PDR Tech of the Month
I’m 40 years old and live in a small mill town called Belper in the county of Derbyshire, about 15 miles West of Nottingham, with my wife Julie, two daughters Evie and Nancy and a 14 year old collie dog called Kya. If you were to drop a pin in the centre of a map of England, that’s pretty much where we are. Where I live with my family now isn’t where I’m from originally. I was born in London, but soon after moved north to Yorkshire where I spent my childhood in various towns and cities until I was 16.
On leaving school at 16 in 1989, with no qualifications, I took the Queen’s shilling and joined the Army where I spent 12 good years. I met my wife whilst serving in the Army, and when I left we settled in the South East of England and I pursued various dead end jobs such as cavity insulation and HGV driving. It was during one of these driving jobs working for an agency that I was first introduced to PDR. I got the chance to go out with an independent technician who had come from one of the main car plants in the U.K. This first step into the world of PDR didn’t last long due to us moving house for my wife’s work. So we moved 150 miles north to the area where we live now and subsequently my PDR career had seemingly ended until a year or so later when Dent Wizard began taking on in my area. I was trained (properly) and re-started my PDR career full time, working dealer route, auction and platform for Dent Wizard. In 2008 however, the company decided to franchise all the UK employed technicians which I didn’t feel was right for me and so embarked on my own as an independent technician.
I operate a fully mobile service mainly in retail, auction and body shop, and in summer travel to Europe for hail work. I did service main dealers initially but soon realised that the retail market is more lucrative and far more rewarding. I had to change the way I work for the retail market and take on bigger and more complex damage to be able to satisfy the customer, but this has given me more satisfaction than the wholesale market ever did! Over the last couple of years I have been building a regular customer base in Germany, which includes body shops and an import centre (hail and door dings) and I travel over every 4 – 6 weeks to service them This has subsequently lead to other opportunities with more vendors and gradually the business there has grown. A change I would really like to see within our industry is for technicians to stop under selling themselves and their service provision. I think there is a lack of confidence sometimes when selling the positives of PDR to customers. We need to remember that the speed, convenience, the long training we undergo, and skill level we offer needs to be correctly compensated for, and when applicable PDR has to be the preferred repair method for the car. We shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for our worth. Over the last few years there has been some positive changes in the UK in the PDR industry, especially since a big hail storm hit in 2012 which brought a lot of technicians together, and it is starting to feel more unified and joined up. I think the future is a positive one, with PDR nation, the certification process, and with the help of social media, there is no reason why a technician can’t find out everything they need to know about the business of PDR. The next step here in the U.K. is the recognised skills testing which will gradually raise the standards which in turn will hopefully stop the race to the bottom we have been suffering from. If we can brand ourselves as professionals and behave that way then I don’t see any reason why our industry can’t go from strength to strength, it’s only us that can make that happen.
Inside the Industry
I was born and raised in Minnesota and lived here most of my life. I currently live just west of Minneapolis. I have six children, 11 grandchildren, and one great grandchild on the way.
I was first introduced to PDR in about 1978, after meeting Juergen Holzer. He was trained in a BMW factory as I remember the story in the mid-60s and moved to Minnesota where his brother had a Mercedes and German car repair shop. In those days, and perhaps even now, he would not let people watch him do repairs for the most part. Through him I learned of his nemesis, who I also met at MTE this year, Natalia Balderama. At that time, to the best of my knowledge, they were the only people doing PDR in the US, but my exposure to it was very limited so there may have been more. Back then Juergen refused to train people. I believe he probably thought it would take away too much of his work.
In 1980 I was working as a service manager and parts and service coordinator at a Ford dealership in Worthington, Minnesota. Ford’s rotunda tool program offered tools and instructions to do what may or may not have been referred to as Paintless Dent Repair at the time and perfecting paint imperfections with a razor blade and buffing techniques. I bought the program for both. I just recently found my last remaining tool from that set. I will have to hang on to that for memories sake.
After starting to do hail in the early 2000s, I wound up with a fair amount of free time during the winter. I set out to make some better and lighter weight equipment to take on the road, which was the unofficial start of PRO PDR Solutions. The name came about in 2005 and the incorporation in 2007.
