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Thursday, 03 July 2008 15:54

Doing the Right Thing: Planning, Training, and Executing a Multishop Waterborne Conversion

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We asked Rusty Rauls (left in photo), Vice President-COO of the Fix Auto corporate stores, and Todd Burdette (right in photo), Refinish Manager at Anaheim Fix Auto, what they learned in their multiple shop locations about handling the waterborne transition.

Rusty Rauls:
 “We’ve been Standox users for 10 years or so. As an operator, I feel that my biggest responsibility is to do the right thing. Our philosophy is ‘doing the right thing is still the right thing to do.’ So I know January 1, 2009 we’re no longer going to be able to spray a solvent-based basecoat and put clear over it and be compliant, so Standox and our jobbers sat down with me and we came up with a program. I have eight stores and, combined with a couple of our branded stores, that are spraying the same product and we have some other DuPont products in our group. We also have a painter’s group where the painters get together once a month, so we had to come up with a transitional period because I’m not going wait until the last minute. So what we had to decide who was going to participate.

First it was the jobber, which is Senik paint, and Standox’s reps, and me. I didn’t get any stores involved or any other managers or other owners. We said ‘you need to go to every one of our stores and do a complete on-site evaluation.’ What is that store going to need to be converted—to be able to spray waterborne? So they did that for every single store and that takes time. I did tell them when I saw the list that “we are not going to convert one single store until I know every piece of data that every store’s going to need, and a complete timeframe for every single facility.”  I wanted a calendar and a facility list of what needs to be done, whether it’s on my end or their end.

Then on top of that is my cost. What do I have to budget for? What are my resources? How can I get help with those resources? We did that for about three months. All in all it took between six to nine months to go through all the paper logistical stuff, which was facility inspections, the cost and ramifications who else needed to get involved? It actually worked out really well because it created an incentive, because of our size. To be able to go to our jobber, Senik, SATA, or other spray gun companies, a lot of different people that we already do business with. They were more than willing to step in and negotiate some deals with us. They were really good. The attitude throughout was What is the right thing to do? This has to be a win-win. I want to minimize expenses but we’re not holding people ransom, and argue for another three months either. If you’re fair with me, I’ll be fair with you. Each painter in our company is responsible for his own guns. We obtained guns upfront so every painter got a new gun.

The Paint Line

Regarding using Standox as a line, I think there’s a lot of commonalities with a lot of products out there, and then you get to the service. How is it represented? So even though it might look and feel the same, what is the product, what are the differences? We found it’s a really good product. You can’t ever know whether any product is perfect for you or not, but we know Standox works for us.


We allowed enough time in the schedule so we could plan our training. I knew that we didn’t want to go into this without the right training. I personally attended a class through DuPont, with some managers and the painters, and we said ‘we’re all going to learn about water today.’ We did that, and then went to yet another class. We also did a manager-only class. We offered additional classes for other employees, and every manager put the gun in their hand. We wanted them to know what it felt like. It does feel different. I wish we could have gone to water a long time ago. The product is much, much nicer, but it can be temperamental. You have to follow procedures. Once you learn what’s right and wrong, you’ll be fine. Solvent allowed us to make a lot of corrections and adjustments. You can’t do that with water. You have to be on your game. The bad news is that the learning curve is significant. A lot of people rant and rave on the loss of their material gross margins. Is it really material, or is it just that your learning curve is steeper than most?


Sprayable, dollar for dollar, it’s not a huge difference. Some people say it’s cheaper. It’s not. There is a real increase in the material cost. Some of the colors are more expensive, but that’s offset a bit because you spray less. When it’s all said and done, the product itself is going to cost a bit more, but if you’re using it correctly, you’re not going to spend a lot more money. Procedures Your temperature’s different, your viscosity has to be checked more often. Every tool they give you, you have to maximize. So if they say use this color analyzer, you use it. If they say put new batteries in it every week, you do it. It’s really that technical. At our painters roundtable meetings we make sure that everybody knows those tricks so as part of the network we share that with everyone. We had a couple of shops in our group that waited until a month ago to convert. They say “great, no problem” because they’ve been listening for over a year. So they have a lot of knowledge in their heads about water before they converted.

