Cliff Mayer is the Vice President of SolutionWorks hail repair company, a recent consolidation of AutoWorks PDR with Catastrophe Solutions International. Read on to learn how he’s built a successful career in the PDR industry.
Ahead of the PDR Curve
Cliff got his start selling cars. While that didn’t turn out to be the right career path for him, he stayed in the auto industry. After a few years at a body shop, he decided to learn PDR in 1997, when it wasn’t the mainstream service that it is today.
“That was way before LED lights!” Cliff laughs. “I’d never used a light before. I used a shape board.”
Cliff moved to Colorado in 2001, where he worked for another company on the hail trail. But Cliff wasn’t happy with his direction long-term, so when he met Bob Mills in 2003, he was ready to break away. Cliff and Bob partnered after a big storm in Dallas and grew their own team specializing in hail.
“We were both good at dents,” Cliff says. “We were both good with hail. Both good with people. And we knew that we could grow. Both of our visions were slightly different, which was good, but we were pointed in the same general direction.”
Here are some of Cliff’s top tips on how to build a successful PDR business:
Cliff Mayer’s Tips for Building a Successful Business
1. Create a Good Work Culture
As VP, Cliff has to travel a lot and network, but he’s always looking at the bigger picture. He and Bob grew a team of subcontractors, because it made the most sense for the type of work they were doing, but that didn’t stop them from trying to build a good culture for their employees.
“We knew [subcontracting] was the best way, because it was seasonal,” he says.
“I think the goal is to create an opportunity for people to have a great working experience and a great opportunity to grow.”
And Cliff notes that the size of their business allowed them to do that. That’s because when you’re independent, you don’t get the stability that comes with being part of a larger business.
2. Weather the Initial Storm
Cliff says that the first few years were the hardest. He and Bob were managing the business themselves with some subcontractors. And he admits that they made some mistakes and had to figure out more efficient systems, especially when it came to the administrative aspects of the business, like accounting.
“We were doing everything on paper and handing that into our accountant, or trying to do it ourselves,” he says. “There were some experiences, not necessarily good ones at times, but we learned from it.”
Then, after a few years when they turned over the first $1 million in revenue and started taking on some full-time staff members, it became a lot easier.
3. Take Advantage of Strategic Partnerships
Cliff has never been afraid of partnering with others in order to grow. In 2009, the business had one of its biggest years. They formed a strategic partnership with Vince Vickerli of Hank’s Auto Body for a big storm in Denver. Cliff said it was a tough but rewarding experience.
“[Vince] ran a tight ship and we learned a lot from him,” he says.
Now the business works in multiple states, typically around 10 during the season with more than 100 employees. And Cliff credits a private equity group with giving AutoWorks the opportunity to expand the business five years ago. Cliff says this forced them to look at how they structured their business and helped them to keep up with the ever-changing market.
“We’re not as lean as we used to be, so it’s a little bit segmented, but there’s a lot of structure behind it and that gives us stability for growth,” he says.
It wasn’t always easy. He had to learn to use consistent language when explaining PDR, since it’s not like other investment businesses. With partnership comes the need for communication and sometimes compromise.
“The hardest thing is having a successful partnership,” he says. “That’s difficult. As Bob Mills always says, it’s like a marriage.”
4. Stay Ahead of the Storm with Technology
Cliff’s advice to anyone trying to make a success out of the next big storm is to stay ahead of the game with technology. Using technology has allowed him to get away from pen and paper, so that he can run a more efficient business.
“[Technology] was a big game changer, because we could handle a lot more,” he says.
Cliff had to take the time to put systems in place for the technology to function and to work effectively. But ultimately, it’s allowed the company to grow and take advantage of every opportunity.
Cliff has been able to scale up the business across multiple states by creating consistency across every facet of the business. That means a consistent service offering that meets customer expectations and technology like Mobile Tech RX that lets them build consistent pricing.
He also notes that today’s technology would have completely changed the first few years of his business. In addition to technology to help with the business, the tools and lighting in PDR have advanced greatly.
5. Learn as Much as You Can
Cliff’s advice to anyone hoping to build a successful business in PDR is to learn the craft first. For him, a big piece of PDR is problem solving, so if you can do that well, it will set you up for success.
“Take what you learn and apply it to your business,” Cliff says.
He also encourages anyone to start with an apprenticeship, because the more people you can learn from and work with, the more well-rounded your skills will be.
Cliff recognizes that many of the skills needed for business, like sales, marketing, and finance, are not taught in PDR school. You have to put the time in to learn from your experience and talking to others.
“Learn from other people’s mistakes and talk to people,” he says. “But you are going to have to get your teeth cut.”
This is one feature of Prescribing Growth – a series of interviews with auto recon industry leaders. In this series, we share the experts’ stories and they get to talk about their tips and tricks of running a successful business.