Part II: Know your customers
July 11, 2006
Thinking about starting your own portable GTAW business? This installment in a series about this topic focuses on the potential customer base and the welding repair needs of specific segments. It also offers pricing tips for various jobs.
Editor's Note: This is the second part of a four-part series on owning and operating a portable gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) business. Part I, which appeared in the July/August issue of Practical Welding Today, addressed equipment and skills self-evaluation.
The list will surprise you. But first, remember this: If you drive one hour each way to a job, spend 20 minutes setting up, 20 minutes performing the repair, and 20 minutes winding up cable and cleaning up, that's three hours of work. If it isn't worth at least $75 to the customer, you need to ask yourself if this customer is worth your time. Time is money — always keep that in mind.
The rest of this article describes different types of welding repair customers.
Repairs for marinas and boatyards include pontoon repair; cuts and tears in the float tubes; cracked welds in tubular rail structures; tie-downs; canopy supports; aluminum boat repairs; drain plugs; transoms; seat mounts; bow mounts; and skin repair for holes and tears.
Do not attempt propeller and skeg repair without prior training and the necessary fit-up jigs. Refer to Parts 3 and 4 of this series for aluminum watercraft welding information.
These repair jobs mainly involve stainless steel and some aluminum. For example, a hospital can save thousands of dollars if a stainless steel repair in an operating room can be completed in three or four hours instead of a week or two (including teardown, removal, and reassembly). Hospital equipment is expensive, whether it's stainless steel medical care or aluminum kitchen/cafeteria equipment. A high-standard or -quality repair always is preferable to replacement.
Stay away from boilers and high-pressure systems unless you have a National Board of Boiler and PV Inspectors "R" stamp for repair. Obviously, small items can be repaired more economically back at the shop. Pick up and deliver.
Like medical equipment, food service equipment is expensive, so repair generally is preferred over replacement.
Repairs can be performed on all kinds of equipment, including dishwashers, countertops, sinks, garbage disposal mounts, chairs, steamers, water pitcher handles, food mixers, freezer storage, and warming pans. For example, stainless water pitchers cost $75 each, and their handles break loose frequently. Repairing 10 units at five minutes each for $10 each is $100 an hour. Repairing a 5-gallon stainless mixer bowl in 15 minutes for $40 is a bargain for them and good money for you. Again, pickup and delivery are more economical for some items. Remember, with stationary equipment, repairs generally must be done after hours (between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m.). You'll have to make arrangements for this type of repair, but $75 to $80 an hour can make it profitable. As with hospital weld repairs, don't return burnt-black parts to the customer; clean and polish them with a wire wheel.
If you see a new restaurant being built, stop and give your business card to the owner and building contractor.
Some food store chains still use stainless steel shopping carts. A store manager once said that a grocery store places a cart's value at $450 a day. It's not difficult to repair 100 carts a year at $40 to $60 each. It's nice in-between or fill-in work. Again, pick up and deliver.
Most country clubs have kitchens, and all of them have lawn care equipment with aluminum mower decks and support brackets, for example. Completely replacing an industrial mower deck can cost $2,000. Do not weld on mower blades: they require postweld heat treatment. Buying a new blade is cheaper.
These companies typically don't have well-established maintenance departments, but things still break. Generally, they want it repaired yesterday. Heat-treating and tool and die weld repair training can pay off, so learn how to repair tool steel properly and perhaps double your business.
This general list of potential customers should help you pinpoint businesses to contact. Part III will address the do's and don'ts of owning and operating a portable GTAW business.
Photo by Jason Gies, project engineer, Amer Industrial Technologies, Inc., 302-765-3900, www.amerindustrial.com.