I want to start a plating shop specializing in decorative chromium plating of automotive rims and accessories. How do I go about doing this without busting my budget? S.S.
I frequently receive the above question with only the type of plating process being different. Usually the e-mailer does not include much more information than what is given above. The challenge in answering such a question is: Where do you start? ?As I have learned over the years, most of the individuals wanting to start a plating operation have very little, if any, “hands-on” experience in the plating industry. The following are some of their usual perceptions:
- Lots of money can be made in electroplating.
- The “cost of entry” is low.
- The process can be operated in a garage.
- You can use plastic tubs purchased at Wal-Mart.
These perceptions are off base and/or “dead wrong.” Here are a few things that an individual must think about before embarking on the path to building and operating a plating shop. No doubt readers of this column can add many more.
The electroplating industry is a highly regulated industry. Almost every government agency with the possible exception of the Department of Motor Vehicles will have some say on how you operate your plating shop. This means you have a good number of “hoops” that you must jump through before starting. Probably the most significant of these “hoops” will be environmental agencies. If you plan to plate in containers larger than teacups, you will have waste management and disposal issues that must be addressed by environmental agencies. OSHA is another agency that has a significant say in the way you operate your plating shop. Of course, there are other local and state agencies that will also get involved in the process. All of this means that it is not very likely you will be able to operate a plating shop in your garage.
The first thing you will realize is that designing to meet the standards that are required is not cheap. Yes, there is always a fair amount of used equipment available, but it is not available for free. You certainly cannot use plastic tubs. Besides tanks, a modern shop needs good plumbing, adequate electrical capacity, good lighting and well-constructed floors and containment capabilities. The first plating shop I visited in the 1950’s was dark, had a dirt floor, poor-to-non-existent ventilation, puddles of greenish liquid as well as patches of mud where spills had occurred. Waste disposal was handled by dumping in the area behind the plating shop. This is not acceptable today, although vestiges of this approach can still be found in the industry. A paper by Ted Mooney, “Plating Shops for the 90’s and Beyond,” has a good discussion of what the expectations are for a modern shop.
Market and Profitability
Yes, a well-managed plating shop can be profitable, but again this requires good planning and an understanding of the economics of modern electroplating. Perhaps there are no plating shops within a hundred-mile radius of your home. That can mean that there is good opportunity for starting a plating shop, but it also can mean that there is no demand for plating services in the area. If you have to pick up and deliver parts in areas many miles away from your plant, your potential profitability may be much lower. You must do your homework.
Plating and Business Expertise
Do you have the right “skill set” to operate a plating shop? Have you worked in a plating shop for any period of time? There are training programs and classes available to teach you about electroplating, but “hands-on” experience is still a requirement. Do you have any business experience? Yes, you can hire plating and business expertise, but, as almost anyone in the industry will tell you, finding good qualified people is extremely difficult. This is particularly so if plating and management skills are required in the same individual.
As can be seen from this brief discussion, electroplating (when done right) can be a good business, but it is not an easy business, and “pots-of-gold” are not to be found in the industry.