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Monday
Feb012016

The Importance of a Paint Facility

One of the largest outlays in setting up a framebuilding business is a paint facility, by that I mean to include a totaly enclosed, dust free paint booth.

It is a large expense to set up and maintain, because it takes up a lot of space. It therefore it prohibits one from working out of their home, or some tiny hole-in-the wall shop. In most places you can’t spray paint in a residential neighborhood anyway. You have to own or rent space in an industrial area.

Rent is a huge overhead when running any business. It is the reason I eventually went out of business in 1993 when the demand for road frames dropped to a level where I could not generate enough income to pay the rent on a 1500 sq. ft. industrial unit.

I could have maybe squeezed into a 1000 ft. space, but the rent would not have been that much lower, plus I would have had the expense of moving, costing money I didn’t have.

My paint booth was totally enclosed, it measured 20 x 20 feet. That is 400 sq. ft. and with at least a 3 foot space required all around it, you can maybe appreciate that any space under 1500 sq. ft. for the rest of the shop would be a squeeze.

At one end of the booth was a large fan that drew the air from inside the booth and exhausted it through a 2 ft. diameter vent through the roof. The air was drawn through replaceable filters that caught the paint over-spray.

 At the opposite end of the booth were air intake filters. These were “Sticky” so they caught dust and prevented it from entering the booth. The booth had a partition inside, one side to hang frames being painted, the other side was where the painting took place.

The partition prevented frames waiting and those just pained, and therefore still wet, from getting over-spray on them. I also had an electric paint curing oven that baked the paint to 250 degrees. This was another essential piece of equipment, as It allowed paint to be sanded for the next coat in an hour or so, rather than wait a day or more for it to air dry.

Owning a similar facility with a paint booth, is also the reason why I never started up again years later when the demand for road frames picked up. My shop cost $30,000 to set up in 1983, today that figure would be closer to $100,000. Too large an initial outlay, with no guarantee I would ever see a return on the investment.

Is it essential to have a paint facility? I am often asked. The answer is no, but it is for me. Many framebuilders build frames and ship them somewhere else to be painted. But the paint job is more than half the profit in building a frame.

To me, the paint is as important as the building of the frame, and the two go hand in hand. The paint is what the customer sees, it is too significant to be left in the hands of some outside entity. I would never build frames and not have total control over painting them.

There is the cost of shipping the frames both to and from the painter, and there is also the time factor. When you have your own facility you can handle a rush job easily. Mistakes and flaws can be fixed immediately, and even a complete strip and re-paint is not the end of the world.

The one drawback is, you have to produce enough frames to warrant the expense of owning your own paint facility. One or two frames a week won’t cut it. Initially I painted myself, but at the height of my production in the mid-1980s, it became necessary to train and employ a full time painter. I produced as many as 30 frames a month. It was a good and profitable business.

When the demand dropped below 20 frames a month, I could lay off employees, but I still had the rent and overhead on the fairly large industrial space. Times have changed. In the eighties if you wanted a top of the line bicycle frame, it was hand brazed, lugged steel.

Those days are gone forever, and it is the reason why builders like Ben Serotta, myself and others are no longer building frames. And really I do not need to build anymore frames, there are thousands of them still out there. They come up for sale ever week on eBay and Craig’s List, many of them hardly used and still in mint condition.

Even on frames that have had a lot of use, the paint has held up well, which speaks volumes for my always having my own paint facility.

 

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Reader Comments (10)

How much of that $100,000 would be for a paint facility? I gather the business of painting new frames and repainting old frames doesn't pay enough to cover upfront costs and rents while offering a small profit?

It sounds like commoditization has once again trumped quality.

February 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Jack,
Thank you, I learned a new word today: “Commoditization” (Look it up.) That one word sums up exactly what has happened to the framebuilding business. The $100,000 figure was just a guess off the top of my head. Looking at the cost of Paint Booths, an automotive booth cost less than $20,000 and although one for painting bikes will be smaller, expect to pay about the same because it would have to be customized somewhat.

Then there is the cost of installation. It is the local government restrictions that will kill you, both environmental, and from a fire safety angle. Especially when you are combining welding/brazing with the highly flammable painting process. I had to install double sheet rock to the walls of the whole building, and build a wall between the brazing and paint areas.

It might even be cheaper to buy or lease a piece of land and put up an all metal building and have the paint booth be part of the building. But one would have to check with their local planning department to see if that would fly.

Framebuilding was always a hard way to make money. I was one of the few that did so for a few years. I count myself fortunate that I was around in an era when this was possible. But like I said those days are gone.
Dave.

February 1, 2016 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Dave

Love the blog,want to support your good work, and I am writing to say I have twice tried to buy a T-shirt via Paypal and both times I get a "Session Ended" screen and my purchase doesn't go through. I tried Jan 25 and again today, a couple of times. I've been using Paypal for other transaction with no issue. I wonder if people want to buy using Paypal are having a similar problem. Let me know, I'm down for a T-shirt!

February 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEd

Ed,
I just called Shopify the program I am using, they told me if PayPal times out it may because you have been on the site too long. I have noticed too their sessions are fairly short. They also suggested you delete your cache of cookies on your browser as sometimes that hangs things up. Please email me if the problem persists davesbikeblog[AT]gmail.com
Dave

February 1, 2016 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Dave

Got it - and a retry went through. Keep up the great work!

Ed

February 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEd

It seems that Jack's comment "...repainting old frames doesn't pay enough to cover upfront costs and rents..." holds true for frame repairs, as well; at least, down here in South Florida (where there's not but a single builder, creating wonderful new frames). With all of the love for hand-brazed, lugged steel frames, where's the affection for fixing them?

If pressed, I would say that repainting falls under the heading of "restoration"; but a seat stay that's come loose or a broken dropout? I might be wrong, but fixing them seems to be an act of "preservation" -- surely they're repairable at an affordable cost for parts-and-labor.

In my case, it's replacing severely compromised stamped dropouts with a pair of NOS forged dropouts -- I've got the parts-and-(cost-of)labor, but no one to do the work.

I dunno... perhaps things are different in other parts of the US.

But to return to painting... I wonder why a communal/community-owned paint/repair facility doesn't exist. Don't TIG-welded frames need to be fixed and/or "redecorated"? Perhaps even "buying a piece of the action" at a local auto-paint shop... probably nothing new here... just thinking out-loud.

February 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJBHoren

I would only do repairs an repaints on my own frames. I did it as a service, rather that a money making proposition.
Dave

February 3, 2016 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Dave. Great news about Greensboro in June. Marcia and I will be there, have registered and have hotel booked along with the VonTutschecks from Bath,UK Should be a grand time. You should be able to flog plenty of Tshirts etc. that weekend. Hope to go ride with you. John

February 5, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

I have an old Bontrager mountain bike that is wonderful but had lousy paint. Orange peeled all over the place and constantly fighting rust on that bike. On the other hand my commuter is a run of the mill Bianchi Volpe; that bike has wonderful paint. Sparkle green and a primer it appears. Absolutely no orange peel or rust on a bike that gets ridden in the rain almost every day for over 15 years. Interesting post; I have often thought that the paint gets overlooked on a lot of hand built bikes. But understandably given the difficulty of doing it right.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterConrad

Very interesting. Dave, I'd be interested to hear about the difference between 'powdercoat' which seems so common today, and paint, or bicycle paint vs automotive paint.

If one has stripped a frame of all its parts and sanded it, how good of a job do you think your average automotive painter would do for a simple single-color job if you do your own decals and clearcoat after?

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRubeRad

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