Gary Sampson helps a customer match a color on his Opel GT.Specialty staff includes, from left, Cody Cravens, Matt Nidey, Jim Igrum, Debbie Sampson (Gary’s wife), General Manager Gary Sampson, and Aaron Edwards.Jim Igrum helps a customer with his order.Cody Cravens pulls stock for a customer's order.	Gary Sampson mixes Lesonal SB paint.Gary and Debbie Sampson assist a customer.

Paint distributor has aided shop profitability for 30 years

Specialty Paint has increased buying power, while maintaining accessibility and attention to customers

Springfield, Ill.—Having observed its 30th anniversary in June, independent distributor Specialty Paint has grown over the years, but compared to its conglomerate competition, it has remained a smaller organization with the ability to react quickly to customers’ needs, said General Manager Gary Sampson.

“We have the ability to make things happen more quickly. We can get you answers more quickly. If you want to speak to the owner, you can speak to the owner. If you want to see the owner, you can see the owner. That’s not something you’re going to get with a national chain. We can usually get you an answer the same day — or very quickly — on a proposal or any situation that might arise.”

Specialty grew quickly to four stores: its original Springfield location, Peoria, Jacksonville, and Decatur, with a typical service radius of 50 to 75 miles, before being bought by Hyman’s Auto Supply Co. in Chicago in 2005. The parent company, which has two Chicago metro stores and one in Mishawaka, Ind., celebrated its 91st year this year. (Sampson said an open house in Springfield is tentatively planned for mid-to-late September.)

“We have good buying power and good inventory, which allow us to compete,” he said. “We have good vendors that we work with — PBE Jobbers Warehouse and Medco Tool are some of the guys we’ve had a longstanding relationship with. We’ve been with AkzoNobel for 25 years, and Hyman’s has been with Akzo for 30 to 35 years, probably one of the first 20 distributors in the country.”


Helping shops be more productive, profitable

What is asked of the jobber remains much the same, Sampson said, with some customers shopping for a price and some looking for assistance to maximize their profitability. Not as many Sikkens customers take advantage of the Acoat Selected educational and consulting services available to them at no charge because they find it difficult to get away from the business for a few days.   

“Sometimes they don’t have the staff to allow themselves to grow, and they get caught in a spot: ‘Do I bring in another person, or do I just continue being the guy who runs the day-to-day ops?’ For the people who attend the training, nine out of 10 have said it has paid dividends for their business. They’re successful and they are growing, whether it be running CE classes or working on lean processes. For the stuff these companies offer, it’s proven that it will work if you follow the map.”

With the continuing rise in the cost of materials, Sampson will sometimes hear, “My paint bill is too high.” But it’s only a small percentage who are willing to give numbers or examples to allow them to be helped, he said. Specialty and AkzoNobel representatives can also assist with implementing standard operating procedures to push more work through the shop. It’s something an independent can better address than a conglomerate outlet for which paint may be just another profit center.

“We’re not parts people; we’re paint people, that’s what we do. So we try to help the shop manage and execute efficiently in their paint department. That’s the goal: to make sure our products are working properly and they’re using them efficiently to help control waste and be more profitable.”

Sampson started in the paint, body, and equipment business in the mid-1980s, just as basecoat/clearcoat technology was taking over long-established lacquer and acrylic enamel as the finish of choice in collision repair shops. Paint technology has continued to evolve, with an explosion in technical colors such as tri-coats, he said, but “we have the tools: the cameras and the color documentation, to get us where we need to go.”

For any technical problems that may arise, Sampson said the company has 17 employees with close to 200 years of industry experience, including an in-house technical representative and AkzoNobel’s technical representative.

“Our Akzo rep, Jimmy Harris, is very technical, because he used to be a shop guy,” Sampson said. “So on the technical side, we’re very strong in helping with those situations.”

Not all shops are comfortable handing over control of their inventory to their supplier, but Specialty can help speed production if they do, Sampson said.

“They really need to allow the jobber to assist them with that, because that’s really our expertise. They need to focus on repairing vehicles and writing good estimates, and let the jobber help them with their inventory. Most that don’t allow a jobber to assist them are usually way over on inventory, or they’re way under and they’re waiting on us to deliver something because they wait until they run out. If they allow the jobber to put in an agreed-upon inventory level that’s manageable, it’s very helpful. Their technicians aren’t standing around waiting for something, and maybe they can work earlier or later than the jobber’s open.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.