Opinions on the state of the paint and bodyshop supply market vary widely across Canada. Even jobbers within the same province can’t agree on the state of the market.
While there’s no one set opinion about market conditions, certain new products–particularly computerized paint matching systems–appear to have risen rapidly in importance as staples. This goes hand in hand with jobbers reporting that colour matching is one of their biggest challenges.
Of course, the state of the paint and bodyshop supply sector is also dependent on that great Canadian standby, the weather. Weird weather predominated this summer, making life even more erratic for jobbers trying to find growth in paint and bodyshop supplies.
Maritimes and Newfoundland
Computerized colour matching is in, while acrylic paint is out, according to Maritime jobbers.
“I’ve noticed a trend away from acrylic and towards synthetic enamel or basecoat,” states Kenton McNutt, president of Quality Auto Parts in Truro, Nova Scotia. “Acrylic is kind of a dying commodity. It’s nearly as expensive as basecoat.”
“People are putting additives in the enamel instead of going to acrylic,” McNutt continues, noting that urethane is becoming an increasingly popular option.
Colour matching is also catching on, says Vicki Russell, controller of Corner Brook Automotive in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.
She says that the company has had a system in place for a few months now, making it one of the early adopters in the region, and adds that the system has provided good results.
Russell is reluctant, however, to offer a prediction on the future of the paint and bodyshop supply sector in Newfoundland.
“That really depends on the weather,” she says, echoing a common refrain heard from other jobbers. “The weather has been so different here recently than in previous years, it’s hard to make predictions. The summer has been very, very hot. We’ve just started to get rain now. Recently, it’s just switched from being very hot to cooling down for fall.”
Jobbers in Quebec offer drastically different takes on the state of the paint and bodyshop supply sector.
Robert Blais, president of Les Pieces d’Autos Beauregard, in Granby, Quebec, says that the market was not for his business. Blais’ company got out of the paint and bodyshop supply business about two years ago, due to diminishing profits and vanishing accounts. As he recalls, being in the paint and bodyshop business entailed “investing a lot of money in inventory for a return that was not all that good.”
In contrast, Stephan Lavigne, president of Pieces d’Auto Lavigne, in Montreal, Que., is highly optimistic about the future.
Lavigne attributes the rise in business to “more aggressive selling” on the part of jobbers such as himself. Paint is one of the shop’s strongest sellers now.
“The market is going up for us right now,” reports Lavigne.
If the summer was overly hot in parts of the Maritimes, it was wet and cool in much of southern Ontario–good weather for selling paint, according to Eric Chan, president of Gard-X Automotive Refinish Supply in Toronto.
When asked about new products, Chan points to a couple of new primers in the paint category. “There’s a new primer for doing bumpers,” he says.
“This primer comes in an aerosol can, as opposed to requiring a spray gun. It’s very fast and much quicker and simpler to deal with.”
For his part, Jerry Svensson, branch manager of Ideal Supply Company’s Georgetown, Ont., branch, isn’t quite as sanguine when it comes to new products. In his experience, bodyshop customers tend to stick with a specific product that they are comfortable or familiar with. “This makes it hard to mainline new products.”
As a result, jobbers have to stock a wide range of products, both new and old, to satisfy bodyshop clientele, says Svensson.
This means keeping a large inventory on hand. As Svensson notes, bodyshop-related items often come in case lots. Purchasing and storing these case lots isn’t a problem for Svensson, who says his store can take advantage of warehouse space throughout the Ideal Supply chain.
Smaller, non-chain jobbers might find it more difficult to purchase and store vast quantities of stock to appease bodyshop clients, however.
“If we had to buy everything in case lots as an independent store, we’d be in trouble,” Svensson confesses.
In terms of other issues, Chan says there has been an increase in municipal inspections of bodyshops.
“I’ve noticed this past summer, the City of Toronto has been going to a lot of bodyshops, asking them for pollution control plans,” he states. Chan says bodyshop owners who are concerned with pollution should invest in solvent recyclers.
Chan agrees with many others in the autobody sector that the biggest technical challenge facing jobbers in the paint and bodyshop supply sector is colour matching.
Automobiles are increasingly being manufactured in esoteric colours, making it difficult to match paint. As a result, some Ontario jobbers, like their east coast counterparts, have come to depend on computerized assistance.
Marty Labonte, owner of Dack Auto in St. Catharines, Ont., says he’s been pleased with the performance of the system he has. His shop has experienced no problems stocking and selling the system.
Labonte doesn’t anticipate any big dips or rises in the Ontario paint and body supply store sector in the near future.
