Paintless Dent Repair Offers Profitable Opportunities for Collision ShopsPosted 5/15/2007
By Rachael J. Mercer
Have you ever walked out of the grocery store and cringed after finding that the person parked beside you dinged your door? Or, have you ever lost sleep over the first dent (even though it was ever so small) that you found on your brand-new vehicle? As car owners, we take great pride in a spotless vehicle. As body shop owners, we are interested in finding the best solution for fixing small dings and dents. How can we make these repairs quickly without tremendous cost to car owners?
The answer to this question is a growing subindustry in collision repair: paintless dent repair (PDR). Paintless dent repair has been in practice in the United States for nearly three decades; yet, it is still a growing part of the collision repairer's business. Because of changes in paints, metals and other materials that make up the body of today's vehicles, PDR is able to make repairs which, in the past, would have required more extensive repair work by auto body technicians. History of PDR
According to DingKing.com, PDR was "established in the 1940s on the assembly lines of Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart, Germany, to repair small dings created during the manufacturing process . . . [using] special tools to gently massage the dents to perfection by working the metal from the inside out."
Today, the business of paintless dent repairs has developed into a multimillion dollar industry. It is a form of collision repair recognized by all major insurance companies and auto dealerships. It is the preferred method of repair for dings, dents and hail since the procedure uses existing factory paint.
PDR's Impact On Your Business
Based on where your collision business is located in the United States, paintless dent repairs can generate a larger portion of your income. For example, Darrell Amberson, ASA's Collision Division director and president of Lehman's Garage in Bloomington, Minn., said his annual PDR sales top $250,000 per year.
"Our income generated by PDR is relatively stable," said Amberson. "Our numbers are relatively stable but can be driven upward by weather. A bad storm could easily multiply our current PDR sales five to 10 times."
Other businesses may do much more or much less paintless dent repair, but there are several factors that drive the business. Suggestive selling is one area that collision shops must harness to boost sales.
"We are actively trying to make PDR a growing part of our business," said Dustin Eckhart, ASA-Georgia Collision Division vice president and Collision Operations Committee member. "Primarily, we use PDR for add-on jobs when we have already scheduled repairs for a customer, and we acquire a value-added up-sale." Eckhart's shop, Hernandez Collision Center in Savannah, Ga., does around $25,000 in PDR sales each year.
The question about whether to perform PDR in-house by a full-time employee or whether to outsource PDR work is highly debatable among collision shop owners. There are pros and cons to each decision, and body shop owners and managers must weigh these carefully before venturing into the business of PDR.
There are two main options for hiring technicians to perform paintless dent repair. First, hiring a full-time employee to work in your body shop is an option. Many body shop owners determine that maintaining a full-time employee in their shop costs more than it is profitable. For example, full-time employees require a full-time paycheck, even when PDR work is not a regular part of day-to-day repair work. Second, full-time employees often demand benefits whether they work specifically with PDR or whether they perform other duties in the body shop. Perhaps most importantly, the cost of properly educating a technician to perform quality PDR work is substantial. In some cases, a two-week education course can cost as much as $12,000.
"When a body shop owner looks at the high cost of education, which is sometimes thousands of dollars, it can take a while for them to recoup this expense," said Jamie Hawkins, interim president of The National Alliance of Paintless Dent Repair Technicians (NAPDRT). "At $99 per door repair, a lot of door repairs must be done to pay for the education of that technician."
Some business owners do find in-house employees to be a profitable venture, however. Ron Nagy, owner of two Nagy's Collision Center locations in Ohio, said, "I decided to invest into PDR years ago after I lost several jobs to another company after a minor hail storm. Since then, I have never been sorry that I spent the money on PDR training. It has paid for itself several times over." Between the two locations, Nagy's does around $75,000 in PDR repair in an average year.
Dan Stander, general manager of Jerry Stander's Collision Works in Littleton, Colo., explains his business agreement with a sublet technician. "The company we sublet repairs all of our cars in-house. We just supply them with a stall to work in. All invoiced work is done at a certain percent discount," he said. "We have worked with this company for many years and we like it because of its honesty."
Subletting is popular among many collision shop owners. Mike Anderson of Wagonwork Collision Centers and Wagonwork Collision Consulting, said there is a clear reason why his locations use the subletting option. Subletting works for his shops because he doesn't have to pay a salary, benefits, workman's comp, etc.
"It is as profitable - if not more so - than having an in-house technician do it," he said. "We actually paid to send someone to PDR school. He comes to our company to perform the repairs. I make a certain percentage gross profit on whatever he does. We have an arrangement in which he bills me at the end of the month."
