There are more than 15.5 million trucks in operation in the United States, of which 2.2 million are tractor-trailers (truckinginfo.net). There are also nine million RVs on American roads. Add to that the large number of buses, construction equipment, emergency vehicles, municipal vehicles and other government vehicles, and you have a significant amount of potential commercial finishing work.
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How much? The US Department of Transportation now estimates that over 500,000 truck accidents occur each year. It’s no wonder that traditional “car refinishing” body shops are looking to expand into the commercial sector.
Examining this trend, BodyShop Business, in a study commissioned by Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes, recently conducted a nationwide survey of US body shops to see if they were tapping into the large heavy-duty truck market.
The survey was sent to readers of BodyShop Business who were either body shops or repair shops that also do bodywork. First, they were asked if their shop painted commercial vehicles or other heavy vehicles. Three out of four workshops said yes, they do work on utility vehicles.
Those who answered “yes” then answered a second question: “Does the repair/painting of trucks/fleets, commercial, municipal and/or agricultural, recreational vehicles or trailers account for at least 10% or more $100,000 of your shop’s annual sales? “About 56% of respondents said yes.
Although more than half of the respondents indicated that they derive more than $100,000 per year (or at least 10% of their business) from commercial work, the overall amount of their business in this market was markedly limited. The survey attempted to quantify the number of commercial vehicles they painted each month, and nearly two-thirds of respondents said they did less than 10 trucks or commercial vehicles per month.
Responses indicated that shops performed a wide variety of commercial work: 75% performed light work (grades 1-3); about 50% make large medium (classes 4-6), heavy-duty (classes 7-8) and recreational vehicles; and 33% doing trailers, municipal buses/trains and agriculture.
Nick Dowling, Product Manager, Commercial Finishes, Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes, notes that body shops that invest in equipment, training and service expansion can see their bottom line increase dramatically.
“The size of the overall commercial market is growing dramatically,” says Dowling. “While during the pandemic you’ve seen a decline in vehicle repair and refinishing, the increase in commercial work has been substantial. Remember all those fleets, delivery vans and municipal vehicles were all driving there And the importance to fleet customers of getting their vehicles back on the road – because they don’t make money when they’re sidelined – means they’re willing to pay the big price for quality repair work.
Types of work
What types of business activities are available for stores?
Repair and refinish business opportunities abound in all metropolitan, suburban and rural areas if you seek it:
- Delivery vehicles: traditional services like FedEx, UPS, DHL and now Amazon
- Food and drink vending machines: Coca Cola, Pepsi and Frito Lay
- Local repair services: heating/plumbing, landscaping and contractors
- Class 7, 8 highway semi-trailers
- Municipal buses and other government vehicles
- Emergencies and first responders: police, firefighters and ambulance
- RVs and trailers
- Agricultural material
- Taxis, carpooling and rental cars (generally lower margin, but high volume work).
find the job
Where do you find and/or obtain business deals?
“Having a highly visible location near business accounts is a huge benefit,” says Mark Kauffman, franchise owner and general manager of Maaco Collision Repair and Auto Painting in Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul district. “For example, we are close to the airport and very visible to many fleet managers. The location helps us pull a lot of business from those fleets that are already there to service airport/airline accounts, and we subsequently picked up a lot of business directly from the airport grounds ourselves. – things like luggage carts and other service equipment there.
“Another option is word of mouth, of course. Fleet managers are under tremendous pressure and need a shop that can meet their production turnaround needs. When they hear about our turnaround capabilities, we make a good impression. »
Greg Downer, managing director of Referral Collision in the Twin Cities, agrees with Kauffman. He says his business has grown exponentially through referrals, especially in the commercial sector.
“We called on the fleet maintenance managers, or they heard about us, because they had previously had bad refinishing experiences with other shops that made mistakes or took too long to repairs,” says Downer. “In this business, it’s the ultimate no-no. Trucks stuck in stores are not on the road to earn money. The absolute no. 1 rule in commercial finishing is productivity and turnaround time.