“I don’t see a lot of change,” he states.
Taking a considerably more negative point of view, Randy Jones, president of Bay Auto and Truck Parts in Barrie, Ont., says he has no plans to get into the PBE business.
Jones takes this position even though his grandfather and father worked in the paint and bodyshop field, and he himself was once a paint rep for PPG. The problem, he says, is a hyper-competitive local market.
“There’s six PBE specialists and two hard-part and paint jobbers in Barrie,” continues Jones. “That’s eight people in a town of 125,000 selling bodyshop supplies.
“With the level of competition, and PBE activity in this area, it wouldn’t be wise for me to enter the market,” he says.
Wade Wittke, president of Parts and Pieces in Medicine Hat, Alta., says his company stocks some new items and has taken to focusing some efforts on value-priced products, as well as an array of colour mixing options.
“You need someone knowledgeable to go and market it and sell it,” he states. “We’ve had salesmen trained, but it was a hard push. It was hard to justify when there’s quite a bit of other sales out there.”
Still, he says, paint and bodyshop supplies can be very lucrative. “I know our distribution centre in Calgary always calls it the number one part of their business. But it’s a hard market to break into.”
Regardless of the knowledge base of a jobber, the amount of business in a market is always dependent on the amount of body damage and the willingness of the car owner to have it repaired.
The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, which administers automotive insurance in the province, has reported that provincial claims for auto repair declined 14% year over the year, according to Ed Coates, owner of Lordco Auto Parts, which operates 80 stores in the province. Coates told Jobber News that there are a number of factors contributing to this.
“Some of the reasons why the market is shrinking, in my opinion, are that cars are smaller and the number of drivers who are driving impaired is also down considerably, so there are fewer accidents.”
Fuel prices are also having an effect, he says, but the change in the salvage value of vehicles has had a dramatic effect. Air bags may not be the only contributor to the cost of repair, but when you consider that a vehicle may have half a dozen or more, it does mean that many thousands of dollars can be spent to repair a car when there may be very little external structural or cosmetic damage.
“When there is a wreck, the ICBC will take it for salvage rather than fix the car. Because of that the average job is well under $5,000, so you ‘re not getting the $15,000 to $20,000 jobs that you once did.”
Lordco, which has focused on the market for many years, has built a staff of 18 outside sales people, a paint division manager, and an equipment division manager. Plus, the company employs four technical representatives who crisscross the province with fully equipped paint trailers in tow. These fully qualified painters don’t require a customer to load their paint on a mixer just for demonstration purposes. It has proven to be an effective strategy.
Coates agrees with many jobbers in that it is a market that requires focus, though he adds that Lordco has probably gone farther than any other traditional jobber.
“A lot of traditional jobbers sell paint, but they don’t have the infrastructure to compete with the paint distributors. We have paint available at every one of our stores, and we still sell it over the counter.” And as such, his company has seen growth, even in a shrinking market.
Jobbers across the country are certainly apprised of the challenges of a market that has seen some harder days of late–easy weather, insurance pressures, repair costs that put more vehicles into the salvage category, and smaller paint volumes as a result of improved coatings technology–but aside from the benefits of computerized colour matching and mixing, there doesn’t seem to be much agreement among Canadian jobbers about much of anything in the paint and bodyshop segment.
Of course, Canadians are notorious for harbouring vastly different opinions on all matters, so why should jobbers be any different?
TOOLS TO HANDLE COLOUR MATCHING CHALLENGE
Jobbers and the collision repair businesses they supply have the dubious honour of having to match increasingly complex paint finishes, from finishes that shift colour and those with microflakes that can be notoriously difficult to orient, to older paint colours whose fade characteristics can end up making a pre-pack repair unsatisfactory.
Spectrophotometer devices, such as the Prophet II system from PPG shown here, combine with a database of colour formulations to provide colour matching capabilities beyond those of the human eye.
If the vehicle’s colour matches with the paint formulation for the original, such systems will recommend that formulation. If the vehicle’s actual colour varies from the original standard, the system searches the downloaded database of more than 400,000 of the latest formulas and variances, adjusts the colour and automatically downloads the closest match to colour mixing computers.
This makes it possible to locate a colour match across car brands, such as finding a match for a faded Cadillac in the Hyundai catalogue.
While this is just one of the systems on the market, the benefits are obvious.
While it doesn’t remove entirely the need for a skilled painter, nor his understanding of colour technology and blending techniques, it can certainly minimize the number of serious and expensive faux pas.