Trial by Fire: Indianapolis Body Shop Turns Tragedy into a Win

Trial by Fire: Indianapolis Body Shop Turns Tragedy into a Win

Sometimes a negative, even tragic, event can lead to a positive outcome. When a serious fire hit Collision Solutions in Indianapolis, IN, and destroyed its paint booth, management took the opportunity to make lemonade from lemons.

The fire offered the owners a chance to rearrange the shop’s layout and take the leap into the world of waterborne. Instead of being paralyzed by the devastation, the shop bought a new cutting-edge ECO Expert paint booth from Global Finishing Solutions (GFS) and converted one of their locations to waterborne paint before any restrictions mandated it. As a result, Collision Solutions was soon turning out amazing paint jobs and their crew quickly became fully comfortable with waterborne and the numerous benefits offered by their new GFS paint booth.

“We took a couple of the prep stations and replaced all of the old equipment with GFS equipment after looking at several companies. We went with GFS based on what people out there in the industry were telling us about the company and its track record.

Owner Aaron Clark, 40, is a second generation body shop owner whose parents operated a shop more than three decades ago. “I started working in our family’s shop when I was 16 and worked my way up from porter to technician,” Clark told Autobody News. “In 1994, my partner and I opened our own shop in friendly competition with my parents’ company. It was a very successful operation that eventually grew into a two-location business in the Indianapolis area.”

In 1998, Clark sold his interest in the two shops and returned to work at his parent’s shop. By working harder and smarter, Clark starting adding new locations. “We’ve grown and currently have five stores in Metro Indianapolis with 75 employees. We fix 500--600 vehicles every month.” Today, Collision Solutions is an $11-$12 million business maintaining several DRPs. Clark is the current Chairman of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS), and has served the organization on its Board of Directors for the past five years. 

Clark’s relationship with GFS–which bills itself as “the world’s leading provider of technologically advanced capital equipment solutions for the finishing industry” —started almost immediately after the fire that nearly devastated the business. “We were in the process of changing over to waterborne anyway, so it was important for us to get a paint booth that was going to treat us well while using the waterborne finishes and that’s why we went with the GFS ECO Expert booth,” Clark said. “We put the four corner tower blowers in it and installed a double prep deck adjacent to the paint booth. We took the opportunity to move the booth to a better location and connect it to a mix room and installed additional overhead doors in the building to create a better flow through our paint department. Even though it was definitely a tragedy when our old paint booth caught fire, we have used it to get better equipment and improve our operation overall.”

Clark says he wants to be able to buy a paint booth and then forget about it for a very long time. “we would like to enjoy 30 years of service out of this type of equipment and expect to see that from this GFS booth. We’re very excited to be working with GFS. This is our first GFS piece of equipment and by using it side-by- side with the other equipment we’re still using at our other locations, we can see that it performs better than the other equipment we’ve had. No question about it. We wanted a paint booth with all of the latest technology that’s currently available and the ECO Expert is exactly that. Everything is computerized and has all the features we were looking for.”

The process of installing the ECO Expert booth was painless and the power savings are considerable, Clark said. “Our rep, Don Putney of Indiana Booth Associates, installed it completely in October of 2009. Price-wise, GFS was very competitive, but we were more focused on all of the other things we were getting from the company. We were interested in the Variable Speed Drive (VSD) motors and the digital panel and the corner blowers we installed are totally controlled by the digital panel. Also, a big plus is that the booth pulls less electricity. We’ve seen an overall drop in our electrical bills, because the VSD motors pull less juice.”

The GFS ECO Expert has been the real instrument in getting Collision Solutions up and running with waterborne. “We have never sprayed with solvent in that booth. We converted the first day we got the ECO Expert and we’re happy we did,” says Clark. “We’re not in an area where we have to use it by law, but we have five stores and since we were installing this new paint booth, we decided to spray waterborne to conduct my own internal testing. We’re still using solvent primarily at my other four stores, but by looking at the profitability and the performance, we will be converting another store at some point, definitely. It’s a better and safer product and if it’s being used at the OE level (for new vehicles), so it should be used by the collision industry.”

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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