Two things got me testing LEDs and creating the light. One, I got tired of getting to a job, pulling my fluorescent light out of the back of my truck, and having the bulb hit the ground. I would have to go out and try to hunt down another bulb that would give me a similar look. My other motivation was to have a mini lite that did not have a cord attached to anything. I still have my first prototype, which has an aluminum tube at the bottom of the light that would hold four CR 123 rechargeable batteries to give me a battery on board effect. I had been using a single fluorescent bulb with part of a PVC tube attached, so the first prototype had that look. For the first version of my modern LED light, I used an old Thin Lite frame, bent the inside to change the shape, and put LEDs inside and a lens outside to start getting a look that I liked. My vision is really poor. If all I had was a left eye, I would be legally blind. That motivated me to continue to pursue the look of the LED reflection and make it as clear as I possibly could. That all started in 2007. Somewhere around that time, A-1 tools made an LED light. I bought that light thinking that would end my broken bulb frustrations, but I really could not work off their lite, so I kept trying to make one I could work with.
I have several new products in the works at all times. I have some ideas that I have been whittling away at since 2010, and when they come out, I believe they will be very well received. I want to make sure that they are as good as I can possibly get them before I release them. When I brought my best working LED lights to MTE in 2010, the reception was so strong, it became obvious that I had to produce what I could right away. Turned out that what I’m producing helped a lot of people see dents better. It has been heartwarming to hear the responses of people to the LED lights. Several careers have been prolonged and overall I believe the quality of PDR has improved as a result. I don’t take credit for it. It was just a nice byproduct of getting a bulb that wouldn’t break so easily.
Another area that affects me and many people in PDR is the repetitive stress on our bodies. I have been developing tools for a while, some help get the job done faster and some help retrain our bodies to use larger muscle groups when possible. In the early days, the tools that were available were pretty poor. It has been wonderful to watch the improvement made in tooling over the years. I am getting closer to retirement age now, but while I’m working, I will continue to design and produce tools and equipment that will help PDR techs work as long as they want in the industry. I love doing PDR, and I know that I am not alone. It is a gratifying pursuit to start on a panel that is beat up bad, and a short time later to have it looking perfect. I will be producing innovative tooling, lighting, and tool carts, etc. for as long as I am able to keep working.
It is nice to see organizations like PDR Nation being created. The group seems to be comprised of people that are not only capable of doing excellent work, but want to see excellent work prevail in the workplace. I believe PDR repair for all types of body damage will become more and more popular. As techniques and tooling continue to improve, I see it being the preferred method to repair dents whenever possible. For most of us, it already is. When I was in the auto body industry, isocyanides poison in urethane paints permanently damaged my lungs. I will do whatever I can to help prevent that from happening to anybody else, and the advancements made in PDR are definitely taking auto body repair in the right direction in my opinion.
PDR Nation would like to welcome three new members to our board. Joshua Radloff has accepted a position as an Advisor to the Board. Dan Hammar and Rey Sapnu were elected as PDR Nation’s first Tech Representatives. The passion these guys have for the industry will be great assets to the PDR Nation Organization. We are proud to have them on board and want to introduce Josh, Dan, and Rey to you.
Josh Radloff is originally from Corona, CA but moved to LaGrange, GA in 2003. Josh was trained by Dent Tech (owners of Dent Gear tools) in Riverside, CA in 1997. Josh works his local market as well as chases some hail. He services body shops in a 60 mile radius from LaGrange that he has built up over the last 11 years. Josh is strictly mobile and has established a strong reputation in his area catering to the retail market. He has spent the last couple of years transitioning from chasing hail most of the year to only a couple of months since having his 3rd child in 2011.
