Auto Shop Marketing: How to Grow Your Auto Shop with Dent Group of VA

Auto Shop Marketing:
Dent Group of VA

Paintless Dent Repair Tech to Multi-Site Business Owner
Watch the Interview with Dent Group of VA

Auto Shop Marketing Pros:
Interview with Dent Group of VA

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    I'm here today with my friends, Richie and Courtney Powell from Dent Group of VA and Dent Group of OBX.

    Their business is focused on painless dent repair in Northern Virginia and the Outer Banks, NC. 

    How did you get started in Paintless Dent Repair?

    So I'm wondering how did you get started in PDR?

    A large hailstorm hit the Northern Virginia area, so the company at the time subcontracted another company in for the repairs, and at that time, a gentleman who is now my brother in law had met my sister, and that's how I started to see the trade.

    At that time, it was a very young trade, very young industry, so it was definitely something I was excited, excited about and wanted to try, because I've always been around automotive growing up, and I was currently doing light automotive work at the time.

    It's a lot cleaner work and I was very interested. So the company that subcontracted him in decided to bring me on. And 23 years later, here I am still in the industry and still moving forward. That's awesome. So it sounds like you work for someone else prior to starting your own business. Is that right?

    Yes, doing automotive work light automotive, and then, just a couple
    other, just always been around cars and motorcycles, just grew up around drag racing, and so always been around cars, always interested in the business. So this raises a question, we didn't have this planned, but you.

    College vs Becoming a Paintless Dent Repair Tech?

    You had always mentioned to me how you didn't go to college, but yet you're still successful in this. Can you talk to that real quick? I'm, I know you can talk all day about that. But what kind of. Yeah, go ahead. I'm sorry. I was gonna say what prompted you to like to go to this path versus going to college like so many people do. Okay, good question. At the time in school, I just always worked, I've always worked since I was young I came from that generation where you know, you mow grass and shovel snow, you know You made money and you bought things you wanted and just always had a good work ethic.

    Didn't care much for school, just being honest and just, just always 
    wanted to work. Yeah, barely made it out of high school. But at the time had two jobs right out of school. And, and I never down anybody who goes to school. Don't get me wrong. That's not what I'm saying here. I just want to let people know that there are good opportunities being a blue collar worker working with your hands. And this is one trade that, you know, that, that can happen. So right out of school, I was just doing, like I said, some light automotive work. But, no matter what I did, I just always tried to learn as much as I could and do it the best I could.

    I just wasn't fortunate enough, didn't have the grades to go to school, but I knew there was opportunities out there. Yeah, I grew up around business. I knew that, one day I do want to own my own business and, got into this trade and now we do own our own business and, maybe college would have helped me not make as many mistakes, but I kind of joke and tell everybody that Dent Group has been in business for five years and I've learned a whole lot about business, but I actually got to experience it rather than just reading it out of a book. So I tell everybody this past five years has been my college. Yeah. Yeah. That's awesome. And Courtney, and at any time you can always feel free to jump into but I got a a side question.

    What is the coolest car you have worked on?

    I was wondering what's the coolest car you've worked on.

    Coolest? I guess it depends on, because I know a lot of people think, older cars are cool. Brand new cars are cool. I've been fortunate to work on both.

    Yeah, I worked on a brand new Lamborghini.

    The oldest vehicle I've worked on is I think a 1954 Ford truck, did it out of the driver fender.

    So I've worked on just about everything we can think of. We've. Even got into doing a little bit of stainless steel refrigerators with the process gas tanks, fixed aluminum siding before I'll show you how much I know about cars, but what was that really old, like antique green car that we had at the shop? In my opinion, I think that was the coolest one I've seen him work. Yeah. It's in our pictures under Denver V. A. Mike actually repaired that one, but I can't even think of what it is now. Honestly that's probably the oldest car that we've had in the shop. But me personally, I didn't work on it. But yeah, I think that was like a 1937 antique, I've worked on cars As low value as two grand, as much as up to five million, which is, pretty incredible. Celebrity vehicles. Celebrity vehicles, some of them I can't talk about, but I did fix Justin Bieber's Lamborghini. I just wasn't allowed to post it. Yeah. Can we keep that in here?

    Yeah, it's awesome. That's awesome. So at what point did you so you work for some other folks before starting the business.

