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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My body guy who did both my 'Stangs recently told me he has had to go to $75 an hour for paint and body labor. 6 years ago he was at $35. He was telling me that try as he might, he is still only breaking even. He mainly does Olds 442s, GTOs,Chevelles and a Ferrari and old Jaguars now and again. I really respect the guy for his enormous talent, experience and attention to detail in order to do the job right.He's been painting cars since '74. He hinted that he'll probably end up going even higher in order to keep afloat. I don't blame him at all; he was telling me that, based on all the cars he has done in the last 7 or so years(mainly GM and Ford muscle stuff), that the cost of restoring these cars, in terms of your average semi-restomod daily driver car,let alone the stuff with coil overs and late model mod motor conversions, has doubled, and according to him will double again in about 5 years. I'm sure thankful for what I already have, and especially for the support of this community, which has helped me hold the costs down on my projects, what with all the great advice, and reasonably priced, good quality used parts. FWIW
 

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Gone but never forgetten
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I'm not following the guy's logic. His labor rates have increased 114% in 6 years? When you figure cost of living has probably gone up %24, I don't understand why his labor would have to go up 80% more than that, unless he was REALLY loosing his shirt 6 years ago.

About the only thing that could account for that other 80%, is if he has employees and pays for their medical benefits.

I also don't agree that the cost of rebuilding these cars has double over the last 7 years. It was 10 years ago that I built my '66 from a shell, and 2.5 years ago that I finished my '69 from a shell. If it weren't for me going way over board on the '69's drivetrain, I would have roughly the same amount of money in both. Granted I got wiser over those 8.5 years, so found better deals on things, but still, I was no where close to double the price.

The one thing that HAS gone up significantly is the cost of the base car. If I could start with the same shell today, I believe I could build it for roughly the same price, still today.
 

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It sounds like this guy is milking the situation a bit. He has every right to do this as long as he has a good enough reputation to attract work at those prices. It should be pretty easy to tell if he is over priced. Call around and see what other shops are charging. I am a firm beleiver in letting the market set the price.

Having said that.... Our culture is changing! You can flip burgers now and earn >$5 an hr. That means that most people won't be willing to work really hard for less than $10/hr. But the cost of living will quikly rise to soak up the lowest common denomiator, which is the min.wage. Also, unemployment rates that are <5% mean tha ANYONE that wants a job, probably has one. Fewer people willing to make you a great deal to paint your car.
Back the days that I used to hang around all my 'automotive' freinds (80s), there was a guy in the shop next door that did relly good body& paint work. He was slow, but realy good by my standards. He would frequently pitch offers to me to paint my '67 coupe. He would have done all the body and paint for 1k. I would jump on a deal like that today! Even with inflation adjusted!!
 

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You're lucky your guy is still in business. Just found out the guy who painted my car went out of business 6 months ago. He did a fantastic job getting my car flawlessly straight with perfectly even gaps. Have a 280 ZX that needs work, my son dinged the front bumper of his mother's car last week (for which he will be paying) and someone nailed me in the rear bumper of my Golf GTI yesterday while I was stopped at a cross walk. Got to find someone new I trust.
 

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(actually Slim Jr now)
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Two of the three resto shops in my area have closed in the last 10 years.
One of them the owner retired and sold the property for other commercial use.
The other was swallowed up by a shopping center, the land became too valuable and
I suspect the developer got the zoning changed.
 

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Sounds like he has realised the value of his labor. $35 6 years ago was too cheap. $75 today sounds about right to me, depending on where you are located. I pay $70 per hour to get mech. work done on my heavy equipment. Paint and body takes more talent and experance than mech work IMHO. If he is a full time shop and has employes, insurance is eating him alive. 6 years ago I was making realy good money. Today I charge 85% more than I did 6 years ago and am barly making ends meet. Fuel at 3X the price is not hurting me as much has my insurance increases and I burn about 500 gal of fuel in a good week. At $75 per hour I may have to start doing paint and body work again and quit the constuction busness!

