Clear Opportunities

Dec 3, 2009

The great thing about the automotive reconditioning industry is that it provides technicians ample opportunities to diversify their services and have plenty of available profit centers.

Most Americans spend a lot of time in their car, and a lot of money buying it. Vehicles have become more of a family member than mere transportation. With vehicles that mean so much to them, drivers today take more pride than ever in their appearance.

Just like coming home to a dirty house, opening the door to a dirty, damaged car is disappointing at best and frustrating at worst-and so is staring every day at scratched paint with chips and dings from road debris.

Luckily for reconditioning techs, the customers who are most interested in detailing and reconditioning services are likely interested in protection for their trusty steed as well. So no matter what reconditioning services you’re already providing, you may find paint protection film a new mine for more work-and profits.

“The nice thing about PPF is that consumer awareness has increased,” says Rob Garlo, auto program sales manager for Bekaert, Largo, Fla. “Five years ago you’d spend a lot of time explaining what the product is and what it does. Now customers are asking, ‘Do you have that film that protects the front of my car?’ That’s good from a reconditioner’s perspective.

“They can take advantage of that need with a product to generate revenue for their business,” he adds. “They’re already offering services to protect a vehicle, so it fits right into that category-making it look good, keeping it looking good. Nothing’s more disheartening to a new car owner than that first scratch. Play on that fear, and tell them, ‘Before anything happens to your vehicle, let’s protect your car from damage.’ It fits within the realm they’re comfortable working in.”

What’s Available?

Manufacturers of paint protection film offer it in precut kits and bulk rolls. Most films vary from 6- to 12-mils thick and include pressure-sensitive adhesive and a UV coating to protect the film from yellowing in the sun. Rolls come in widths from 1/2-inch wide to 50 inches, depending on the manufacturer.

Precut kits are designed to fit most popular vehicle makes and models. The precut kits are a painless way to enter the field-requiring no cutting, they eliminate the possibility of costly mistakes on an expensive vehicle’s paint.

“For a lot of installers new to the business, it’s one thing to be good with their hands, but to be trimming film on paint on a $100,000 vehicle is not something we recommend,” says Brett Webster, product manager for Venture Tape, Rockland, Mass. “It’s easy to cut through the film and into paint. We always recommend when available to use a precut design. Those who started in the tint business are usually good with their hands, and good with a knife. That’s fine when they do a PPF install but when their business starts to grow and they bring new people in, the question is, ‘Do I want my new guy cutting on paint?’ The repercussions of cutting paint can be very expensive.”

However, bulk rolls of film have their place, too, for the tech who prefers to cut the film and install it freehand particularly on unusual or custom applications.

“The decision comes down to the personal preference of the installer and who they’re dealing with,” says Jeff Boettcher, market development manager for 3M, St. Paul, Minn. “A lot of people do not like free-cutting on a vehicle and prefer using a kit. All kits are standard, but you have more options with a freehand cut.”

For a reconditioner who finds paint protection film a lucrative service to offer, large plotters and cutting systems are available as well.

“Once they get their volume up and start to see profits, normally they transition to a cutting system,” says Garlo. “We offer a computer cutting system where you load the paint protection product in and download the vehicle’s specifics. It’s a more economical way to do it and allows for if a customer comes in and wants it that day. You don’t have to wait for the kit to be shipped to you-you can make it right on the spot and take care of the customer that day.”

Tech in Training

Installing paint protection film may come easily to a technician who is familiar with installing window tint or vinyl graphics, but most manufacturers still recommend training.

“If someone’s in the business of window tint or vinyl graphics installation, they can make that transition quicker than someone starting from scratch,” says Garlo. “They’re already used to using squeegees, soap and water. That’s why it’s such a natural fit for the auto reconditioning market. These guys are used to being hands-on and they pay attention to detail.”

Many available training programs cover not only the installation, but also other important aspects of working with PPF.

“We train people not only on film-which takes up the bulk of the three days of the school but we also teach how to cut film on a plotter, how to examine the files of all vehicles-that’s not as easy as a lot of people think,” says Webster. “With PPF you may have six different bumper designs, depending on the model, package, options and sensors. We teach them how to look up the pattern and cut without wasting film. There’s also a session with the sales reps who teach how to sell the product, because a lot of them don’t have a great deal of expertise cold-calling on dealerships.”

Marketing Matters

Manufacturers say selling paint protection film together with other services is a natural fit for the reconditioner. It’s easy to make the transition from making the vehicle look good to keeping the vehicle looking good.

“This is just a natural extension of that business in that they’re making the car look better,” says Boettcher. “PPF is a product that helps maintain the appearance of the vehicle.”

There are some less-than-subtle clues a customer may convey as to whether he or she may be interested in PPF.

“If a guy comes in with a Dodge Caravan and has three kids screaming in the back seat, he’s not a good candidate,” says Webster. “If a guy comes in with a Hummer and you can hear the bass because he has 16 speakers in the back, plus graphics and rims, then he’s the perfect customer. It’s a pretty even spread between male and female customers-we’ve seen just as many women wanting to protect their cars as men.”

Customers’ vehicles can provide other telltale signs.

“If a customer has already spent money on aftermarket accessories for car, that tells me they’re open to add-ons,” says Webster. “They don’t want the stock, standard Ford Taurus just like it was at the dealership. If a guy has tinted windows, added a satellite radio, nice rims or any of the little things that tell you the customer has discretionary income and is willing to spend it on his car, [he is a possible candidate for PPF]. Apart from that, also look at certain vehicle models. Some cars have certain buyers who are willing to spend more on aftermarket products. The Civic Si, Hummer and some of the smaller Asian vehicles-they like to trick them out, get them lowered, add pinstriping.”

Working with dealerships is one of the most successful ways to sell paint protection film, manufacturers say. They recommend beginning with a product demonstration, and utilizing manufacturers’ marketing materials such as point-of-purchase displays.

“What we’ve found is you go in, do your pitch and offer a free installation-that’s just the cost of doing business,” says Webster. “You hope the dealer is satisfied with the installation and how the vehicle looks. Then you have to find a way to make sure that the consumers are told the product is available. Most dealers have a menu of aftermarket items they pitch. Your goal is to try to get PPF higher up on that list, so you’re not number nine or 10.”

“The reconditioner will find that he can become effective very quickly if he strikes up relationships with a new car dealer,” says Garlo. “That has proven successful for our customers who work with car dealers and their aftermarket salesperson to promote the product on a dealer lot. Do a couple of cars in the showroom, put in a P.O.P. display with brochures. Some will use magnets that point to it on a vehicle and call attention to the front end that this vehicle is being protected with PPF. Start doing some of the showroom vehicles, and once they are sold, they will get replaced and the interest grows.”