    When did you decide to start your own PDR business?

    At what point did you decide, Hey, I think I want to try this on my own and start and venture out and start my own business. Yeah, good question. So when I first started in the industry, I worked for a company called Dent Masters Inc, and they're based out of Northern Virginia. Brad Hodgson is the owner. They've been in business now, I want to say over 30 some years. He was, one of the guys from the from round one. So work for him. And great company. We, I was an area manager running my own thing. And it was a, it was a good model. He had, you came on, they were trained in house, but then you you're out and you found all your own work and, it was building a business under a business. And I did that and he was all for it. So I grew my areas. And at that point, I just, I just had a different model. I had some things in mind. And it was it was a mutual agreement. I, I did it right. I bought the area, I didn't just quit and start my own thing. I, I did it right. I bought the area and then move my model into the area. And here we are.

    Getting older and having small kids and realizing you probably can't work physically with your hands for the rest of your life and getting to that point of, okay what does our future look like? And like he said, he always wanted to have his own business. And so that was a really good way. So to start thinking, more long term retirements coming before we know it and things like that. Yeah, I just wanted to implement my model more than, my hands every day and I do both.
    [00:06:58] Yeah. That's good. Yeah, and Courtney, you mentioned, you alluded to this a little bit, but what, were there any issues, I'm sure there's a lot of issues on the the family side. How is this, how is it for you? I guess the kids, raising kids and then having Richie transition to the business model. It was hard at first because I think, especially considering when we started DEN Group of VA. I was pregnant with our youngest and so we were timing that out Oh, we've got six months until the babies do. We're fine. We have plenty of time and it definitely takes longer than that. Maternity leave looked a lot different with, our youngest. I think it's just things that pop up along the way that you don't anticipate or don't realize, like he said you really learn a lot. No one can sit down and really tell you everything that's going to pop up along the way to prepare you before you start your own business. So just finding that new family work balance. It's great to have the flexibility, but at the same time, it's not like you. Clock in and clock out at the end of the day when you have your own business. Yeah. Or so Courtney for you, what.


    Recommendations for new auto shop businesses.

    Is there a recommendation that you have, and I don't, maybe I didn't ask you this before, but that you would have for either the spouse or for, or for the owner? You're both the owners, but the guy working, is there something that you would tell either one as they're getting ready or ready to start business or into business? Is there something that you can think about? I would say to just be really mindful of that work home balance because it's really, like with anyone, no matter what kind of job or career you have, sometimes it's. It's hard to leave work at work. And then when you have your own business, it's like you get through the day and then you finally have time to talk to each other. So you can talk about work all day and all night, but at the same time, especially if you have small kids, you don't want to do that all

    the time. So just finding the balance, knowing when to cut it off or just planning personal time and making sure you don't spend all of your personal time talking about work and planning work because it's easy to do. I know at 1 time we had a little bit of a system because, sometimes there's tension involved, especially the past couple of years. Things have changed so much in every industry. So there's stress that's involved, and if you're talking about the stressful things at the dinner table and you have small kids, it might sound a little bit heated sometimes. That's not really how you want to spend your family dinner. So we used to have a system where at the time he was commuting an hour and a half home from Northern Virginia and I would get home before him. And so I'm like, look, why don't you call me on your way home? And that way, if you have anything that you need to talk through or vent about. We can do that while the kids are playing and I'm making dinner and then when you come home, it's all about family time because we've gotten that off your chest.

    So that's one thing. It's just being careful to find that balance. That's good. That could be a whole that's a whole lesson right there. Yeah, we don't work weekends. And in the automotive industry, that's unheard of. But we just I just don't we just don't now we will if, a hailstorm hits or, and, down here, we might be open on the weekends, just because of. The traffic, but, we try not to work weekends from Monday through Friday. My goal with Debt Group was to start a business to where you can have, a six figure income with a balanced family life. And that's actually a model that I did get from Debt Masters. And Brad has done well with that. He has. And that is one thing that I implemented here. And we have just. I'll see paid vacation, but I give every co worker pay day off on the birthday. So everybody has a birthday off no weekend. So there's 52 weekends
    in a year. So that's already 52 Saturdays. They have off plus 15 days off during the year. Five paid plus the birthday paid. That's a lot of time off. But all I ask is why are you here? You put in the effort, you put in the hours, we need to produce and, and I think we've done well with that. We haven't absolutely sounds like a great place to work.

