Going Green in the Indy Shop
Building a new location is a big job for any shop owner. But Jim Thompson believes if you’re going to the effort to do a big job, it ought to be a job done right. That meant finding the right location, making the shop environmentally friendly—and convincing the powers-that-be in a small, Midwestern town that a green body shop was a worthwhile addition to the community.
Mount Vernon, Iowa, had about 4,000 souls plus another 1,200 students at Cornell College, but not a single body shop. “It’s a small college town that’s very environmentally friendly,” Thompson says. “I had to fight tooth and nail to get the shop in there, because they had a [negative] preconception about body shops.”
The city of Mount Vernon ultimately gave Thompson the green light to go ahead with the creation of Lynch Collision Center. It helped that Thompson’s other shop, Bob Mickey Collision Center, 25 miles away in Cedar Rapids, was known to many on the city council as a clean, well-lit shop. It also helped that Thompson planned to make the shop green from the ground up, with waterborne paint, high-efficiency lights and other technologies designed to reduce his shop’s energy and emissions footprint.
The Old, The New
Lynch Collision Center, so named because it’s associated with Lynch Ford in Mount Vernon, was completed in June 2009. At 10,000 square feet, Lynch is about half the size of Bob Mickey. The shop hums with four techs (two body men, a painter and a general manager), a frame machine, laser measurement system and a paint booth. Its best feature for the cold Iowa winters: an estimating bay with space for two vehicles. “That’s a great sales tool because we can go over the car with the customer out of the cold, and it gives us more time to sell the job,” Thompson says.
By comparison, Bob Mickey has three to four times the repair personnel and about twice as much key equipment. Bob Mickey sees about $4 million annually in revenue; Lynch, in its first full year of operation, exceeded $1 million in sales, and Thompson expects it to see about $1.2 million annually.
Thompson designed Lynch himself. Having toured many waterborne shops in California and Canada, he knew that’s how he’d paint at Lynch. He incorporated other green technologies as well, installing lighting that requires half the energy to produce twice the light, and an air compressor that recycles air from the air tools.
The most unexpected benefits from going green have come from an unlikely source—the air compressor. Like most shops, Lynch uses compressed-air tools, but the compressor is set up to recycle that compressed air once the tool has used it. One line supplies air to the tool, and a second routes the air back to the compressor. Setting it up required more cash initially—Thompson spent about twice as much on lines as he would for an ordinary compressor—but the investment returns three benefits:
1. With recycled air, the compressor runs as much as 40 percent less often.
2. That 40 percent reduction saves energy at a rate that will pay for the recycled air set-up in four-and-a-half to five years.
3. Best of all, because the system is closed, the recycling eliminates 90 percent of the noise.
“We didn’t have to buy all new air tools, and we’ve found it isn’t too cumbersome to deal with the extra lines,” Thompson says. “Plus, we don’t have that noise hammering at us all day long, and we don’t have to use ear protection anymore.”
Trent Thompson, operations manager at Bob Mickey and the owner’s son, outlines the case for Lynch’s T5 lighting: Those lights were installed at the original shop in 2006, and they paid for themselves in two-and-a-half years. “The lights cost $23,275, but with tax incentives and our local energy company’s rebate, we spent only $14,855,” says Thompson. “The estimated electricity savings were calculated at $5,700 per year.”
Although T5 lighting is more expensive than halogen or other conventional lighting, the wattage doesn’t drop over time. They put out twice the light at about half the cost, and the local energy company, Iowa Alliant Energy, offered rebates and tax credits for businesses that installed them. “Between the rebate and the tax credit, it saved me about 35 percent of the cost to install the lights,” Thompson says.
What Waterborne’s Worth
Installing waterborne from the start saved Thompson the headaches of wondering whether his shop complied with local, state and national air quality standards—and it benefited his original shop. Working out the bugs at Lynch, he says, is like a test run for converting Bob Mickey to waterborne as well. Starting with waterborne also helped Thompson avoid the rush to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s 6H Rule, which mandates lower emissions, by 2011 (see “The EPA is Coming to Town” in the April 2010 issue, at fenderbender.com). Because the waterborne paint requires some training, he didn’t want to wait until closer to the deadline, when training providers might be inundated.
Waterborne helped improve production time at Lynch. Thompson sent an experienced Bob Mickey painter to get certified in spraying waterborne, then moved him to Lynch. “He was used to shooting solvent-based, but I could never get him to go back to it now,” Thompson says. That painter’s production time at Lynch is 10 percent better than it was at Bob Mickey. That’s in part because he’s now the only painter in a smaller shop, and in part because the waterborne paint covers better than solvent-based, explains Randy Glandorf, Sherwin-Williams rep for both Bob Mickey and Lynch. A third factor: Waterborne paint doesn’t require the heat that solvent-based does to dry.
The Lynch paint booth dries each job with ceiling fans, which consume less electricity than air thrusters or other options that would create too much dust. Because the paint doesn’t have to be “baked” at up to 140 degrees, as many solvent-based paints do, Thompson saves a ton on natural gas. “I haven’t done a calculation on what I’m saving yet, but I don’t need to. I look at my fuel bills and I know I’m saving a lot,” he says.
Both Jim Thompson and his son Trent are big fans of going green, and it’s in their five-year plan to retrofit Bob Mickey so that it’s every bit as environmentally friendly as Lynch.
That means installing fans in the paint booths, getting chrome-plated paint guns to resist the corrosion that can be a problem with waterborne paint, training the paint techs in waterborne application and installing the extra lines on the compressor. Altogether, Thompson estimates that it would take less than $20,000 to set Bob Mickey up for waterborne, which he hopes to do in the next 12 months. He isn’t sure what the compressor would cost, since it’s a more long-term investment.
The Thompsons are first and foremost business-minded, and as Trent explains, they want to see more improvement in the economic environment before taking another green leap. “Everybody’s a little gun-shy about making drastic changes or opening up the pocketbook,” he says about the cash outlay that would be required for the larger Bob Mickey location. “We want to make sure our bases are covered before we pull the trigger.”
The senior Thompson says that, so far, there haven’t been any drawbacks from making Lynch green, so it seems just a matter of time before Bob Mickey is, too. At Lynch, the eco-savvy approach has a selling point with his customer base. “Will it fill your shop up? No, but it saves money and it will definitely get you some extra business every year,” he says. “It’s also the right thing to do, and I’m looking out for my grandkids.”