“So while we’ve seen declines in ‘traditional’ VR [vehicle refinish] business because of COVID, you have to realize that all of these trucks have to keep running all year round. Each community has loads of municipal vehicles, large fleets, and delivery trucks. We have two large Amazon fulfillment centers near us, FedEx and other delivery vehicles, and they all need to be serviced. Some of the other business activities like trailers and RVs – and there are a lot of them – are a bit more seasonal.
How is the commercial finish different?
Kauffman points out that commercial accounts offer much higher hourly rates than standard insurance jobs. The challenge is to adjust your teams and work patterns to provide superior turnover (remember, rule #1 is that commercial accounts always need their vehicles back on the road).
“One of the real keys is that most of these fleets and municipalities are all self-insured, so they’re direct customer-paid jobs,” says Downer. “You can deliver the price the customer expects, which often means better revenue. Plus, you can charge more for heavy repairs and finishes because there isn’t as much competition and because the customer expects (and needs) better production. This is viable, as these vehicles take up much more space in the workshop as well as the investment you have made in equipment, staff training and commercial repair expertise, and you can charge accordingly.
“Finally, from an administrative point of view, this work is lighter, especially for the supply of parts. It’s also not as rigid when doing normal collision repairs which have many stipulations that insurance companies often impose.
Recognizing the potential for heavy-duty work, Kauffman moved a dysfunctional 8,000 square foot center with outdated equipment and undertrained staff to a 15,000 square foot location with state-of-the-art equipment and more than $2 million. in annual sales.
“You need a big pit to do big repairs,” he says. “Our higher roof allowed us to scale the facility to accommodate increased commercial needs and eventually have the room and door height to add a truck stand and two dedicated truck lanes.”
Like Kauffman’s shop, Referral Collision also invested in a larger booth that’s 18 feet high, 65 feet long, and 14 feet wide with 16-foot-tall doors. This allows the workshop to manufacture vehicles like ProMasters, Transits, and Sprinters all the way to Box Trucks and Semi-Trailers.
Like all repair jobs, it always depends on your team and their abilities.
“It’s a bit of trial and error when you first start on these big vehicles – knowledge of fiberglass is a must – so it takes a bit of a learning curve for regular body techs in the beginning,” says Downer. “We have also invested in buying scissor lifts so that we can reach larger and longer areas that need to be painted, and it took a bit of time to figure that out.”
The finishes of commercial vehicles can be very different from those of light vehicles.
“Due to the durability of the finish required by commercial vehicles – their on-road mileage exceeds passenger vehicles by more than 10:1 in most cases – they require extremely tough topcoats,” says Bruce Hale , general manager of JayMac Body & Frame, a division of Young Trucks, in Canton, Ohio. “You’ll usually need to install an additional system – like a polyurethane coating – but it’s definitely worth it. We use Sherwin-Williams Genesis; it lays down very well for a polyurethane and is well worth it when it comes down. refinishing larger utility vehicles. You want a commercial finish that retains its gloss, has a strong film, is easy to mix and spray, and is fast and effective. Time is money. money, as you know, when it comes to this business.
Adds Dowling of Sherwin-Williams: “Utility vehicles need a finish that screams ‘durability’. The performance of a coating is paramount. Additionally, color matching in the survey appeared to be important. For many fleet customers, their livery is their brand – and while it’s imperative that they get their vehicles back into service as soon as possible, the color and look of their “rolling billboard” is often just as important. »
Kauffman uses a distinct Genesis commercial paint system alongside its other vehicle refinish paint line. “We installed this system because it applies quickly and is extremely durable. It also works because they have specs for most national fleets, which pretty much guarantees color matching.
A traditional body shop owner can achieve significant revenue increases and gain market share by tapping into the refinish business. It takes drive, ambition and a financial commitment to shop equipment and manpower. Shop floor processes also need to be looked at in a different way in terms of project priorities, contact times, production turnover, and administrative and insurance relationships.
With enough effort and persistence, many traditional body shops can reap the benefits of the ever-growing and profitable commercial refinish market.