    I guess a couple questions about, when you're starting. Dent group of VA.

    How did you decide between commercial or retail PDR work?

     Some guys are focused on retail or commercial What was your and not to get too much into your strategy? But how did you I guess focus on which one? How did you decide which one you're going to focus on and how did you go about that? I guess Yeah, good question. So when I started in this industry 23 years ago, we did, a lot of wholesale work because in Northern Virginia, there's a lot of dealerships. So it started out with dealership work. And then, we started moving into some body shop work as well. And then, we started getting into the retail market. And then we also would, focus on hail if hailstorms hit. So we pretty much, hit every market, and I'm the type of guy that, I don't, I'm not. Picky where all we only do this or only do that. No, we help everyone that needs help with their vehicle. It doesn't matter if it's insurance, retail, wholesale,

    body shop. And I think that's what's made us successful because those markets change. When COVID hit, the dealership market almost everything went away. weeks. But the retail side of the business started to pick up because everybody's home working from home and getting bored. So then we launched our shop being CDC compliant where the drop off and pick up. And, if we didn't have the retail side of the business at that time, we probably would have 100. And then there's times where The retail side might be down or body shop side might be down. And then the dealership side is up because interest rates are down. I've seen every avenue in our business go up and down over the years. We just learned our market and learned our niche. And, at the end of the day, how can yeah, for us we work on all of it. We do. That's awesome. So anyone that's familiar with northern Virginia know that it knows that it's a pretty huge market. I probably 2, 000, 000 people just in Fairfax County and more. So how did I guess? I'm wondering how did you stand out in that market?Obviously you already had a reputation. He had amazing shop, but no one really knew about it.


    How did you stand out in the crowded northern Virginia market?

    So how did you stand out in a crowded market?
    Yeah, it's a good question because actually when I started, I was in the industry for 18 years with the previous company working out of that location. And then when I bought my area and change the name, when you googled that location, it actually said permanently closed. So we had to start over with the retail market and the, the dealerships obviously knew us. The name change wasn't a big deal. We were still involved, still had that work or a retail market went away. And that's where and when I met you we spoke that day you came by the shop because I was looking for somebody to do marketing. I did a website and my brother in law built me a website at first just to get us going. Which I'll never forget. Our. My brother in law, which is Courtney's brother, designed our logo. I drew it out and he, so I had some help getting started, but still just no retail, nobody coming in the shop. 5, 000 square foot shop right in the middle, of Fairfax County and Chantilly with no customers coming in. So that's when I met you, James, and came by and we did the video and got the website going and the marketing going. And I can honestly say, Not to talk too many numbers, but the first two or three months, we've, we were very successful out of that shop. And to this day, we've now repaired thousands and thousands of vehicles between Northern Virginia and the Outer Banks and constantly growing. So yeah, with your help and your marketing and your strategies and the ads and highly recommend for anybody who's listening highly recommend. Cause if you try to do this on your own, Hey, you won't have the time, the know how, we've learned a lot over the years and we've done some pretty decent marketing and videos. And now we do have a little bit more time, but when you're starting your business, give that to the professionals and let them launch, your niche, your business. And. Let the customers come in. And I always say I don't care how good you can repair a vehicle, if you don't have a customer, you'll never have a repair. The customer comes first and you need them through the door before you have anything.

    The hidden meaning behind the Dent Group of VA logo

    You mentioned something about your logo creation.

    I had this thought, last night at church. Actually, they talked about some interesting things about logos that you don't notice something until you look close.

    You mentioned something to me a few years ago about this. I doubt many people know about it.

    Can you mention something that's like a hidden piece on your logo?

    I can. Thanks for bringing that up. Wow. When I designed Dent Group I drew this out, a bunch of different, angles or whatever, and then between me and my brother in law, we came up with this design, but if you look right here where The D crosses into the G, you have a little Christian fish.

    And that is what I believe has made us successful. I pray about everything. I don't just make a drastic decision. And so I pray about it and get confirmation and then we move forward. And our story, if I had time would, it's pretty amazing. It is. We could talk all day about some of this stuff. I wonder if you mind, you've got some incredible systems there for VA and we'll get to OBX in a second.

