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Creating an In-House Paintless Dent Repair Department

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In 2012, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reported that the total number of insurance claims resulting from hailstorm damage increased 84 percent in the U.S. from the levels reported in 2010.

Much of that increase, according to the NICB, was due to personal auto claims resulting from hail. In fact, the NICB reported that auto claims rose more than 600 percent from 51,345 total claims in 2010 to 322,719 claims in 2012.

Contributing to this increase in claim numbers is an increase in severe storms, the NICB says, which have occurred with more intensity in recent years, affecting more areas of the country.

And as a result, shops are producing more dent-repair work than ever, meaning paintless dent repair (PDR) is becoming an increasingly appealing profit center for shops.

There’s no shortage of PDR-focused companies available for outsourcing these repairs, says Cory Chapman, body shop manager of Zimbrick Body Shop in Madison, Wis., but shops with on-site PDR capabilities are able to produce that work with higher quality and efficiency—and for a better profit.

“The more we can keep things in house, the better off we are controlling our costs and our grosses,” says Chapman. “We have a better control over the vehicle than if we were to send it out to a third-party vendor or even have a third-party vendor come in house.”

There are four simple steps any shop can take to create a profitable on-site PDR department.

1. Evaluate the Advantages

When Zimbrick started offering on-site PDR capabilities in 2006, the goal was for the PDR techs to help recondition vehicles coming in from its dealership’s used-vehicle lots. Since then, the technique has proved so successful that the shop has expanded the department to include hail damage and upsells on customer cars.'

“We, as a company, were looking at what we could do to give our customers a bigger bang for their dollar,” Chapman says.

The shop had pre-existing relationships with outside PDR companies, but the time it took shuttling cars to an off-site location was inefficient and costly.

“We don’t have to pay a third-party vendor to come in. We don’t need to be put on an appointment log with a third-party vendor,” he says. “A lot of times, those guys are just as busy as everybody else. We can also control it as in, ‘Is this dent PDR-able?’ If it isn’t, we can go right from PDR into the body shop. It’s more of a control factor for us.”

According to Jeff Herman, the CEO of TopTech Finder, going with an outside vendor can also produce potential quality issues.

“When a hailstorm hits, the mobile techs that chase the storms come around and knock on a shop owner’s door. The shop owner is wondering, ‘I don’t know you, you’re from out of town,’” Herman says. “If [the work is outsourced] and something gets broken, your shop manager might not become aware of that issue as quickly as they would want to, or the PDR tech might hide that it occurs. That can cause a bad customer service issue.”

2. Assess the Right Technician

The biggest challenge with hiring PDR technicians is that not everyone can do it.

“All the work is done by hand and by eye,” Herman says. “It takes a lot of hand-eye coordination and a certain skill set for someone to be able to work the metal from behind or pull with glue pads from the front to get it just right. It’s absolutely true that, unlike a mechanical repair, which is very scientific and cut and dry, this is more of an artistic thing. A tech who might otherwise be a fantastic technician may not have the right skill set to be a good PDR technician.”

But there are clear ways to identify candidates for the position, whether they are a new hire or a retrained current employee. Here are some things all shops should consider:

Hiring a PDR Tech. Herman says that when hiring a PDR technician, the most important step any shop owner can take is asking for letters of recommendation or references.

“There are some certifications out there, but the truth is, the on-the-job performance is the best way to measure whether the tech is worthy or not,” he says. “Hearing from previous employers about how they’ve done is critical.”

Since PDR is a craft that takes time to learn, Herman also suggests looking for multiple years of experience, but notes that years of experience should not be the deciding factor.

“Sometimes you’ve got guys out there that are average PDR techs and they’ve been doing it for years,” he says. “And other times, you’ve got guys who really have the knack for it and have only been doing it for a year, but are very, very good at what they do.”

After checking references, Herman also suggests having the tech work on a trial car, to see the quality of their work for yourself.

Grow Your Own PDR Tech Through Certification and Training. Certifications or training are another way to ensure that the technician obtained a certain level of repair standards and quality. Vale Training Solutions is the only independent organization that certifies PDR technicians, but Herman says there are also a number of independent training programs, such as Dent Wizard or PARS, that offer their own internal training program.

“The training will allow people who have the right aptitude to be good at it and then you can tell that by checking their on-the-job performance,” Herman says.

Joe Townsend, general manager of Dunshee Body and Frame in Kalamazoo, Mich., sent a longtime body technician who was interested in PDR work to a two-week PDR training course offered by Superior Auto Institute in California. Townsend said the class included so much hands-on training and dent work that his tech was able to start doing PDR work in the shop directly after he returned.

“He’s really good at what he does,” Townsend says. “He had a keen eye for it from the start.”

3. Equip the Techs

Onsite PDR also requires specific working conditions and tools to properly do the repairs. At Zimbrick, the PDR techs work in a separate area, away from the shop floor.

“We really consider it a separate part of the body shop,” Chapman says. “It’s away from the action and noise of a body shop. It’s their own area. The lighting’s right, the tools are right.”

And lighting is crucial.

“Especially for hail work, you’re looking for very small dimples in the car, so you need to have the right light panels and overhead lighting to help illuminate the dent,” he says.

Herman suggests investing in a few light panels and having the techs work inside the shop. Other tools include a range of spring-steel rods.

“It’s almost like a set of golf clubs,” Herman says. “They’ll have 20 different metal bars in different shapes with different hook endings.”

Herman says that experienced PDR techs will more than likely come with their own set of tools, and both Townsend and Chapman say the training program their techs attended provided a starter kit of tools (which the techs have added to since).

Including tools, training and the wages paid to staff during training, Townsend estimates the initial investment at around $10,000.

4. Educate the Customer

Besides working on hail damage, Herman says that PDR work can also be used for customer-pay work and to help prep vehicles for traditional paintwork.

Townsend says offering the service has also helped his relationships with dealerships, who often send over PDR work to his shop.

According to Chapman, the key to upselling PDR work is properly educating the customer about the technique.

“We try to educate the owner,” he says. “For the most part, we do need to explain to them what it is, how it’s performed, and what the chances for success are.

“We also tell them, ‘Conventionally, this ding you want to take out—through priming, blocking and painting—could be upwards of $600. Now you’re down to $75 to try it.’ We try to give them as much information to make a decision, and most of our guests do make the decision to do the PDR work.”

Townsend’s PDR tech also doubles as a body tech, which means the PDR work needs to be scheduled. “We don’t just take drop-ins,” he says. “If we get hit with a hailstorm, we’ll schedule that out.” 

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