By Tara Taffera
PDR Veteran Shares Secrets to Success
Paintless Dent Repair (PDR) is a lucrative value-added business that could be a valuable diversification area for auto glass companies. Like any industry, however, there are challenges–finding trustworthy technicians for one. During a recent webinar hosted by Guild 21, and comprised of experts in the PDR industry, those veterans said it is particularly challenging to find a technician to repair larger dents, as that skill set is rarer. (Guild 21 describes itself as an organization verifying quality in collision repair … primarily focused on improving the overall quality of vehicle repairs and empowering repair professionals to make the proper repair choices.)
The panel indicated some states don’t have even a single technician who can perform larger dent repairs–the kind that take hours to finish. The advice was to interview prospective candidates and even ask them to do a demonstration of their skill. However, they did advise those in the auto repair industry that might be looking to hire an inhouse tech not to discount the idea of subletting or creating a partnership with someone, because as they said, a skilled PDR technician isn’t going to work in-house and knows what his (or her) work is worth. The panelists agreed that PDR is poised to take off in the next five to ten years as supply and demand drive more body shops to lean on PDR technicians to help move vehicles out more efficiently.
An Expert Interview
No one knows better what it takes to enter the PDR market than someone who has spent 16 years in it. That describes Dave Streen, who founded AutoHail LLC in 2003, and his technicians who travel the globe repairing hail-damaged vehicles. When he “blew his shoulder out” in 2007 when working a severe hail storm in Australia, he started several additional businesses all related to PDR, but less demanding on the body. One of those—EdgyTools—focuses on making ergonomic PDR tools and accessories to help other technicians avoid pain and injury. AGRR magazine spoke to Streen for advice on auto glass retailers assessing expansion into PDR.
AGRR: How much training is needed for someone looking to expand into PDR?
Streen: Some naturals are able to pick it up in a few months but it takes most people about a year or two to develop their eyesight enough to “see” their tool through steel in order to know precisely where the tool tip is. A good technician never stops working on improving his skills, habits and techniques.
AGRR: What is the initial investment for a shop looking to add this service?
Streen: People think they can buy a couple hundred dollars’ worth of tools and watch some YouTube videos to learn. That method rarely ends with success. In my opinion, the best method is to seek out a top-quality technician in your area who is willing to offer one-to-one training. If this is not an option, there are some PDR schools and training centers that offer solid training and advice, but a person really needs to do his research. I advise people not to buy an entire set of tools until they can perform some basic small repairs and know they love doing PDR. If you can’t hit a 5 iron, an entire set of golf clubs won’t help you become a pro golfer. The fastest way to add this service, which is also free, is to simply subcontract a quality PDR professional who already has all of the tools and training. This will put you years ahead and is almost always more profitable in the long run as mistakes can be very costly.
AGRR: What are the biggest rewards and biggest challenges of being in this business
Streen: This can be a very lucrative business but only a very small percentage of people who buy tools and training get to the level of skill needed to earn a living with PDR. (Under 10 percent according to the last survey I saw.)
AGRR: How difficult is it to get reimbursed by insurance companies?
Streen: Insurance companies usually are very good about paying for hail damage claims, although a supplemental process is almost always required. For large dents and other damage, it can be a little more complicated depending on the claim and other variables. Dent warranty companies, the policies sold at most dealerships, can be slow at giving approval and paying but it varies from company to company.
AGRR: What skills do the best PDR techs have?
Streen: The best technicians have a lot of patience and are well spoken. They need to have great eyesight and manual dexterity. A great tech must have a great work ethic and be willing to work in harsh environments. They must be in fantastic physical shape as PDR requires the body to exert force while in positions which the body is not designed to be in and work long hours usually on concrete floors. Being OCD helps too.
AGRR: Do you predict growth for the PDR market in the next five years?
Streen: I predict a lot of overall growth in the PDR market. I also see a bit of a divide starting in the industry. As cars evolve, they become more complex to work on. They basically are computers on wheels, and this isn’t going to stop evolving. Cutting-edge PDR technicians know to follow OEM guidelines and are performing pre- and postscans as well as seeking out continued education for working safely on all vehicles, especially electric and hybrids. These technicians stay on top of the rapidly evolving PDR tools and lighting advancements. They tend to carry the proper insurance, are certified by trade organizations and seem to try to do everything to a higher level. The technicians who don’t keep up will get left behind.
TARA TAFFERA is the editorial director for AGRR magazine.
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