    The Dent Group of VA Way

    I wonder if you mind talking a little bit about what I like to call the dent group way. From a big standpoint, not to give away your secrets, but some of the things that have helped your business. Sure. So I've dialed this, more than the average. I'm a very clean, organized guy to begin with. And I'm glad I can implement that in business and then step back and see the success of it. So just a little bit about that. When you walk into our shop, when we have a shop in Virginia and the shop we're going to do here, which by the way, we're opening up a shop in Outer Banks for Willie

    March 4th. So we're announcing that for the first time. But it'll be the same model. When you walk into these shops you'll get a nice smell because, when you smell something nice. Positive endorphins, are in your brain. You smell something bad, it's negative. And we're actually turning a negative situation into a five star experience. So nobody wants to come see us. Your car is damaged. You're already upset. You're mad. We don't have an amusement park. We are here to help, but your car is damaged. So from that first let me back up.

    When you first call us to our virtual estimating, the link you designed for us and just how easy and convenient we could take an estimate to repair in less than 24 hours, and I'm going to launch a new model that I'm not going to say nothing about right now, but is even going to be more convenient for our customer. So to answer your question, the Dent Group way is customer first, you and launch it. Repair second. And I feel if you can accommodate the customer and turn that negative situation to a five, five star experience, you will never have an unhappy customer. And I haven't looked lately, but, within what James, I've been in business five years, been working with you for years, and we really didn't hit the marking that hard this past year. But, we're up to, over 200 perfect five star reviews in Virginia, which is a very competitive market. Here in the outer banks are up to 50 or 60 perfect five star reviews. So I feel like that's just our customer service. Yes, the repair matters. It [00:19:00] does. But it starts here. It starts with the phone call, the customer interaction. Then walking in your shop, them feeling, just good about the situation that they can trust you and then you deliver the repair, then you follow up from there and I say it's not a repair. It's an experience and that's with any business. If you can deliver that, you will be successful in any business.

    Being professional and having really good customer service and being really organized. I think we'll set any business apart, but also just having a specific system for anything he, worked in this industry for almost 20 years before we started our own business. Any field that you work in, there's going to be issues or problems or mistakes that happen along the way. So instead of just going with the flow and seeing what happens, he's implemented specific systems for anything that could go wrong. If it could go wrong or it has go wrong, there is something in place for your day to day activities that's going to prevent that from happening. So it prevents a lot of issue. It prevents damages. Money and time from being lost. So I think that's really helped in a big way. Yeah, that's a whole another podcast. And, but the systems I developed, James, basically it's on autopilot right now. Everything's virtual. I'll just give you a quick example. Everything right here is just part of the system.

    Our day to day is on the iPad. Okay. Right here is everybody who's working with us and both businesses, two different States, it's a clock in clock out. It's accountability. We  get a call. Actually, I don't want to go too much into it, but either way, it runs itself which has allowed us, we're here in our home office right now and, both companies are running, but, everything is right there.  We can see, see what's going on and help out and estimate virtual  and we don't need to be in the field anymore. We are, but technically we don't need to be. So that's part of the system we set up. But now with our coworkers and by the way, we don't have employees. We have coworkers. That's part of our model too. Our coworkers, they know every day, their job and what they're expecting. There's no gray areas. They know, you know how to do it. When to do it and everything is in the system and they can look it up if they have questions. Down to how to open up our shop and close our shop is in our system in our handbook where the keys are left. I've just eliminated. All of those problems.

    Our technicians right now technically don't need to take phone calls, which when I was a technician, 15, 18 years ago, we would get sometimes 10, 15, 20 phone calls a day. And then you're, you're calling your co workers and I added it up. 1 phone call could be 5 minutes. Within a 30 minute time span, 1 technician can, fix 2 to 3 wholesale cars. So I did the math and I broke that system down. And now our technicians are well over six figures, working 40 hours or less and minimal phone calls. I don't need to talk to them technically. Everything's virtual. Everything's, and that's part of our system. And our technicians are now producing three times the national average because of these systems. And I'm a firm believer in that because it's proven, I've seen it, and it's only growing and growing. Wow, that's powerful.

    Why did you start your second location - Dent Group of OBX?