In the 11 years that Hawkins has owned his business, Ding-go's, he has seen firsthand the problems that can arise when a body shop pays for technicians to receive training. "Often, when a body shop pays for training a technician, it bears that cost fully. And then, once the technician is accomplished and proficient in paintless dent repair, he is interested in starting his own business," said Hawkins. "While that's usually a profitable venture for technicians, it leaves body shops bearing the burden of that education without the benefit of still having an educated technician on staff."
A third option for PDR business is for a body shop to work on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the work will be done in-house or through a sublet arrangement. Amberson said that Lehman's Garage follows this method.
"We have a technician on staff who can perform some light PDR work and a production manager who can also perform paintless dent repairs," said Amberson. "But, if the damage is too extensive for our folks we have an outside PDR company come in to perform the repair."
What to Look for in PDR Technicians
There are many challenges involved when hiring a PDR technician. These challenges can vary based on whether you will hire someone to do the PDR work as a full-time employee or if you will enter a sublet agreement.
In hiring PDR technicians, learning about their education is essential. While there are many training centers and courses that technicians can take to become involved in PDR, several of them are quick two-week classes. And, although these classes can cost substantial amounts of money, money spent doesn't always mean the technician leaves being fully proficient in the careful craft of paintless dent repair.
"Training mills can often turn out technicians who still don't know how to properly repair dents and dings," said Hawkins. "That's why the NAPDRT is working to develop standards and methods of certification that can give some credibility to the training and experience of each technician."
Hawkins explained, "For a PDR technician to really understand what he's doing, he'll need to train for anywhere from a year to a year-and-a-half. PDR isn't something everyone can do. It's not a get-rich-quick business. If it were, everyone would be doing PDR."
Hawkins urges body shops that sublet their PDR work to do their homework - getting specific information about the technician's education, qualifications and insurance. "It's essential to get a copy of their certificate of insurance and to have it on file," said Hawkins. In case of an audit, body shops that don't have proof of their sublet employee's insurance, often owe as much as 3.9 percent of the money they paid to the technician back to their workman's comp insurance company. Being sure that the PDR technician who is subletting your business has insurance will protect your business in the event that the technician's work has problems later.
"I always caution body shop owners about hiring PDR technicians who blow into town and throw only a business card at them," said Hawkins. "While their work may appear to be perfectly fine, in the chance that a customer returns with a problem because of that technician's work, having only a business card means you may never find that technician again, and now you're stuck making repairs and losing money on that job."
The NAPDRT recommends that body shop owners looking to begin paintless dent repairs in their business start by finding quality technicians who really know how to perform PDR. "NAPDRT supports an entity called PDR Tech Direct," said Hawkins. "Body shop owners can visit it at www.pdrtechdirect.com to become part of a network of clients and technicians looking for profitable relationships." Software for PDR Business
Software especially for paintless dent repair is a growing part of the PDR industry. Because the estimating process for PDR is mired in controversy, NAPDRT is working toward moving PDR estimating away from the "hail chart" and toward a more comprehensive approach to paintless dent repair.
Using the current hail charts, technicians survey the damage to a vehicle looking specifically at what panel or part is damaged. Under current hail chart standards, a technician repairing a bumper on a Bentley must charge the same amount as a technician repairing the bumper on a Mazda vehicle. Currently there are no considerations for the number of dents, the accessibility of the part being repaired or its metals.
Dent Estimators is one software that has been created specifically for PDR technicians. It is the only software that takes into consideration the type of vehicles, the size and depth of the damage. Other software assesses the size and number of dents and doesn't take into consideration the type of vehicle. According to Keith Volsquarden, creator of Dent Estimators, "Every make and model is different, with different metals, and every repair is different. It's important to be able to plug in the different factors that make a repair unique to get the right price. Body shop owners can visit www.dentestimators.com for more information about this PDR software.
Photo Credit: Before and after photos of PDR work were provided by Ricky Baynes, NAPDRT treasurer.
A New Partnership
In February 2007, the National Alliance of Paintless Dent Repair Technicians (NAPDRT) joined ASA as an associate member. Together, ASA and the NAPDRT are working to address problems facing the collision and paintless dent repair industries, including some of the challenges presented in this article, such as education and certification, and PDR estimation.
For more information about paintless dent repair, visit http://napdrt.org. The Automotive Service Association Web site, www.ASAshop.org, can also provide information about education and training, as well as information about the partnership between ASA and NAPDRT.
Rachael J. Mercer is a freelance writer based in Moultrie, Ga. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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