Dentsmart provides body shops and insurance companies with accountable, reliable
and credible paintless dent repair service unlike any other company in the industry.
By Eric Slack
Sooner or later, every vehicle suffers some damage. For cars affected by dings, dents and hailstones, a company such as Dentsmart provides just the solution they need. But Dentsmart has created a different business model for a niche that has traditionally been served in a fly-by-night fashion.
Dentsmart’s area of expertise is paintless dent repair (PDR) for cars that have been the victim of an accidental parking lot dent, or been damaged by hailstones. PDR is a technique used to remove dents or dings from auto body panels without using fillers or repainting. PDR technicians understand how to utilize the physical properties of today’s flexible auto metals to remove the damage. Its technicians access the backside of the damaged panel and utilize graphic lighting to significantly improve or fully restore the panel to pre-accident condition.
Dentsmart was founded by Ron Whitton Jr. and David and Debbie Haxton in 2000 in Illinois. “At that time, PDR technicians would traditionally compete against body shops,” owner Ron Whitton Jr. says. “Traditionally, you’ve had local PDR techs that serve car dealerships and fix door dings, and you’ve had the hailstorm chasers that wait for hail to hit so they can enter a community and provide service. Our approach is to seek out partnerships with body shops and build relationships with insurance companies.”
Indeed, there are several aspects of Dentsmart’s approach to business that make it different from most of its competitors. The fact that the company has taken a proactive approach to building relationships with body shops and insurance companies makes it unique. The company can deliver quality hail response services to body shop partners because Dentsmart is not route-based. This allows its technicians to be available when body shops have customers in need of service.
Additionally, Dentsmart establishes what it calls a “one-car promise” with body shop partners, meaning it will serve its partners no matter how big or small a job may be. “This approach allowed us to grow from Illinois into Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Indiana, Arkansas, Nebraska and beyond,” Dave Haxton says.
Dentsmart’s relationships with insurance partners are also important to body shops. The company specializes in responding to small storms and single claims, and it has built a network that now stretches from Minnesota to Georgia. It is an owner-based and not broker-based company, and it believes in growth by establishing a limited number of partnerships with franchise owners and by investing in training PDR technicians.
“When we first started to expand, we focused on license agreements that would allow the use of the Dentsmart name and provide some guidance and direction,” Whitton says. “More recently, we’ve decided to enter into franchise agreements so we can ensure the same high level of service across our territories. That helps us execute on our commitments to body shops and insurance companies, and it gets everyone on to a standard marketing program that has proven to be successful.”
Dentsmart is extremely diligent about its franchise partnerships. Right now, it has a presence in about a dozen markets with only a handful of franchises. “We are very particular about who we bring in, and most are technicians we have met who want to be business owners,” Debbie Haxton says. “We won’t let just anyone sign a franchise agreement. They first have to go through a one-year license agreement, and we show them how to market the business.”
Dentsmart believes providing value to franchisees is critically important. The company helps with marketing to insurance companies in all of its territories.
“We have contacts that allow us to get in the door, and franchisees couldn’t do that on their own,” Dave Haxton says. “From a corporate standpoint, we are constantly in contact with insurance companies through email newsletters and postcards that get to home offices and front-line adjusters. We also conduct in-market seminars for insurance companies on our services.”
That marketing help extends to building ties to body shops. Dentsmart provides franchisees with a highly accurate list of body shops in their territories so franchisees can make contact and introduce the PDR services to the market.
“When we enter a state, we commit to go anywhere even for a single hail car,” Debbie Haxton says. “The corporate office helps soften the market by contacting body shops in the same way we do insurance companies.”
PDR technician training is another way Dentsmart provides value to franchisees. Technicians can go to Dentsmart’s Illinois and Tennessee training facilities at no cost. “We expect technicians to put time and effort into the training,” Dave Haxton says. “When a trainee is in our program, they can practice as they continue to work their current job. If they are too far away from our training facility, we create satellite operations using established technicians of ours and educating them on our training procedures so they can train people in other markets.”
Dentsmart also supports franchisees by making sure they stay busy. If hail-related work is light in some markets, it can provide opportunities for technicians to work in markets where business is busier. “It works the other way, too,” Debbie Haxton says. “If a market is oversaturated with work, we can supply franchisees with approved technicians to help handle the workload.”
The company’s efforts to provide value to franchisees are ongoing. It has created software for estimating that body shops and insurance companies can rely on, and it has provided that system to the franchisees. Now, it is working on sales and marketing software that can also be provided to franchisees.
Dentsmart isn’t likely to try to build a massive franchise network. Its franchisees need territorial exclusivity to succeed, and some parts of the country are not conducive to the PDR business. But the business model that Dentsmart has created has proven to be viable, and the company is excited about its continued prospects for growth.
“We have carved out a niche that has very little competition,” Whitton says. “There is potential for growth in our newer markets, and we will add markets when we find the right partners who have what it takes to build a market from scratch.”