Previous to getting into the PDR industry, Dan Hammar was a manager of a large Auto Appearance shop, managing 15+ employees in Naperville, Illinois, and was trained on small paint and touch-up repairs during his time there. They eventually hired someone to do PDR for them, and Dan quickly realized this was a trade he found absolutely fascinating, and wanted to learn. The technician they hired ended up training Dan in May of 1995. The company Dan was working for closed down in January of 1997. He was then hired by Dent Wizard International and sent to St. Louis, Missouri to Dent Wizard’s training facility for 2 months, and graduated 1st in his class out of 33. Later that fall, Dan was sent back down to St. Louis to become a certified Master Technician and passed. The majority of his time with D.W. (5 years) was spent as the Lead auction technician at the Arena Auto Auction, in Bolingbrook, Illinois. Dan parted ways with D.W. in the fall of 2003, and began his independent PDR career.
Rey Sapnu lives in Cave Creek, AZ but was born and raised in the south suburbs of Chicago. Rey spent 4 years in the Army after high school and then attended Northern Arizona University where he studied Marketing. Rey kind of got into PDR on accident. While helping a friend doing windshield repair he saw a guy fix a softball dent in a fender. Rey was amazed and asked the guy if they were hiring. Luckily they were and sent Rey to California for training in 1998. Rey ran a route for DentPro in the Phoenix metro area for 10 years before branching off on his own and moving to Denver, CO where he did work for Avis. In 2009 he decided to chase hail and went to Austin, TX. Rey has been chasing hail ever since and absolutely loves it!
Working Abroad: Part 1
by Bryce Rockhill
You are sitting at home and get the call or you see the post online and get excited for an overseas deal. Before you commit, the best thing to do is be calm and remove the gold rush like feeling out of your system. It is best to approach such an undertaking with extreme caution and proper calculations. There is a reason that help is needed. The best reason could be it’s a busy season and techs are hard to come by and lucky you (if you are in between deals or at a not so good one.) However if it’s a slower time of the year odds are that the deal is probably not so great as the techs in that country won’t even touch it. Here is a list of suggestions before, and if, you commit to such a deal.
First do every of bit research you can on the deal (damage, percentages, pay per car, how many cars, types of cars, how long the deal will last, who, what, when, where, how, and why about every single thing. Especially when you will be paid. Find out if the company you are to work for is legit. Ask them if you can have some techs numbers that are there so you can ask them how it’s going and for a reference, or find out who is there and contact them directly. Try to get said company to pay for your flights or a small amount up front when you land so you know at least you are partially protected.
Find out about Visas. If you do not have the proper Visa you could face deportation and banned from said country and confiscate your tools. If a company will get you a Visa that is a good sign that they want to be legit and play by the book. A Visa also helps you legally should you not get paid. I suggest not going if a Visa cannot be obtained.
Calculate all expenses. Generally for travel to Europe I calculate the following: -Flight – Always buy a round trip with returning date 3 months out, then you can normally change it to leave within a day or so for a lesser fee than buying two one way tickets. -Shipping tools -Rental car – Get a large enough car to accommodate all your tools and luggage -Hotels -Food -Internet -Phone -Supplies too heavy for flight -Keep exchange rate in mind
My average trip to Europe costs me around $8000 – $10,000 for the first month, second and third about $6,000 each month. If you go by the rules of 3 in business you will have to make $30,000 in one month of being there to make 10,000 in profit. (10-expense, 10-tax, 10-profit)
Have realistic expectations should you go. 99.9% of techs are not millionaires from this business, there is no giant pot of gold. Remember they need techs they’ve never met from another country for a reason. Be very skeptical. If anything whatsoever seems the least bit fishy I would suggest to pass. No need to gamble your time and money. Remember it will hail for the rest of time. There will always be another storm.
So you chose to go to the deal, be it a body shop, commercial, or dealer deal. If while you are there anything starts to change different than what you agreed upon, stop and work it out immediately. If an agreement cannot be reached and you are not happy, I suggest you leave immediately. Do not waste time overseas and allow yourself to be strung out. Situations like that are way more expensive than when it happens to you at home. Bait and switch is an old tactic and happens a lot on most overseas deals. Again remember there is a reason they openly posted looking for help. I equate it to getting a job through a friend or family vs. getting one out of the classifieds.
Basically do everything you do at home when working or checking your facts but be ten times more thorough. You have a lot more to lose overseas. If you get there and it works out and are suffice that’s all that matters. Remember at home and abroad the best deals are the ones never talked about until they are over.