement to collision repair. The prep work is the same for a car as for a truck bed so it wasn’t a big stretch to add it on to the business.
Ultimately, however, what equipment you need and how much space you need depends on which bedliner system you choose. For example, you can’t always use your spraybooth to spray bedliners. In some cases, you’ll need a special machine (part of the package when you sign on) and a special spray area with adequate exhaust in your shop for spraying bedliners.
Some systems also require a preparation area for sanding and masking. This is usually separate from the spray application area. The spray area requires a minimum of about 350 square feet (14 feet by 25 feet) to spray a full-size truck. Extra space will allow you to spray larger vehicles like motor homes, trailers, dump trucks, street sweepers and other commercial vehicles. Gibney says he dedicates about 1,500 square feet to spraying liners.
Depending on the system you choose, you can spend anywhere from $5,000 to $85,000 to get started in the bedliner business. The key is to research the system. Different packages include different things. Know what you’re getting – and not getting – for your money.
“I know I’ve told you some negative things here about [bedliners],” says Gibney. “Had [my manufacturer] been up front about everything right from the beginning, I probably would have been scared away from it. It was tough getting going. It’s no problem now, but it was tough.”
The Ups and Downs
According to Frost and Sullivan, the bedliner market is expected to see continued growth through at least 2004. And as the light truck market continues to be substantial (light truck sales exceeded passenger car sales in the United States in 2001 and 2002), there’s room in a lot of the country to grow a bedliner business.
Gibney is definitely in a truck town. He says 80 percent of the business for the town’s two auto dealerships is pickup trucks.
On the other hand, your area may already be saturated with bedliner businesses. Adney says he was the first to spray bedliners in his area. Ten years later, the market is far more crowded. Though he continues to spray bedliners, he’s added other accessories to his business to gain an edge.
Would bedliners be the edge you need?
Maybe. Maybe not. The fact is, we can’t give you all the answers in one article. It’s up to you to study your market, investigate the specifics of the systems out there and determine if the bedliner business is – or isn’t – for you.
Writer Cheryl McMullen is managing editor of BodyShop Business.
Photos courtesy of Rick Starbard, Rick’s Auto Collision, Inc., Revere, Mass.
1. Attractive Price (52 percent).
2. Recommended from truck dealer (33 percent).
3. Brand name (26 percent).
– Aftermarket Business Consumer Attitude Study, June 2003
59: Percentage of bedliner buyers who bought a bedliner as “preventive maintenance.”
50: Percentage who shopped around and compared bedliner prices.
63: Percentage who had their bedliners installed by a professional.
– Aftermarket Business Consumer Attitude Study, June 2003