We did have some shops that struggled at first. In one store, everything went fine for six to eight weeks in a row where ‘everything is perfect,’ then, all of a sudden, they have problems in the last five days. So we said: Have you checked your viscosity on every car? “Every car? Well, no, I did in the morning and then at lunch.” Well, five weeks ago it was 67° and later it was 77° today he got to work it was 62° and you went home, it was 104°. Tell me the temperature didn’t change every 10minutes. People think that you want to take the moisture out of the air so the paint will dry quicker, but not always. We found out that we had to put swamp coolers in our three inland Empire stores. Because it’s so hot and dry, we had to get cooler air and moisture into our spray booths. It helps to dry right. It was drying so fast it was lumpy and the colors were weird. It wasn’t flowing and we had a light gray and a dark gray. Some of the stuff the technicians didn’t know. Standox went out and bought every single shop a magnetized thermometer. They said check your humidity and check your temperature on every single car.

Cold Turkey

We took all the solvent machines out as we converted. We did not leave any crutches. Your paint reps are not to make that decision for you. You have to do it yourself. We said that we want to be done by the middle of 2008, and we’ve been done for awhile now. We actually finished way ahead of schedule and so we don’t have to worry if we run out of a certain toner. They can’t sell any more product with a manufacturing date after July 1, so once you start running out of a certain toner you can’t even sell it, let alone spray it.

Capital investment

We had to buy quite a few new compressors. They are the largest single cost items we purchased. Compressors, and the high-end air movement systems, like JunAir. We had one store that’s been growing on one decent booth for a while, so we decided to put in a new paint booth, mixing room, and paint stations and spent some money to make that place state-of-the-art. We eventually went with Garmat for the booth. We know Garmats are quality and we put two Garmats in our Anaheim location 10 years ago. We’ve maintained them like clockwork. Maintenance is 99% of keeping a booth operating properly. Every payday we replace filters in the floors. Every six months we completely gut the booth. Take all the grates out, clean the floors, clean the grates, clean the walls, clean the stacks. We hire Filters Plus to do that. It’s not even an option. You have to do it.

Waste Management

For hazardous waste management, we had a lot of the recycle systems, but now we’re just using solvent gun washers for the clear, because you can’t recycle the clear with a hardener in it. So we signed up with PCL and brought in a lot of the new processes for water. So we’re running some more soft costs on that. Our painters are getting pretty smart in knowing what we can use standard water for. If we use a three-bucket system, we can take the dirty bucket, put it in the waste bucket, the middle bucket goes in the dirty one, and the first one goes to the second one and we start a fresh one. We offer some commission on materials for a majority of the painters. We really want to give them incentives to do the right thing. They figured out a better, easier way to do that stuff. Guess what the jobbers and the paint reps do? They go out to other stores and start to share that data. I’m okay with that. You put a program together, you introduce it, you coach it, and you start to implement it. Once implemented, you monitor it, and once you monitor and measure the results. You watch everything change. Set the stage and follow the plan, and if your plan doesn’t work, don’t panic. It’s a continuous improvement process, because you can be as lean as lean can be, but tomorrow’s a new day.

Todd Burdette:

We’re one of the first shops to switch over to waterborne on a large scale. We’ve always used Standox. We didn’t really have a bad switch over transition except for the colors sometimes. It’s not the colors themselves, as much as the formulas. The waterborne is cleaner and crisper color than the solvent was. When we did the transition, none of the shops were able to keep the solvent. All of our shops went straight to water because, if you can use the solvent machines, you will want to use the solvent. If you have a painter who has a choice between something he’s never done and something he’s always done, he’s always going to choose the one he’s familiar with. If he has one little problem, he’s going to go back.

I told a few body shops: “Guys, don’t wait till the last minute because if you do have a problem you can go back to the solvent right now and order a factory pack or a mix of it. And you can get through the day and still have the car done.”

But some of the bigger shops are waiting till the last minute and it’s not the way to do it. Some of them haven’t even looked at water yet, and this is about a month and a half ago. They’re going to be in trouble because there is a little bit of a transition. It wasn’t bad for me and most of the other FIX shops, the corporate stores. We meet every month and we talk about our problems and talk about the gross profit, and colors are an issue like right now. The heat was a big thing, because in some of the interior California areas, it’s really touchy because when it’s that hot it’s drying before it hits the car. And it’s really sparkly. We actually put some swamp coolers in some of our Ontario stores, North and South, and in Montclair they’re going to need it. Here in Anaheim we don’t need it.