Larry
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I don't really think he's milking the situation;he has enormous integrity. He just finished a '72 W-30 442 convertible, where he did a frame off(another shop did the engine, trans, and rear end). The guy wanted the underside done so smoothly that my body guy used bondo underneath, to smooth out any wrinkles. Then the guy was going to wax the underside! The paint(Viking Blue) was phenomenal. Both quarters replaced. The bill was 25K, yet my friend told me, he was only just above even. He explained that it takes along time to get the car done to the Concours level(this car is now worth about 125K in the classic Olds community). He only has one other employee, and a small building. He was saying that he would like to buy a bigger building here in mid-Michigan, but he can't find one reasonably priced that is zoned for body shop/car repair, so that he could hire more folks. On a more humorous note, I thought we Mustang people had OCD when it came to resto perfection, but we have nothing on the 64-72 Olds Cutlass owners...they take it to quite a level.
 

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I need to get the hell out of this state. In the People's Republic of Kalifornia shop rates are climbing over 100 hr. It's hard to get the old paints anymore and the Bureaucrats/evironmentals have taxed most of the "dirty" trades right out of the state...or country. $75 an hour is becoming a deal here.
 

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There are a lot of factors going into the pricing. One thing we as body/restoration shop owners are faced with is what insurance companies say we can charge our customers for labor. Really this is illegal, but ask any body shop and essentially this is what happens, but that's a whole other debate. In my area insurance companies are paying $42 per hour for labor. They figure hours by the estimating guides stated rates. So, if the book says it takes 4 hours to paint a hood, the shop gets $168. Most of the time a good shop worker can beat that time. Lets say he gets the hood painted in 3 hours. That comes to an effective payment of $56 per hour. It's very common to beat the book times and for a body shop employee to get paid for 80 or more hours while working only 40 hours per week. That's good money. This makes restoration work cheap (and not very profitable) at most of today's rates. I do this work because I like it. I could make a ton more money if I only did insurance work. I realize there are a lot more factors, but from a shops point of view, we work cheap. Consider electricians, plumbers, and even mechanics who a lot of times charge enormously more than your local restoration shop.

Doug
 

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I'm sure labor rates have risen in the past 7 years, but at that pace? I have no idea what shops charge for restorations- I tend to do most of the work myself. I'm sure the rate he currently charges is about the going rate for restos? The only changes I see from restorations I did 10 years ago to today is indeed the base cost of the car and the outrageous prices one must pay to restore with NOS stuff. 10 years ago I had a buddy that worked at a Ford dealer where I obtained all my parts (with a nice employee discount on his behalf). The other cost that has risen is the prices of all paint products. When you look at repro parts prices, I don't think they have risen a whole lot. I can maybe understand with all his overhead his accounting for "breaking even". God Bless him if he's still doing it without making $$$ on the cars he does do. Just my .02 cents.
 

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(actually Slim Jr now)
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I assume most people know the so called labor rate has little to do with the
hourly pay of the worker. This includes insurance, property tax, property maintenance,
city, state and federal tax, utilities, social security and medicare matching and on and on.
We're not talking about what an auto insurance company allows. This is old car/classic
restoration not collision repair.
 

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Wow,.... $75 dollars an hour, sounds very fair to me. The car painting industry has been under attack for several years by the EPA, and if this guy isn't just painting these cars in his driveway, I would imagine his business overheads have increased more than the previous stated cost of living. Besides, have you called a plumber lately? What's your attorney charge? You can teach anyone to wave a paint gun, and wiggle around a sander, But it takes a true artist, to make it turn out beautiful. Like anything else, if you don't want to pay his rates, then don't award him the work. Just my .02 sense.
 

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(actually Slim Jr now)
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You make a good point. The really skilled or specialized trades/workers are
disappearing as are the shops that do that kind of work. You don't just go to a
random body shop to get your classic restored. Besides that today components or
whole products are replaced rather than being repaired (restored). Try to find
an old fashioned jeweler who actually makes something or repairs it.
The upholstery guy I used to use closed his shop to get a job that had health insurance
as a benifit.
Inflation is a national average. Specific work like auto restoration has little
to do with it!
One of the resto shops in my area was only allowed to do the work because his
shop was grand fathered. Ironically if he significantly upgraded and/or
expanded the shop he was out! That type of work wasn't allowed in that area!
 

