Reaping the Rewards of Switching to Waterborne Early
Forget that old cliché “change is in the air.” For Jeff Stantz, body shop manager at New Port Lincoln Mercury in New Port Richey, Fla., it was what was in the air that needed changing. Standing on the edge of a paint booth ramp one breezy day last summer, Stantz was assaulted by the smell of the solvent-based paint being sprayed on a Lincoln Town Car in the shop. “I never realized how much was exhausted into the air until I stood out there in the parking lot,” he says. “And I realized that if I could smell it after it went through the filters and exhaust system, Lord only knows what my paint tech was smelling [in the booth].”
That aha moment led Stantz to action: He began researching waterborne paint and attending local demos by paint companies, ultimately choosing Standox’s Standohyde paint. By September, his shop, which repairs roughly 35 to 50 vehicles a month and brings in $1.5 million in annual revenues, had made the switch.
At the time, no other shops in his area had done so—and there’s no law in Florida that will require shops to make the change any time soon—but Stantz knew the conversion would benefit his employees’ health, his community and his business. He was right. Today, his painters are converts to the technology, his paint costs are down 5 percent, his waste disposal has been cut in half, and the shop has become something of a waterborne model in its area. And Stantz is breathing easy.
The Conversion Process
Converting to waterborne paint is an investment—one that can run into six figures if you’re replacing multiple booths. But Stantz says the out-of-pocket costs for the body shop at New Port Lincoln Mercury were minimal. That’s because the shop had already purchased and installed a new booth the previous year. Furthermore, its paint supplier, Clearwater, Fla.–based Refinish Line Auto Paint Supplies, took back the shop’s solvent-based DuPont paint and credited the shop’s account for Standohyde paint, also in the DuPont family. That left just two paint guns (about $500 each) and handheld blowers (about $200 per booth) to buy. The total investment was less than $1,500.
–Jeff Stantz, body shop manager at New Port Lincoln Mercury
That new booth, purchased long before the decision to convert to waterborne paint was made, was another part of the reason Stantz made the switch. Stantz says he was told by the fire marshal that the shop exceeded the amount of liquid chemicals that the National Fire Protection Association allowed it to store in its mixing room. Because of the shop’s unique layout, both paint booths had access to the mixing room with no breezeway in between. Switching to water enabled them to comply with the allowable amount for the shop’s configuration.
Getting the shop’s two painters on board was relatively painless. While one was a bit apprehensive, he was willing to give it a try. And the other one, Stantz says, “thought it was a great concept and asked if he could spray it right away.”
That gung-ho paint tech, Jose Marty, has come to believe that the overall finish of waterborne paint is superior, and he considers waterborne “a whole lot easier to use.” In fact, Marty and his fellow paint tech have yet to go through Standox’s formal training school on using waterborne paint, but thanks to two days of less-formal training from their rep, they still went five months without having to redo a job. Marty appreciates the personal benefits of waterborne, too: “I feel better using it,” he admits. “There were many times where I thought about stopping [painting] because of the amount of fumes inside the mixing room.”
The Cons of Early Adoption
If New Port Lincoln Mercury’s transition to spraying waterborne paints sounds pretty seamless, that’s because it has been. But that’s not to say there weren’t a few challenges as well. For starters, given the timing of the implementation, the shop’s painters weren’t able to immediately attend Standox’s formal training school.
Stantz also realized that his shop wouldn’t be able to share paint with other local shops if it happened to run out. (To date, one other area shop has also switched to spraying waterborne paint, but is using a different brand.) Sharing paint isn’t a common scenario, but one that Stantz admits was in the back of his mind, given that he had turned to friendly competitors for help on that front on rare occasions.
Finally, the shop dealt with “lots of naysayers and negativity” from local competitors and even from a shop in California that was forced to make the transition, Stantz says. “We were hearing the horror stories—You’re going to have problems with it, the conversion is a nightmare,—and we found none of that was true.”
The Pros of Getting a Head Start
“I feel like we’re getting the last laugh,” Stantz says. That’s because being an early adopter to waterborne has had its advantages, too.
For starters, Stantz estimates he has reduced his paint costs by 5 percent. Despite the fact that waterborne paint can cost more (about $1 more per sprayable quart, says Refinish Line account manager Jim Hintz), Stantz says his shop is using less product “because [waterborne paint] has better coverage.” The shop has also cut both its volatile organic compound emissions and its solvent waste in half.
Stantz says cycle time has dropped too—about 5 percent, and he thinks it will continue to improve—because his painters are more productive with waterborne. “I feel like we’ve improved cycle time because they’re not spending as much time spraying,” he says. “Prior to [making the switch] they had to babysit the paint, and spray more coats. Now they’re able to multitask. They can go back and prep another car or mix their clear coats while they’re waiting for the base coat to flash off.”
The benefits of spraying waterborne go beyond measurable return on investment. “There’s a tremendous marketing advantage, because this is so environmentally friendly,” says Refinish Line’s Hintz.
Indeed, the body shop has received positive local press coverage because of the switch, as well as positive verbal feedback from customers and even from a neighboring business that appreciated the reduction in fumes.
Stantz also thinks using waterborne paint gives him an advantage with some customers. For those who care about eco-friendly business practices, being able to claim that your shop uses the latest in green paint technology can be a boon to business. Plus, certain car companies, like Hyundai, are using waterborne paint in their manufacturing plants. Thus, when those car owners take their vehicles to a shop that also sprays waterborne paint, the color-matches are seamless. “I’ve had customers with Hyundai vehicles say they feel more comfortable that we’re spraying waterborne paint because we’re duplicating the OEM finish,” Stantz says. “We feel like we have a little bit of an upper hand with some of these new cars.”
An Advocate for Waterborne
Stantz’s body shop has become something of a model shop for other Refinish Line customers and prospects who are curious about waterborne paint. “We have taken several body shop managers throughout the area to [the shop] to take a look and talk to the painters and to Jeff [Stantz] about the business side of it,” says Hintz. “I think they’re wanting to find out more, and [the opportunity to see a shop spraying waterborne paint and to talk directly to the manager and painters] opens their mind and eyes.” He continues, “I think Jeff took a tremendous stance in being one of the very first in the area to take on water. Now others in the area are looking to him.”
Stantz, for his part, is more than happy to serve as an example for his competitors. In fact, rather than hope that his shop retains its competitive advantage in spraying waterborne, he hopes that more shops in the area make the switch.
“I can’t make people change, but I want everyone to see [what we’re doing] and start spraying water,” he says. “If one starts following us, then that’s just better air quality that we’re contributing to. It would be a benefit to everyone living in our community.”