When Susie Walker, a 31-year-old car enthusiast in South Carolina, bought her 2008 Lexus is250, she knew that eventually she would have to have the rims painted. The previous owner had "unprofessionally" spray painted them, and, "They did not look good," according to Walker.
Some friends of hers said they had heard about powder coating for car rims and that she should check it out. So, like many of us do in this day and age, Walker used the Internet and searched for powder coating in her area. Takin' It to the Streets, a store on Cherry Road in Rock Hill, S.C., came up in her search engine. Had Walker needed those rims powder coated a year sooner, she would not found this storefront location. Up until late in 2013, the concept of something like Takin' It to the Streets had been nothing more than a pie-in-the-sky idea that Chris Wright, the owner and president of Carolinas Custom Clad Inc., a custom coating job shop, and its partner company Sustainable Technology Solutions Inc., a fabrication operation— both in Rock Hill, S.C.—and a few colleagues had batted around while networking at an industry trade show in 2008. Chris Merritt (Gema), Bob Cregg (Sherwin-Williams) and Steve Houston (at Col-Met now but was at TCI Powder at the time), all friends in the industry, were so serious about bringing powder coating to the average consumer that all of them had signed confidentiality agreements for bringing the technology to the big box stores.
That was several years ago; the confidentiality agreements have since expired and their idea to get into those big box stores never did come to pass. "We never were able to get the right traction with Lowes, Menards or Home Depot," Wright says. "The interest was there, but the ROI was unrealistic." Because nothing ever came of the big box stores idea, Wright says he had put it to the back of his mind.
Fast forward a few years. Wright saw a building for sale on Cherry Road in Rock Hill, and because of its location decided it would be a good investment. The building is located between a popular restaurant and a Sherwin-Williams trade sales store. Additionally, a Walmart Market was being built across the street.
"I really just liked the building at first with no plans to do something like this," Wright reveals. "Its location and the prospect of Walmart coming by the end of the year prompted me to make the investment."
Wright explains that the building created the impetus to tweak that original idea for the box stores and actually take powder coating to the streets. Wright's job shop is located in an industrial area approximately four miles away from the new storefront location, which is on a main thoroughfare. "Although people know of our existence after 17 years in business," Wright says, "its location is not conducive to retail traffic. On the other hand, there is no precedent that I'm aware of for our new venture."
Although Internet searches help get people like Walker into the retail store, Wright says that was just not enough. Rock Hill's communications monopoly has a television station that runs commercials for businesses in the county at large, Wright says. "We produced a tongue-in-cheek 30-second ad that became both recognizable and effective due to its humorous content. (Editor's note: The ad can be viewed on the Carolinas Custom Clad Facebook page). The way the communications company is set up we were able to run it on ESPN, Fox News, the History Channel, etc., in different time slots, all within the reach of people within the county. So we really got significant recognition; and people became interested in getting their 'stuff' coated and/or restored."
Restoring the Past
Case in point: Another car enthusiast, Brandon Benfield, also from Rock Hill, had the unique opportunity to buy back the 1979 Jeep CJ7 he had sold 12 years ago. "Selling it was one of those things that you immediately regret," Benfield divulges. For years, he had hoped to find his old Jeep, and then four years ago he began searching for it on Craig's List.
"Then one day as we were getting ready to head to the beach, I did a quick check on Craig's and I couldn't believe
it but my old Jeep was for sale right near the beach that we were headed to!" So Benfield called the seller and was able to buy back his old companion—for almost $2000 more than he had sold it for a dozen years earlier.
"When I got it back, though, she had been painted orange. We live in an area of South Carolina Gamecock fans and there was no way I was going to ridearound in an orange Jeep," Benfield says.For those who follow college sports, thein-state rivals are the Clemson Tigers and one of their colors is orange.
Benfield originally was just going to have the Jeep's frame powder coated but then when he got to Takin' It to the Streets and began talking about his options, he decided to do more than just the frame. "I saw how economical it could be to have the whole thing done in powder, so I decided that's what I'd do. The Jeep is almost put back together now," he says proudly.
When all was said and done, he'd had the frame, body (tub, tailgate, hood, grill, fenders, windshield frame), front and rear bumpers, spare tire carrier, and custom roll-cage all powder coated.
When opening the storefront, Wright says he knew they wanted to be able to offer "cool designs" that would appeal to their obvious target market—young people wanting to accent their cars with high-end-looking wheels and under-the-hood components. Wright says that they acquired the capability of applying hydrographic technology—a sublimation-like process that imparts artwork on various substrates. Wright explains that in the case of metallic substrates, a powder base coat is applied as a "primer" or base color coat. The chosen graphic film is then floated in a water bath and a chemical activator applied to its surface. The activator solubilizes the graphic and allows it to be imparted on the part by dipping it into the bath. After drying, the part is then powder coated with a clear polyester to provide durability and weatherability. "Camouflage, carbon fiber and graffiti designs are some of the more popular graphics, which can be modified with the use of different color base coats. But the selection of artwork, in general, is both limitless and customizable," Wright says.
He explains that their first inclination was to apply the hydrographics on-site at the new location, which was sold to Wright with two usable suites. "After further consideration, though, we decided to do the hydrographics at our primary location because it has to be powder coated anyway and it doesn't travel well prior to the application of the clear powder topcoat."
This left Wright with a suite that needed to be utilized. "We spoke with one of our long-established coating customers who manufactures outdoor televisions and highend outdoor kitchen equipment," Wright says. "His product is marketed exclusively online, but he quickly agreed to the idea of allowing us to act as a distributor and utilize our Cherry Rd. facility as a showroom." Because his product is already powder coated with a selection of nine different colors, Wright explains that Takin' It to the Streets can offer a "hands-on" sales experience as well as installation, if desired.
So Far, So Good
"The response of the community has been amazing," Wright says. "The obvious target market found us first young people wanting to accent their cars. The surprising response has been from the rest of the community, especially women." He says that it is mainly the female customers who are restoring and repainting lawn furniture and related accessories.
Additionally, the average consumer is not familiar with the high-quality finish that powder coating achieves. "The ability to burn off the existing paint, media blast to white metal, and powder coat to 'like new' or better condition is remarkable in the eyes of those not familiar with powder coating technology," Wright observes.
Business has been good so far, according to Wright. And he keeps his family working. His wife, Karen, is a photographer who helps with the marketing of all three companies. And both his son and daughter also are involved in all of their businesses. "My son runs the powder coating business on a day-to-day basis, and my daughter has moved from office manager to the new operation. They're both in their mid- to late twenties, which dovetails nicely with at least one of our target markets," he says. "My daughter is very adept at marketing via social media, which seems to be a great fit for this type of venture," he says.
What's next for the Wrights? "Our storefront location is so good because of the zoning that I joke about opening a petting zoo in the back lot," Wright says. "Actually, commissary will allow us to do food events and/or rent space to a food truck—or maybe we'll start our own? One step at a time, but I'll give you a heads up when we open the petting zoo!"
Sharon Spielman is editor of Powder Coated Tough Magazine. she can be reached at 847-302-2648 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org