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Executive Interview

Executive Interview: David Brunori, Matrix System Automotive Refinishes

Brunori discusses Matrix System’s 30th anniversary, the secret to its success and plans for the future.

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Jason Stahl has 15 years of experience as an editor, the last three serving as editor of BodyShop Business. He currently serves as an advisor to the Paint, Body and Equipment Specialists Committee of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association and is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference.rnr

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Matrix System Automotive Refinishes is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, AMN’s sister publication, BodyShop Business, interviewed David Brunori, division president of Quest Automotive Products, to find out the secret to Matrix’s success, what their plans are for the future, and how they’re helping the industry to thrive outside of their own building.

BSB: Thirty years is something to be proud of. How is Matrix celebrating this, and what does 30 years mean to you?

Brunori: Thirty years is a long time to be in this industry and is an important milestone for Matrix. We have been doing this for awhile, and I have been fortunate to have been with the company for most of that time, 19 years. It is a true testament to the acceptance of our company in the collision repair industry. Not many companies are in the 30-plus club. We will be having a celebration during the summer months.

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Matrix System has come a long way since we first purchased our manufacturing site in 1993. Today, we have three sites located in Walled Lake, Mich., with more than 120 employees. I am most proud of Matrix System’s contribution to the industry by pioneering alternative brand products. In the beginning, we had a hard time finding vendors that would sell us materials, and most questioned the purpose of our products. Today, I am glad to see that our strategy was right on course.

BSB: What is your take on consolidation and other trends going on in the industry?

Brunori: We are in the beginning stages of the consolidation movement and anticipate it will continue for years to come. I embrace it; it’s necessary. Our industry has been stagnant for many years, and it’s time for a radical shift from the status quo. That’s kind of how we run our organization – to challenge our business processes and strategies regularly, because eventually they are going to have to evolve. Market disruption forces change, and business leaders will have to think outside the box and challenge legacy philosophies or else be left behind.

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Consolidation is at a pace we have never seen before and is touching every part of the PBE market. Changes in distribution strategies, the creation of new product platforms, price point adjustments, warehouse repositioning, and jobber and shop consolidations are all part of the PBE industry reinvention that is under way today. Our organization is positioned with two primary brands: the namesake Matrix System line of high performance basecoats and clearcoats, and our Refinish Solutions line, which targets the specific price sensitive market. We have always had the products the market is begging for.

Major paint companies are force-feeding waterborne coatings. Some are taking equity interests in jobber stores and body shops, and others have been through acquisition activities over the last 12 months. This creates anxiety in the market, which in turn creates opportunities for companies like Matrix System. The market is nervous, and that’s where our business has grown. We have great products that are equivalent to the performance of any paint company, and price point is right on target.

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Our business model has driven our growth for many years; there really is no need to change course. It has been validated by the launch of value lines from the major paint companies, which they use to defend market share against companies like ours. The market is demanding a better product at a lower price compared to what collision repairers were paying 10 years ago.

BSB: With consolidation, we’ve seen a lot of shops closing. Has that hurt you?

Brunori: Our traditional market segment has always been C- and D-level shops, and we will always participate here because this is where we started our business. There has been some shrinking in that segment, but frankly, Matrix System comprises a small percentage of the total PBE market, so consolidation hasn’t affected us like it has some of our competitors. Although the market and distribution dynamics are evolving, we are confident there is a ton of upside opportunity in the A/B market segment for our company.

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The A- and B-level shops have become more interesting to us today partly because of shop consolidation and mostly because we can compete in this segment. Matrix System has great brand equity, excellent credibility and product quality equivalent to any paint company in the industry.

BSB: Where does Matrix stand today with its VOC-compliant coatings?

Brunori: This is one of my favorite topics because it really describes the personality of our company: entrepreneurial, flexible, innovative and “do what others won’t or can’t do.” Almost all major paint companies, including Matrix System, focused on waterborne technology to meet SCAQMD VOC requirements, but the market wasn’t ready for it. Within six months of launching our waterborne basecoat Aqualution, we received feedback that customers were pushing back on this new technology and demanded a VOC-compliant solvent basecoat. Matrix Systems’ development team created MSB-LV, which was the first solvent compliant intermix system in the market. It was launched in three months!

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Today, our second-generation platform, MPB-LV Premium Basecoat, is our flagship low-VOC solvent-borne platform. Most major paint companies have responded by launching their own solvent-borne, low-VOC “converted” systems to protect market share, but they simply cannot compete with MPB-LV. Technical weaknesses in our competitors’ solvent-based compliant basecoats include color accuracy issues, minimal field support, few variant formulas, poor coverage, and – when using zero-VOC solvents – dry spray and blending issues are evident. MPB-LV Premium Basecoat simply addresses all of these concerns.

