From Detailer to PDR Expert
Gene first got his start in auto recon on the detailing side of things, not PDR. With detailing, he saw the potential to make money without yet having an education.
“I started detailing because it was a great way to make money,” he says.
Gene used the money from detailing to help him pay his way through computer school. But after the crash in the economy, Gene was offered a job making $7/hour using his qualifications. He decided it was far more lucrative for him to continue detailing. He did that for seven years before getting into PDR. But, looking back, he might have done things a little differently.
“In retrospect, knowing what I know now about business and sales, I would have stayed in the detailing space and scaled that business,” he says.
The main thing that Gene understands now about detailing is how to charge what you’re worth, which makes it far easier to grow your business. But, at the time, he was looking for the opportunity, so he started talking to the vendors he worked with. And he realized that by investing in a tool kit and some training, he could specialize in dent work. And that’s exactly what he did.
Here are Gene Fetty’s tips on how to build a successful PDR business:
Tips from Gene Fetty: Build a Successful PDR Business
1. Think Long Term and Commit
Despite the relatively low barrier to entry, Gene couldn’t afford the training he was offered initially. So he went with a cheaper five-day course, which then meant he had to spend months practicing—without making money from it. He also gave up his detailing business to one of his techs. He admits that this was not his smartest business move, but it was what he felt he had to do to take the next step in his career.
“Do not give your business away, ever!” he advises. “But, at the time, I really felt like I needed to make the commitment to learning the craft [of PDR].”
While PDR can seem like an easy business to get into, Gene warns that it is one of the hardest skills to master. He was able to get a junk hood and door from a friend’s body shop, which he would practice on from his mother’s garage. But he had to sacrifice making money with cars while he honed his skill.
“The majority of the industry is putting the hard work in to master the craft, which is part of the reason it makes it so difficult to scale the business,” he says.
2. Work with a Mentor
Gene made some contacts at some local dealerships and was paid his first $150 for a dent job on a minivan. In the meantime, he was doing some windshield repair for another dealership to earn some more money. It was here that he met the dent repair professional who would later become one of his mentors and change his life.
“He mentored me for a month-and-a-half, switched the reflection source I was using, and there was just that light bulb moment,” Gene says. “Eighteen months into my journey, having that mentor, it just clicked. He was fighting cancer and decided he was done with business and handed the whole thing over to me.”
To this day, Gene credits his mentor for helping him master PDR. And he advises anyone interested in the business, to learn from someone who can do it well. In fact, he has mentored both of the techs who now work full time at Dent Repair Now.
3. Master Your Craft
Owning a PDR business was a big undertaking for Gene, but he was eager to do whatever it took for it to grow. He was able to get a loan to learn touch-ups and bumper repair, so he soon added that as another revenue stream.
“It’s a much shorter learning curve,” he says. “I went through training for a week, I came home, practiced on my wife’s car, and we were out on Monday billing out work.”
But he warns against trying to diversify your skill set too much, and instead he encourages auto recon professionals to focus on mastering one skill really well. Gene himself has since moved away from other types of repair work to focus solely on PDR.
“The true mastery of a craft requires dedication to that craft.”
4. Find Areas of Growth
Gene built his business, Total Reconditioning Services, to be a one-stop shop. But by 2011 he was starting to see a change in the industry and he realized there was an opportunity to offer retail PDR services.
“You could see a wave of PDR moving out of just wholesale or hail and moving into a retail market,” he says.
At the same time, he had come to the realization that as a “solo-preneur” he wasn’t really running a business, he’d just bought himself a job. So that’s when he decided to take a risk and invest in hiring another person and building a website with his Dent Repair Now domain name.
5. Look for Loyal Employees
Gene learned from experience that making a bad hire can cost you thousands of dollars. So it’s crucial that you can trust any hires to do a good job, without you having to check their work for them.
“I think loyalty is probably the biggest thing,” Gene says. “And with that loyalty comes a ton of trust.”
His recommendation to anyone making a new hire is not to rush at it. If you can, take time with that person to figure out if they’ll be a good fit.
6. Have a Marketing Plan
Gene says the retail aspect of PDR is the hardest to scale, so it involves a strategic marketing plan. He advises anyone to listen to his PDR Marketing Minute podcast for regular tips. But he also says you need a website and social media platforms—all of which require up-to-date content.
Gene has a natural flare and interest in marketing and so invested in it early in his business. He was buying Google AdWords and used his Webmaster skills from computing school. But even then it took a couple of years of hard work to see the return.
7. Adapt to Change
Gene has seen the change in the industry affect how he conducts his business. When the retail side of his business really started to take off there was very little competition, so it was different to the PDR landscape we’re seeing now.
For Gene, that meant investing more in his business. In 2018 he bought the brick-and-mortar location and made another new hire. Using Mobile Tech RX, he was able to put one of his techs on an hourly rate, so that he was only paying for the time that he worked.
8. Learn Communication Skills
In addition to learning the craft, Gene advises anyone trying to build a successful PDR business to hone their communication skills. This generation, more than any other, relies on digital platforms, but being able to talk to people and make connections is crucial.
Gene taught himself through reading books like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It by Chris Voss, and the Secrets of Closing the Sale by Zig Zigler.
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.