    So you mentioned your other location. We started off with VA and I think you started about three years ago and now you're going to have a look at an actual shop location, but can you tell us like what, what made you decide to start the secondary location since obviously VA is already huge. But correct. Correct. When I met my wife she liked to vacation here and she has friends here who actually have a business, and anytime I'd go on vacation anywhere, I always say, Oh, I wonder if I could do what I do here. This nice place right at the beach. So I've looked into the market for about 7 years. It's been our dream to live here anyway, not to retire, but just to, live here. And there's a lot of opportunity here. Good place to raise kids and so forth. We've been looking into it for seven years. My son vacation down here, he came back. He's like that because he's working with me in Virginia at the time. He said, now we start a business there. I said it's funny you say that. So two days later, we started the process, went out on a lot of faith, a lot of prayer and doors open like you would not believe. It couldn't have been more clear. So we started it three years ago moved him down here in October his lease was up in his apartment, so I lost a good tech, but knew the opportunity here for him and for us, so moved him down here in October no name, no work, nothing. Really not many competitors, not a lot of advertisement here, like Northern Virginia, a lot of people on Facebook, but Google isn't that big. A lot of business don't even have websites. So we get down here and then come to find out there are a couple technicians, what we do, but not with our model. So I moved my son down here in October, no business, no name, no work. We didn't start till January 1. But when we moved him down here, I said

    I've gotta go, try to get an account and get some work. And funny story, but I did a wholesaler 18 years ago to talk about not wanting to do work for certain people. A lot of people in our industry, oh, we're not doing wholesale work. A wholesaler that I've done work for 18 years ago, So my post mentioned a company down here, which is mentioned all the super center and Jody midgets, the owner and went in there and that was the first account and doing business
    with them today as well.
    They gave us our first opportunity, so that door opened, but technically we didn't start till January one. So my opportunities came up here for my son to live. So we moved him down here and he took a huge pay cut to do this. He was, he was a technician with  me, started training when he was nine. So he was with me for about a year and a half in Virginia. So we all sacrificed a little bit to do this, started the company. And three years later, we now live here and we're getting ready to open up a shop and, life is good. That's awesome. And you get to surf a little bit more than Northern Virginia. Maybe one day. That's really nice. Yeah. Yeah. So you been in PDR for over 20 years. You've had, now multiple businesses in the same industry. Obviously, you've got, you talk about all these systems, you talk about the training and I think I've asked you this before and.

    Learn PDR with Dent Group of VA

    But what have you ever thought about training people, training new techs or business owners or anything like that? I have James. Good question. Now the technicians that I have with me, I did train them, I train with PR and just, send them out there with our systems, they work with us. So yeah, I [00:26:00] have thought about. Training somebody else and I think I'm gonna do it. I think I'm gonna do it. So we've got things in the works. Once the shop opens up, but our training program will be different than what's out there, not knocking anybody by any means, but we're going to do a 3 month program and in this program, we will train your PDR. The marketing side, the business side, the management side, the estimating side, the insurance side, I'm going to take 23 years of my knowledge and experience and cram it into a three month course. So yes, we are going to launch that and I will do it. That's awesome. I think I want to come out there and try that out. Who wouldn't want to train at the beach? Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Actually one question. Is there anything, looking back, I'm sure there's a lot of things you might try differently, but is there anything you would consider doing differently having gone through, through these multiple years? I'm sure. Yes. A lot of it's, learning, but always say too, if, if you don't do something and fail a little bit, you will never learn, you will never learn  from instant success.
    You learn from failure and I don't think we failed, but yeah, of course, you made mistakes. We're human. Like I said, I don't have a business degree. I learned from experience and jumping into it and, learning on the way. So would I do anything different? I'm sure, but I really can't pinpoint, an exact thing. Because I feel like everything's in God's timing. And I could go into that, which was crazy. We just came off a hailstorm for five months that happened at the end of the season. We moved down, sell everything we have, sell our house, moved down here in August, September 8th, a hailstorm hits in northern Virginia. If that would have happened two months ago. Then, things would have been different. The timing is all lined up. So would I do anything different? I not much, to be honest with you, not much. We went through COVID, which was, that wasn't in the plan. No one told me about that. We started a brand new business and the next year COVID hit, we had to restructure everything. All these new laws came out that, I didn't know I've never  experienced that and everybody I've talked to hasn't experienced that. Yeah. We're just going with the flow and learning and implementing stuff and, Lord willing and thank God we're still here and, both businesses are doing well and we just came off a record year. So it was not much. To be honest with you, maybe a little bit more balanced family life and figuring that out. But we're doing that now, and these systems have felt, I felt do that. Yeah, I like that. Yeah, people want to get the quick tips and instant success and how to bypass all the failures. But. Chances are, you're not going to learn and actually get the success you want without trying things. I like what you said. Yeah. What about.  And we're almost be done here, wrap this up, but I wanted to see if there's any.