MPB-LV low-VOC technology was formulated right into the can – it’s not a conversion system. It can be reduced with traditional or zero-VOC urethane reducers, depending on the VOC requirements in your region.

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Either way, both reduction techniques yield a product that sprays exactly like traditional solvent-borne basecoats that have been sprayed for many years.

We have a team of chemists and regulatory people who monitor regulatory activity around North America, and we’re prepared to ensure our customers have the best compliant products in the market.

BSB: What are Matrix’s plans for the future in regard to growth, expansion and market presence both in the U.S. and overseas?

Brunori: North America will remain our primary market since it presents the biggest opportunity for growth. The international market is intriguing as well, and we currently sell into South and Central America and the Caribbean Islands. There are other regions we are currently cultivating as well. Further expansion into international markets remains opportunistic, but the interest for Matrix System products is very strong. We have distribution partners working with our commercial team for future expansion.

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BSB: Talk about your charitable efforts as they relate to training the technicians of tomorrow.

Brunori: The PBE market is facing a severe decline of qualified technicians entering into our industry. In fact, more than 60.4 percent of industry professionals are 36 to 65 years old; the decline is far exceeding new technicians entering into the industry. Within the next 10 years, we’re going to lose a large percentage of our qualified technicians to retirement.

The Collision Repair Education Foundation provides secondary and post-secondary students an opportunity to apply for scholarships, grants and tools. Collision instructors can apply for a $50,000 school makeover. The disheartening part of the story is that very few schools and students apply for these opportunities. This is a big problem for me to get my head around. The PBE industry as a whole must address this issue very quickly because it is going to affect us all. One of the biggest challenges I see is to change the perception that career-based learning (technical schools) is not as prestigious as attending a traditional school. This is simply not the case, as we all know; you can make a good living in the collision repair industry.

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Since 2008, the Collision Repair Education Foundation has gifted more than $10 million to schools and students, and $0.91 of every dollar has gone toward helping students and instructors. It is our industry’s responsibility to help the foundation through financial and in-kind gift giving. You can get involved by adopting a local school or student, providing mentorship or intern opportunities, or joining an advisory committee. This is a big deal to me, so don’t hang up when I call looking for help!

In addition to sitting as a trustee for the Collision Repair Education Foundation and the Oakland Schools Education Foundation, Matrix System has also sponsored a local technical campus where we provided a mixing room makeover and as much free paint as they can spray. Come visit the Matrix booth at SEMA 2013. We will be hosting a silent auction where all proceeds will be donated to the Collision Repair Education Foundation. Airbrush and pinstripe artists will be customizing one-of-a-kind items for auction. Artist biographies, pictures of items for auction and other information will be available on this new website: www.Artists4Education.org. Bid until it hurts!

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BSB: What is your company doing to make sure your customers are getting the training they need?

Brunori: If you looked at our staff just a year ago, Matrix System had two technical reps who worked with more than 22 sales managers and took a reactive stance to problem solving.

Today, we have seven technical reps strategically placed around the market and a technical manager/trainer located in Walled Lake. Their primary role is to stay on top of repair techniques and the new materials coming out from a composite perspective and act as liaisons with our RD staff to identify missing products from our lineup. But, more importantly, we’re also using more social media by putting training snippets on YouTube and our Matrix System website. Our training programs are getting a makeover, and our entire field staff will be trained to new standards.

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BSB: What makes Matrix System different than other paint companies?

Brunori: I like to tell everyone that ‘we are just a bunch of guys trying to sell paint,’ and that is the truth. Because of my background in formulating and operations, I bring a different perspective to the organization that our competitors do not have. We can translate what our customer is asking for backwards through the organization and make it happen very quickly. I have a strong team of support staff and a seasoned sales team that keep me out of trouble, but more importantly, they believe in the capabilities our company has. The management team takes a hands-on approach with the business, and we really don’t understand what ‘red tape’ is. It slows things down!

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Matrix System products are comparable to the Tier 1 main line labels, and we formulate with the same raw materials the major paint companies use. Our vendor partners work diligently with our development staff to ensure product performance meets or exceeds the performance of the products that we are positioning against. Yes, it is true that Matrix System started many years ago as a replacement hardener company, but today we manufacture stand-alone product platforms. Our strong distribution network is only preceded by our commitment to service our customers in the field. Matrix sales and technical representatives spend more than 60 percent of their time visitingbody shops. It is the only way we get real-time feedback on the market.

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The game plan for the future is simple: we’re going to continue what we have done for many years. That is, stay in touch with advances in technology, lean out our systems to be more efficient and listen to our customers. We are proud to manufacture all Matrix System products in Michigan, USA, and maintain full control over product quality and manufacturing to ensure our customers get the best products on the market.

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