In January, Irving, Texas-based Dent Zone announced the formation of Nobilis Group Inc., a new corporate parent for Dent Zone as well as AutoBodyGuard and PDR LINX, a provider of catastrophic services for national insurers, large retailers, and company-managed fleets.
F&I and Showroom caught up with Troy Good, who founded Dent Zone in 1991 and now serves as president and CEO of Nobilis Group, to learn about the origins of paintless dent repair (PDR) and how it became popular among dealers whose inventories are exposed to the elements and F&I managers who were looking for a new product to add to their menus.
F&I: Troy, how did you get started in paintless dent repair?
Good: I went into the windshield repair business shortly after college. I didn’t have a long work history, but I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, so, in the late ’80s, I decided to buy a windshield repair distribution business. I was first introduced to PDR in 1990, when we were repairing windshields at a national rental car company. They had five or six vehicles waiting for my company to repair, when I happened to notice another 400 cars in a holding area with damage from a major hailstorm. The guy at the rental company said those cars were waiting for paintless dent repair, which had been recently introduced to the U.S. He said it would take three or four weeks to fix them all, at $1,000 apiece. I realized then that I wanted to get into that business.
F&I: Why was PDR not invented sooner?
Good: PDR became a viable repair process in the mid-1980s, when manufacturers started building cars with lighter, more flexible metals and using urethane-based paints.
F&I: Once you discovered PDR, how quickly did you get into that segment?
Good: It wasn’t very long before I got out of the windshield business. I founded Dent Zone in 1991 and we started going around the country chasing hailstorms and repairing vehicles, including those in dealer inventories. Then, in late ’99 or early 2000, I came upon the idea that, with so many vehicles going through the service drive, why not empower service writers to ask their consumers, “Hey, while your car is in service, would you like for us to fix that door ding for you?”
Later, we hit upon the idea of including PDR coverage in a service contract, giving dealers an opportunity to finance the program and make money in F&I.
F&I: Were dealers receptive?
Good: Dealers did like the idea. Ninety-five percent of the dealers I asked told me to go for it. But they also wanted to know what the compliance implications were and whether we were backed by insurance. I said, “Let me get back to you.” So it took a little time to get compliant and get the insurance and underwriting behind us.
F&I: Who were your first customers?
Good: We started with a couple dealerships right here in Dallas: Frank Parra Chevrolet and Village Auto Group. We basically loaded the vehicles on the lot with a 90-day service plan. It was a simple upgrade to a three-year term. A lot of their customers loved the idea, and it made sense. When you buy a new car, where do you park? Typically, away from where it’s congested and parking spaces are tight. You’re protecting your brand-new investment.
F&I: Is hail a reliable source of business?
Good: Yes. Insurance companies have had some record losses from hail over the past couple decades, into the billions of dollars in damage. Once we started getting into it, we learned that, throughout the spring and summer, there are hundreds of hailstorms every day. The question is whether the size of the hail is big enough to damage vehicles. If it’s as large as a golf ball, it certainly will.
F&I: What’s the largest hail you’ve ever seen?
Good: I have seen hail the size of a baseball and even a grapefruit from time to time, and when it gets to that size, those resulting dents cannot be repaired by PDR.
F&I: Where does hail fall?
Good: It falls most commonly in an L-shape on the U.S. map that starts in North Dakota and runs straight south to New Mexico, then east to Florida.
F&I: Once you got started, was PDR an easy sell in those areas?
Good: Only a few people knew what PDR was and how we did it. For the first couple years, we’d have to do a demo to convince customers it was real. But we started to build trust in a national network, and around 2000, we began educating insurance companies on the PDR process. They were concerned about whether hail-damage repair could be done using PDR and whether it was permanent. Once they were comfortable with that, they wanted to make the use of PDR for hail-damage claims an edict. But there needed to be a master pricing matrix. We helped develop that matrix as an estimating tool that became an accepted standard for insurance companies.
F&I: The savings must have been obvious.
Good: Paintless dent repair did save them a lot of money in losses and it still does. It is more than 50% less costly than conventional methods and 10 times faster. Most repairs can be done in a day.
F&I: When did you start working with manufacturers?
Good: We were starting to get noticed around the industry and Chrysler came to us. They wanted to see how it was done, so we flew to Detroit and did demos. Everyone wanted to see it, and close to 100 people came out. We used one of the directors’ cars for the demo to showcase the repair process. We put a dent in the door and repaired it right there in front of everybody.
Once they saw the process, the time it took, and end result, they said it was definitely something they wanted to add to their product line. Back then, there were just three or four core F&I products, with tire-and-wheel just coming on. PDR gave them another ancillary product to sell, and then, of course, they started to bundle it into their Auto Appearance Care program. I guess you could say we were bundling before bundling was cool.
F&I: Your longtime business partner, Jeff Snowden, earned a lifetime achievement award at the International Mobile Tech Expo in March. What has his work meant to your company and the growth of PDR?
Good: It has meant a lot. Jeff Snowden, first and foremost, is the longest-tenured employee here. He’s been with us almost since the beginning. Second, when you get to know Jeff, he is someone you immediately think is your friend. He’s a tough guy, a cancer survivor. To the industry, he is a pioneer. He has trained hundreds of people to do PDR. He was also instrumental in the training of many F&I producers and agents on this product. I’m proud that he received this honor.
F&I: What’s your long-term outlook for the company?
Good: We’re scaling and building a team here with the best and brightest in our industry and have added talent across the organization to deliver excellence in all that we do. We will continue to build on our legacy of PDR and innovation by adding new products and services that bring value to the market. We now have our own state-of-the-art chemical manufacturing facility capable of handling large-scale custom orders. And we will continue to emphasize the importance of relationships, which is one of the key reasons we’ve been successful for over 25 years.