Have you ever seen those commercials on TV, the ones that say they can paint a car for less money than it costs you just for materials?
We’ve likely all seen them. That being said, you can probably relate to what I’m about to tell you.
A few years ago, I found myself trying to explain to a customer why my paint job estimate was hundreds of dollars more than the nationally advertised franchise shop across the street. During our discussion, I realized this customer didn’t have a clue as to what was included in my competitor’s estimate. After carefully explaining that my price included repairing all the dings and parking lot dents, as well as various rust spots, she went back to the other shop to get a more accurate estimate. After about an hour, she returned to say my price was still $100 more.
Again, I found myself explaining. I know the shop across the street uses bargain paint, usually acrylic enamel with no activator. I use all urethane finishes. So I again proceeded to tell this customer as simply as I could about the differences in the quality of the materials, as well as the fact that I have a downdraft spraybooth and that the guy across the street paints right in his shop.
But the more I tried to explain all the differences to this woman, the more I got the impression that she felt I trying to pull something over on her. She had that look like I was trying to sell her a bridge or some ocean-front property in Arizona. Hindsight being 20/20, if I’d informed her of all the differences in the repair I was doing compared to the repair of my competitor right from the start – instead of waiting for her to question me on it – I may have closed the job. That not being the case, she went to the shop across the street, and they painted her car. Because she was paying for the job out-of-pocket, she felt she saved about $100.
About a year later, the woman came back. She’d been in an accident and wanted an estimate for her insurance company. At first I didn’t recognize the car, but in the process of doing the estimate, I noticed the car had been painted before, so I asked her about it – and she reminded me of the whole situation.
After having my memory refreshed, I continued to carefully look over the car. The car wasn’t the same shade of blue as before, so I asked her if she knew what color they’d used because we’d need to match the paint. All she said was they gave her a choice of colors from a color chart. She then went on to say that she wasn’t happy with the other shop and that she should’ve had her car painted in my shop.
I completed her estimate, and she left.
Two weeks later, we had an appointment with her, and we fixed the car. During the repair process, we had a paint lifting problem, caused by uncatalyzed paint from her previous paint job. We ended up having to strip all the panels that needed repair work – at her expense. The insurance company refused to pay for the additional cost of stripping the panels because it was related to the previous repair.
To make matters worse, I couldn’t contact the other shop to find out the paint code they’d used because they were no longer in business. So, after a lot of trial and error, we finally had my jobber take a spectrographic picture. We were then able to attain a blendable match with a computer-generated formula.
By the time the vehicle owner picked up her car, she knew the money she thought she’d saved in the past had come back to haunt her – and her bank account. She told me that after she had her car painted the first time, she realized that there is a difference in the quality of a paint job and that the lowest price isn’t always the best price. If I, however, had been more informative during the initial estimate phase, she would’ve had more information to help her decide which repair shop she preferred.
I have since started a new procedure when doing estimates. I now make sure all the work required is explained, as well as the type of paint and the quality of the materials we use. When customers are paying out-of-pocket, I ask them what price range is within their budget and explain the different options available to them, if possible. I also have a network of previous customers who allow me to use them as references for future customers.
I’ve also learned that when you’re estimating an insurance job, the customer may not be as concerned with price (his deductible is the same regardless of your estimate). This is an opportunity for you to inform the customer about the repair you’ll do and why your estimate might be higher than the shop’s down the street.
Never assume the average customer can decipher your estimate. You need to explain the whole repair. Not only will the customer leave your office feeling good about your shop, but he’ll also remember that you explained the estimate to him – and that the other shops didn’t.
Uninformed customers won’t make good decisions. It’s time that we, as an industry, inform the public and explain all that’s required in a given repair. Granted, you’ll still run into people who want the cheapest price and don’t care about quality – but at least you can feel good knowing you did your best to educate them about the repair process. And if they still make the wrong choice after that, then they only have themselves to blame.
Writer Mike Muir manages a dealership shop in North Conway, N.H., and has been with the dealership since 1985. Back then, he had one bay in the back of the service department. Today, his shop is in a separate building from the rest of the dealership and specializes in collision repair – though Muir’s been known to restore classic cars for certain customers. In his spare time, Muir plays electric and acoustic guitar and writes music.