    Advice for new auto related or PDR businesses

    A little bit of advice that you might give a PDR shopper business because I know you could you've got so much advice anyway but is there something that you would tell a PDR  business that might be struggling  or looking to get to the next level? Yeah, I mean I would say just you know, reach out and Listen to people who have done it, and and i've always say if you don't know you don't know So if you don't know  Listen from someone who does know Yeah, and I've  always said that, experience, and that's where I go back to, yeah, I could have went to school and read a book, but you can't beat. experience. And if somebody has the experience and has done  something wrong, listen to them because they've done it wrong. They don't want you to do it wrong, so yeah, listen to the guys who have done it, open up a shop or, have been hail chasers or whatever the case may be, reach out. And this industry is good about that. There's a lot of platforms you can go on and, and just listen, don't ever think you know it all. I don't know it all. I'm still learning every day. Every month. Constantly learning. You can never stop learning. So my advice is reach out to somebody who has done it.

    You might like their model. You might like the way they're doing it. Mentor with them and listen and move forward. But yeah, jump in and absolutely, jump in and try. I recommend that for everybody and anyone. If you just keep talking and talking, you always regret it. Just like this training. I've been talking about for how many years, but I'm gonna try, it might not work. It might fail, but at least I've learned something and then I can say, you know what? I tried that. I'm moving on. Yeah, being flexible and creative, I think is key because I think a lot of people are afraid of change or don't like change. It's easy to get set in your ways, especially when something's worked for a really long time. But the world changes, the market changes, the economy changes and people change. And I think that Us implementing changes as we've needed to, it can be really stressful to change things, but I think it's what's helped us be successful being flexible, creative and changing, especially through the pandemic and all of that. So that's been huge for us. Yes. And to touch on that a little bit, look at how much has changed just in the past five, six years with technology and, the marketing side, thank God for you, James. But, you got to adapt. And move with the market, because if not, you'll get run over not to knock this company. But I always think of blockbuster, look, they were, on top for how many years, but technology changes, things change, you need to adapt, but when you do have a change in business, you need to sit down, train, Implement it, put it on paper and teach it because you can't just expect everyone to do it, and that's part of, what we do. But yeah, just adapt and change like Courtney said, and don't be scared of it and move forward and listen and get advice and. Do what you're passionate about and do it the best you can do it. I always say, if I'm gonna clean a toilet bowl, I'm gonna be the best toilet bowl cleaner. Just try to do everything the best in your niche that you can do. Yeah. And you will be successful. That's awesome.

    Contact Dent Group of VA

    I appreciate you guys sharing your insights with us and with me. So what's the best place for someone to reach out to you guys for either dent repair or learn more about you guys in general? Yeah, absolutely. You can reach us in Virginia at Or here in the outer banks at If you're interested in any type of advice or training or how to get into this industry All right, and we'll have that in the the notes here for everybody too. So once again appreciate You, Richie and Courtney with Dent Group of VA and Dent Group of OBX. Appreciate you guys with all your business knowledge and your insights and your friendship. Thank you guys. And with that.

    Thanks for having us, James. It James. And I'll say once again, we couldn't have done it without you. We appreciate everything you have done. The marketing, has been incredible. And, I've talked to other companies that might get websites. But just the personal aspect you provide, you and your wife, Michelle J and pro consulting has been incredible, and I see we're growing together and it's, we couldn't do it without you. The marketing is just as important, if not more important than the repair. Because once again, everyone, if you don't have a customer, you don't have a repair. The customer comes first and James here can definitely help you get those customers in the door. So thank you guys and take care. God bless.

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