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I agree Slim. Restoration work is very much more of a craft then collision repair. Most regular body men would not and could not properly restore a car. The point is, if something as routine as regular collision repair is so expensive, then restoration should cost even more. Most restoration shops don't charge nearly enough for the skills they have. No matter what though, collision repair and restoration have a lot in common when it comes to tools, materials, overhead, and sometimes people (both owners and employees).

Doug
 

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My mechanic shop, which is family owned and operated - small little place - charges $100/hour labor rate. He's been in business in the same location for over 30 years. This is in Minnesota!!
 
G

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69 scj coupe said:
Sounds like he has realised the value of his labor. $35 6 years ago was too cheap. $75 today sounds about right to me, depending on where you are located. I pay $70 per hour to get mech. work done on my heavy equipment. Paint and body takes more talent and experience than mech work IMHO. If he is a full time shop and has employees, insurance is eating him alive. 6 years ago I was making really good money. Today I charge 85% more than I did 6 years ago and am barely making ends meet. Fuel at 3X the price is not hurting me as much has my insurance increases and I burn about 500 gal of fuel in a good week. At $75 per hour I may have to start doing paint and body work again and quit the construction business!
+1

He probably realized that he wasn't charging enough when he started out. For someone with no overhead, no insurance or employees, $35 is reasonable. A business with a light bill, shop insurance, employees, etc... they have to charge much more than that to make a profit.
 

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Cost of doing business also includes paint booths that must meet ever tightening clean air standards, and ever increasing vigilence to combat municipalities that are loooking for ways to shut down auto paint shops due to the civic perception that they are a "dirty" business...at least around here.
 

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(actually Slim Jr now)
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Right on! Around here any form of manufacturing is considered dirty, polluting.
Even if millions is spent making every process 100%+ completely complient to
all regulations it's still considered dirty manufacturing. Many regions won't
allow assembly work because it's considered manufacturing therefore dirty!
Then we complain about "big business" it's their fault the good pay manufacturing
jobs are gone...duh!
 

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Perhaps the owner might want to examine his business model and how he charges out jobs. The example given would consume about 2 months aggregate time. How long was that car in his shop and how did he collect progress payments on the work? Doing that kind of work is very similar to a contractor building a house, in that there is overhead and costs which are amortized over time.

Very complex subject, but my instinct is the business plan needs some tweeking, especially if he wants to grow.

Efficiently run, a service business can make a handsome profit at his price point. The key is capitalizing the efficiency at the front end. I've watched a number of customer's businesses grow over my business career and have been privvy to the inner workings of a few. The key is making the decision to grow. To me (as someone who has never wanted to grow), it sounds like this guy, who's been painting since the 70's, doesn't really want to grow, so is inefficient (like I am), hence has higher incremental costs (no economies of scale). As long as he's happy and his customers are happy with his work and pricing, there's really no reason for angst. There's a niche for everyone. I don't think his customers would balk if he went up 5-10% per year in his hourly pricing and essentially doubled the price of pass-through parts (to cover his lack of efficiencies in those areas).

Edited to add that I do believe his hourly rate 6 years ago was unrealistic for his costs and profit. I was charging 45.00/hr for machine work 20 years ago, which has similar start-up and ongoing costs (exclusive of hired labor).

Bla, bla, bla LOL...
 

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slim said:
Right on! Around here any form of manufacturing is considered dirty, polluting.
Even if millions is spent making every process 100%+ completely complient to
all regulations it's still considered dirty manufacturing. Many regions won't
allow assembly work because it's considered manufacturing therefore dirty!
Then we complain about "big business" it's their fault the good pay manufacturing
jobs are gone...duh!
Unrelated to this topic but it's places like Delphi in Oak Creek, WI that are shutting down and they are putting in a strip mall in this location...translation...good jobs gone-where are people going to get the $$$ to shop at these places with all the good jobs gone???!!!
 
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