Paint By Number
How many businesses do you work with that would put your balance due on hold while you weathered a slump? That’s exactly what Ohio Auto Kolor, a family-owned and operated paint distributor in Columbus, Ohio, did for Solomon and Rachelle Parsley, owners of International Collision Repair Center. “There were times when we first got started … that we were struggling to get work in and to get things paid when they stepped up, carried us and didn’t cut us off from our account,” says Solomon Parsley, who had a relationship with the paint company from an earlier business venture.
Today, with payments all squared away and business booming, Parsley acknowledges that the support—and flexibility—that Ohio Auto Kolor offered enabled his collision center, also in Columbus, to get over some initial hardships.
The paint jobber’s role may seem obvious, and on the surface it is: to provide paint and related equipment for body shops. But, as Parsley found, the company you work with can make or break your business. And while your neighborhood may not be overflowing with jobbers begging for your business, chances are you have at least a couple of options. So if your relationship with your current paint distributor leaves something to be desired, it may be time to paint your way to a greener bank account.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Obviously, your jobber is only as good as the paint and equipment they supply. At the same time, Parsley says just about every paint line has benefits and drawbacks, and that the paints on the market today are all about equal. “I wouldn’t say there’s one product that outshines another,” he says.
While you may not have to worry about what line your jobber carries, it may be wise to note how many lines they carry. Working with more manufacturers means a jobber has to keep up on more advances and the technical training that accompanies those advances. And with most paint companies offering an extensive selection, it is unlikely that a jobber who distributes only one line won’t have what you need.
Gary Bumgarner, president of Ohio Auto Kolor, distributes only PPG products and says he wouldn’t have it any other way. Working exclusively with PPG allows Bumgarner’s technicians and sales representatives to focus in and learn all the ins and outs of that company’s products.
A jobber who works closely with one manufacturer is also more likely to have a strong relationship with the company. That means your jobber will know the moment something new is available. As a shop owner, you no doubt have enough on your plate without having to constantly seek out the latest in new products and training—so sit back and let your jobber do the research. A good one will tell you when your shop might benefit from a new product on the market.
A LITTLE SOMETHING EXTRA
When Parsley was in the process of renewing his contract with Ohio Auto Kolor a few months ago, a number of other distributors approached him. The first thing he asked about? Training. That doesn’t surprise Bumgarner, who says both technical and managerial training are in high demand—and highly beneficial.
With the constant advances in paint technology, you want a jobber who offers on- and off-site training. It is important that your jobber has plenty of technicians available to come into your shop and show you how to work with new technology you acquire. But sometimes it makes more sense to go off-site, and that’s why Parsley has often sent his technicians and office staff to one of the many Ohio Auto Kolor facilities that have training centers.
He says the training not only improves his painters’ performance, but that trainings geared toward improving managerial skills and customer service also give his shop a little something extra. Offering managerial support isn’t necessarily a service you would think a jobber should supply, but a focus on the business side of collision repair is exactly where the industry is headed. When a jobber recognizes and keeps up with industry changes—and shares those with you—it gives your shop an edge.
MAKE IT PERSONAL
There’s no way Parsley could have expected a company without some personal knowledge of his business to allow him a grace period to pay his bills. But since Bumgarner knew Parsley well enough to have faith that his business would make it over its slump, he cut him a break.
“That’s the whole point of them being in here on a personal level. They know what we’re doing, what we’re trying to do,” Parsley says.
Keeping the faith paid off for Ohio Auto Kolor, too. They now have a steady client in International Collision. And the company’s close attention to whether or not the collision center does well hasn’t stopped just because Parsley paid his balance. He says a sales rep from Ohio Auto Kolor is in the shop once a week making sure things are running smoothly. “It goes a little deeper than just making a sale to us. They try to get to know each owner and manager on a personal level,” Parsley says.
BEWARE THE LOWEST BIDDER
Bumgarner can attest to the fact that the jobber’s focus has changed over the years. A decade ago, he says, winning accounts was all about who could offer the lowest price. But now jobbers are taking a different approach. They know they have to offer something more to entice clients. “What I look for is not so much a 10 percent or 5 percent discount, …but what they can offer to help us become a stronger company,” Parsley says.
In fact, Parsley cautions against being enticed by a company that makes too-good-to-be-true offers or promises excessively low prices. He says to make sure a company isn’t just over-promising to get their foot in the door. And keeping your business safe may require a little background check, so do your homework: Contact shop owners who have worked with the distributor you’re considering. Parsley says he wouldn’t change distributors unless he had talked to at least a half-dozen shops that do business with a potential new jobber.
WHAT GOES AROUND
In the end, your jobber should work hard to make sure your shop prospers. “[Paint jobbers] realize that new shops aren’t opening up everyday. A good distributor wants to do anything they can to help the shop be more successful so they’re repairing more cars,” Parsley says. A successful shop is going to burn through paint—and need to buy more—a whole lot quicker than a shop that hardly sees any action. So it’s in your jobber’s best interest to offer the products, training and support that will keep your painters manning their guns.