Roll Into Profits

Dec 3, 2009

How many services are you currently providing your customers? If there’s room for another one, have you considered wheel restoration?

Wheel repair is a service that requires a little more substantial investment in equipment and training than some of the simpler reconditioning services, but it can provide some worthwhile profit potential. It’s not a widely known or offered service, manufacturers say.

“I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten bigger, sooner,” says Dean Keith, owner of Precision Coachworks, Simi Valley, Calif. “A few years ago one of my dealership clients asked me if I thought I could repair alloy wheels. I wasn’t currently offering the service, even though I had actually done it before, many years ago, when I owned a body shop. I knew a little about the process, but had never thought about offering this as part of my mobile service. As I began to make inquiries at my other clients, I realized, ‘Wow, I guess there’s interest in this.’ I did some research and found a few companies that were offering the service. Since I had already owned shops that were restoring vintage wheels, it didn’t take long to come up with a system to do on-site mobile wheel repair. It became a very lucrative part of my mobile business.”

It’s a process that takes anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the severity of the damage, and if the wheel is bent or simply gouged.

If you’re looking to round out your profits, check into wheel repair.

“It is a perfect match for those already providing aftermarket repairs, mobile detailing, PDR, windshield repair, and upholstery reconditioning,” says Jeff Smith of Kwicksilver Systems, Washington, Va.

Manufacturers of supplies and equipment are confident that the wheel repair business is going nowhere but up.

“Wheel repair and replacement is still at an early stage of development in an explosive industry,” says Smith. “The ratio of aluminum rims to steel grows at an ever-increasing rate. There is also a strong trend toward larger rims. At one time 16-inch rims were only available by special order. Now, 18- and 20-inch OEM rims are common. Aftermarket wheels are often 22 and 24 inches. These larger, softer aluminum rims are prone to curb rash, scrapes and gouges. Moreover, the emergence of low-profile tires makes these rims much more susceptible to bends from potholes and curbs. And because these rims are much more expensive now, the customer, whether wholesale or retail, will be favoring repair over replacement.”

Getting Started

Getting your wheel repair business off the ground is a little more time-intensive than, say, the carpet repair talked about elsewhere in this issue. It’s not too difficult, though, manufacturers say; once the tech has finished the training period he or she should be ready to go right to work.

“We do recommend taking a training session,” Keith says. “In the wheel repair industry there’s only about one out of every 10 mobile techs that are any good at it. They don’t want to pay for a class, so they’re just doing quick cover-ups at a dealer, and that’s very easy, but does not really give the results a trained professional can provide. With proper training, dealers and retail customers will pay much more due to the professional quality of the repair. I recommend picking up a damaged wheel and practicing with your new tools for a week, then presenting dealers with it. Painting is the most difficult. You can get a handle on it pretty quick, but some guys have no experience with automotive paint. With paint, you have to learn how to blend it right. Blending it without having the customer’s eye pick up on it is a bit of an art. It’s nothing to be scared of some guys are afraid it’s too much work or too tricky, but it’s not. This is why a professional training course is necessary. Once trained, you can provide high-quality wheel repairs in a short amount of time. This is lucrative for you and for your customer.”

With so many systems available, once you’ve chosen one you are interested in, manufacturers recommend attending the training they provide to become familiar with their system. Depending on the system that works best for you, there’s a number of cost alternatives to getting started with wheel repair.

Selling the Service

Wheel restoration is a service that appeals mostly to dealerships, but may have a wider range of appeal to retail customers as well.

“Anyone interested in the appearance of their vehicle will be a good candidate,” says Stephen Powers, owner of Rightlook.com, San Diego.

“[It’s for] anyone who takes pride in the appearance of their automobiles,” he adds. “Those who have high-end cars or those who purchase aftermarket wheels are the ones most interested in wheel repair.”

Who else should you look to when you begin offering wheel restoration services? The list is surprisingly long.

“Our typical customers include car dealers, body shops, tire dealers, service centers, car rental agencies, recyclers and junkyards, and retail customers,” says Smith.

It’s your dealership customers, however, who will boost your bottom line the most and make that new equipment start paying for itself.

“Dealers are always your best bet,” says Keith. “They really care about their reconditioning, and they’ll pay to get it done. Your customers are going to be higher-end car people or car dealers-there’s not a lot on the retail side. You can have a large retail base, and we advertise in our flyer, but dealers are the main network. If the car is broken, they have to fix it so if you’re already in any kind of repair business you can add this. It falls right with what you are already doing. Dealers don’t want to have a bumper guy, a dent guy and so on. They’re going to be more than happy to have one guy do it all. They don’t want to have a bunch of vendors coming on the lot.”

Getting the word out if you begin offering a new service such as wheel restoration isn’t too much harder than what you’re probably already doing. Manufacturers say that your existing advertising methods are your best bet to get rolling.

“It’s the same marketing and advertising that one would use to market other reconditioning services,” says Powers. “Because of the unique nature of wheel repair, once you get started, word of mouth and referral marketing is strong. For dealers, a demonstration to the decision-maker will get the ball rolling.”

Show-and-tell is definitely a good method to hook dealership accounts; a busy service manager may toss a flyer in the garbage, but can’t deny seeing the results of your repairs in person.

“I’ve always found it’s best to go door to door,” says Keith. “When you’re trying to advertise to dealers in mailers and magazines, they don’t do anything, and that’s not going to work for you. You have to go door to door and you have to figure you’ll get 20 nos to every yes. They’re getting hounded and they’re tired of it, so you’ve got to have your speech down, shake their hand, look them in the eye and have a demo ready. The point of wheel repair is you’re not supposed to see the work once it’s completed. This is easy if you’ve had proper training. Once they see the results, they will make the decision then. Since they are getting one free wheel, that’ll usually get you in the door.”

Also, even if they do not have it done at the auto dealer’s service department, the car dealer may be a good place to find retail customers-along with traditional avenues, including mailers and phone book advertising.

“Retail customers can be made aware of the service through the car dealers we are servicing,” says Smith. “Kwicksilver provides its franchisees with advertising brochures and flyers that the dealership can give to its customer base. Retail customers that come to the dealer for other service-related issues are advised of the wheel repair service and can set up an appointment at the dealer or be directed to a shop.

“Much of the retail business comes directly from referrals from car dealers, tire dealers, body shops, and detailers,” he adds. “A small Yellow Pages ad and mailers are also good ideas.”

When you are already performing several reconditioning services for a customer, wheel repair is one more way you can make their car, truck or SUV really shine as well as boost your business and pocket more profits.

“After a training course, and possibly five more days of practice at home to refine your new skills, you’re in business and can provide confident, professional work after that,” says Keith. “A confident wheel tech should be able to bring in $100 to $200 per hour with a 5 percent overhead, and to me that’s got to be one of the best business investments you can make.”