Special Cooling Needs

I even built a cooling system for their air out there. I put 60 feet of 3/4” copper tubing in two barrels of cool water, so the air has to go through 60 feet of cold water there in Montclair. When it comes out of the dryer it goes through the tanks of water, which will cool it down about 10° and it doesn’t add any moisture. It also goes through a canister of desiccant beads and that also helps. In another shop I mounted copper pipe on the wall, in the shade, which helped cool the air down. Even some of these dryers don’t cool the air down enough in my opinion. You should have 50 feet of air line before you go to the booth to cool the air down. Even these dryers don’t cool the air down enough. With water it’s really temperamental. You don’t want it too warm because it will make the metallic stand up. Some of the colors with water have this sparkly effect, so if it’s standing up it looks like a bass boat. You’ve got to keep your pressure low. I’ve been a painter for 30 years so for me it’s like going back to the acrylic enamel days. That’s how you spray this water. There’s no pattern to your gun when you’re spraying. With the solvent it is a cross pattern etc. but with water there is no pattern. You’re just getting it on there and making it even. So it was fairly easy for us to transition because of our previous experience. If you sprayed the acrylic enamel back then, spray it like you did that. So we haven’t had any real problems.


Of course we’re using the same clear. We only switched the base. You’ve got to dry it through and through. If you put it on too wet, you’ve got to make sure the base is dry. We have put clear on thinking it’s dry and it wasn’t completely dry. Once you clear, if it’s still wet underneath it will never dry. You can see the areas where it’s wet and where it’s dry under the clear. Everybody I’ve talked to says they really like it. The color issues can be tough. Color stuff is the biggest issue but the actual painting process is easy. We would like the colors to be a little bit better.


We do a spray out on everything and we use a camera too. It takes a picture of the panel and it calculates a formula for our solid colors. The camera is so perfect on a color, like on a white. We used to have to blend all our whites. Whites are a little tough because there’s so many shades of white. We take a picture with the camera now and it’s just perfect. We don’t even need to do a spray out. The camera doesn’t pick up metallic sizes. But it can pick up the face color pretty good and you’ve got to look at the Sometimes it does call for a real sparkly metallic in some of these colors. So we have to think like chemists and start playing with colors to make sure that the metallics are the right size. You got to make sure you got the right ‘thickness’ on the water. Some people say you can spray it thin. No, you’ve got to spray it pretty thick—like 18 to 20 seconds on the spray. Again, the color issues can be tough but it is as easy to spray as anything else.


As far as costs go, we track that pretty carefully. Price-wise, material costs more. You would think, because the cans are smaller, instead of getting quarts you’re getting pints of a lot of the toners, but it covers a lot faster so really we’re not spending much more money than we did on solvent. In fact, everybody in the company’s GM is up—we track that for all our corporate stores—and we’re running pretty much the same. We’ve been tracking our gross margins on paint materials for three years as a group. Our gross margin is higher than the national average. The painters all meet and we talk about gross margin at every painters’ meeting and that really brought the stores up because now we’ve got 10 painters in a room with a couple of owners and managers. Everybody brought their gross margins up because everybody’s looking at each other’s gross margin. It’s not just you and your boss. It’s all the painters.


We converted two shops a month and the jobbers worked with us with us for a week in every shop. Our Irvine store got it first and we went over to look at their process to see how it was spraying before it came to our store. We were taking the classes with Standox before we even got the paint here. All of our painters went through the process. You have to be Standox certified for warranty purposes, and every two years we have to go through a week of training.


You can use older guns, but you’ve really got to get the chrome through and through guns because they will get electrolysis later on otherwise. We already had the sealed gun washers. We don’t disassemble the guns. The clean up is really easy on them. Some of the guns cost $800 now. Guns should last you 5 to 8 years with no problems. They’re rebuildable of course. They do wear out to a certain extent but not too bad.

Waste Stream

PCL has been doing our solvent for a long time. We have a 30-gallon drum of water which they pick up. We try not to have waste paint now. If we have a little left over, we’ll put it on the next car to get coverage, but we don’t really have waste paint. All you’re using is a few ounces of water to clean your guns then we throw them in the gun cleaner with a solvent and we clean them again. We don’t coagulate or floculate the water. They do it all for us. They pick up the drum from us and give us a new one.


The only time we really had a problem was out in Ontario, where it was 109° and until we put the swamp coolers in they struggled. We never had any problems during the winter. It was only in the summer, when the weather heated up, they noticed that the metallic was starting to get sparkly again. You’ve got to turn your pressure down to 18 lbs instead of 22–25 back in the solvent days because that makes the metallic laydown flatter. You want to run it down to a lower pressure because when you turn it up to 22 lbs, it’s drying the water as it comes out and the metallic looks like a bass boat.

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