Paint a Pretty Picture

Dec 3, 2009

Automotive aftermarket customers rank near the top of the list when it comes to people concerned about the appearance of their vehicles. So, why not help them eliminate unsightly paint chips, key scratches and bumper scuffs without the hassle of having a body shop repair?

At a minimum, you can offer a durable system that will easily camouflage paint chips and scratches. Or, with paint technology constantly improving, it’s also possible to invest in more complex systems that rival a body shop look and finish, but without the need to spray large panels of the vehicle or deal with the environmental hazards of automotive paint.

Minor exterior blemish repair is attractive to a wide variety of restyling clients, from car dealerships looking to spruce up trade-ins, to lease customers ready to turn in their vehicles, to off-the-street drivers who want to keep their rides looking like new.

Suppliers who offer these types of products and systems say that with a little training and experience, aftermarket shops can easily add paint repair to their list of services, giving them another benefit to offer new and existing customers.

A Hit with Dealerships

John Shoemaker of paint repair system company Recon Products Corp., Orange City, Fla., says a great place to start looking for this type of work is at car dealerships.

“If you already have accounts you’re servicing, you’ve got it made,” he says. “We’re finding a lot of dealers are looking for people who can do more and more different types of work. That way they have fewer vendors to deal with and they write fewer checks at the end of each month.”

On a retail level, Shoemaker says chip repair is very popular with people who are having leased vehicles detailed before turning them in at the end of the lease. He suggests buying mailing lists of people whose leases are about to expire and contacting them directly, either by phone or direct mail.

Chris Thurber of Project Paint, Topeka, Kan., notes his company has sold systems directly to dealerships, showing that this type of service is gaining acceptance from wholesale customers.

“Another of the big markets is car washes and auto salons,” he adds. “Probably 90 percent of their customers have this type of damage to their vehicles. The one-stop-shop isn’t just for dealerships.”

Todd Sudeck of Newport Beach, Calif.-based The Ding King agrees that paint repair is becoming very popular with dealerships and auto body shops, among others. He adds that restylers have a golden opportunity to market it to their existing customers without a lot of added costs or hassle.

“It’s simply a matter of explaining that while you have the person’s vehicle, this can be a good time to utilize this service,” he says. “You can explain the benefits of the product and the service over a traditional body shop, and let them know it will take only an hour or so and cost around $150-$200. It’s easy to show there’s a considerable time-savings element to this, as well as a cost savings.”

Ding King is also among the companies that offer marketing support to customers as well. Sudeck says thatincludes direct mail programs and websites, which Ding King designs and hosts.

Systematic Approach

There is a variety of paint repair products and systems available to fill any market niche.

Shoemaker says Recon Products offers a package of 130 pre-matched automotive colors, as well as cleaner, thinner and paint remover, for customers looking to simply fill paint scratches.

A 15-minute training video is also included that offers a basic look at the process, which involves cleaning the surrounding surface of dirt and wax, applying the paint to the chip, then wiping off the excess.

“The main thing is that the chips you’re going to repair have to be deep enough,” Shoemaker says. “They have to have a lip, because when you go back over the surface with the paint remover, if the chip isn’t deep enough, it will remove that, too.”

Despite having 130 colors to choose from, Shoemaker says there is some skill involved in color-matching with the system. However, because so little paint is used, being dead-on accurate isn’t quite as critical as it is when spraying a surface.

“If you’re going to be off on a dark car, go a little darker, and if it’s a light car, go a little lighter,” he suggests. “This just fools the eye so it’s not as obvious. If you stand back two or three feet, you can’t see it.”

While Recon Products focuses solely on chip repair, other systems, including those offered by Project Paint and Ding King, are designed to help customers fix damage that is more prominent as well, including bumper scuffs and key scratches.

Thurber explains that Project Paint’s system utilizes an ultraviolet cure, which enables users to do a body shop-quality repair in less than 45 minutes.

“We start with a UV filler that cures in 90 seconds with less than 1 percent shrinkage,” he says. “Then, we spray a little color over the top. Our pigments utilize nanotechnology to spot-blend a small area of damage. We mix in some UV clear, cure it and polish it.”

While speed is one benefit of the product, Thurber says the other is that it doesn’t utilize isocyanates or other harsh chemicals typically found in body shops. That’s a key reason why dealerships are using this type of touch-up technology as an alternative to maintaining their own body shop facilities, he says.

The Ding King system is another example of advanced paint technology, Sudeck notes.

“There are chemicals in the system that allow our clients to spray a 4- or 5-inch area of the bumper where the damage is located,” he explains. “There are special blending techniques and a blending agent with a special chemical formulation to allow for small damage repairs.”

With both Project Paint and Ding King, color-matching is a critical part of the process.

 

Project Paint offers a color database that’s available on a pocket PC, and Ding King provides a laptop computer with a proprietary DVD that allows users to retrieve the color codes for a given vehicle year, make and model, and gives mixing instructions to create the correct color match.

Training is Key

As with any new skill or service, hands-on training is probably the best way to learn to perform paint repairs successfully and efficiently.

Along with the included training video, Recon Products’ Shoemaker says he is available for consultations over the phone. He also recommends users of his company’s system take a weeklong training session to become proficient before heading out on their own.

“As with anything, if you want to be good at it, you need training,” he says. “Plus, while they’re training you, they’ll go out and set up accounts for you with car dealers.”

Sudeck and Thurber agree that proper education is a critical component of their systems as well, and note that once a tech has gone through the proper training, it’s a job that mainly involves following set procedures.

“Basically it’s a repetitive situation,” says Thurber. “We’ve had people take from three days to 10 days to become fairly proficient, and we train people up to the point of success.”

Sudeck says Ding King offers different levels of training at its three state-certified schools in California, Missouri and Florida.

“We have different levels of automotive paint repair systems that are capable of doing just paint chips and scratches, all the way to full-blown mobile automotive paint repair for scuffed bumpers, rust and deep scratches, as well as light scratches and paint chips,” he says.

The company provides weeklong one- or two-person classes on its techniques.

“One of the things we educate our customers on is what’s repairable and what’s not repairable,” he notes. “We also focus on troubleshooting, and we cover ways to eliminate problems that customers may run into.”

Both Ding King and Project Paint also offer free technical support.

But, regardless of what level of paint touch-up is of interest, all these companies agree it’s a service that fits in well with restyling work. After all, your customers are already naturally concerned with how their vehicles look.