Refinishing Bathroom Sinks & Tubs
If you like working with coatings, but want to enjoy a bigger profit margin and less competition, consider offering a refinishing service for bathtubs.
by Susan Brimo-Cox
, but want to enjoy a bigger profit margin and less competition, consider offering a refinishing service for bathtubs. Profitability is a key reason to get into the business, says Phil Anderson, owner and original partner at Integrity Coatings, a Dallas-based manufacturer of bathroom fixture refinishing coatings.
“Historically, [the] painting industry has been extremely competitive and not very profitable,” Anderson says. “This is especially true in the commercial arena. The opposite is true in the refinishing business. It is not unusual to garner 40 percent to 50 percent gross margins.”
Is this a good career choice for all painting contractors? Maybe yes, maybe no, says Chuck Pistor, president of Miracle Method Surface Restoration in Colorado Springs, Colo. “Yes, because what we do is like painting: there’s preparation, bonding and coating. The general process is the same.” Why not? “It does take specialized training, marketing and technology.”
Talk to contractors in the refinishing industry and they’ll tell you it is more of a craft. Ed Levens, owner of Midwest Chemicals in Lockport, Ill., says it requires “more artistic spraying.”
“It’s not for fair-weather people,” says Angelo Christopoulos, owner of Custom Coat & Glaze in Boston. “You need a lot of experience to do it well.”
Why would a homeowner or commercial customer consider having a tub refinished? As older fixtures — many of which are of higher quality than what is produced today — lose their sparkle, refinishing is a very viable restoration solution. Also, having a bathtub refinished is much less expensive than replacing one.
Other surfaces that can be refinished include sinks, countertops and tile. Opportunities in the field abound. “It is ideal for apartment rentals,” Christopoulos says, “it’s a great alternative for landlords and commercial property owners who see constant turnover.”
Pistor points out that every property with a kitchen and a bath is a prospect: commercial properties, military properties, restaurants, churches and day care centers. “We’ve even done a cruise ship.”
The national average for refinishing a tub is $225 to $250, says Levens. The price varies across the country, primarily based on an area’s cost of living. For example, he says, on the West and East coasts the cost might run $300 to $325; in the Midwest, about $250; and in the South from $180 to $200. Tommy Horton, owner/ operator of New Finish Tub & Tile Resurfacing in Concord, N.C., reports, “One homeowner said that the contractor wanted $3,000 to replace her tub. I refinished it for $300 and she was very pleased. There is a growing demand for this specialty.”
But cost is not the only consideration. Refinishing a bathtub may take four hours. How much time does it take to remove a bathtub and install a new one? How about if it’s one of those old-fashioned, heavy cast-iron ones that are anchored to the floor?
The challenge is in customer education. “Sixty percent of customers do not know they can have their bathtub refinished,” Levens points out.
But things are improving, especially among homeowners, who are increasingly self-educated and more likely to research options and ask questions.
Most refinishing contractors say that chip repair comprises only 10-20 percent of their business. Quite a few handle chip repairs only as part of a whole refinishing project. But it does have definite possibilities.
As Pistor explains, “We work a lot with builders and commercial facilities (such as hotels) for this — most chips occur during construction or installation.”
Cumulatively, a number of these small chip repairs can add up, Anderson points out. “It has gone from the ‘Band-Aid’ approach to a virtual art form. A capable chip repair technician can save a builder or homeowner hundreds to thousands of dollars. I have customers that do 20 to 40 chip repairs per day. At $65 to $100 per repair ... do the math.”
It’s not as easy as refinishing a whole tub, though. Carroll Annis, owner of Highland Refinishing in Baton Rouge, La., says “you have to be set up and have a good eye for color.” Indeed, agrees Levens, “The problem is getting repairs to match.”