Jeramey Henson was well into a welding career when he decided he wanted out.
He’d moved up to a shop foreman but was ready for a career that wasn’t so physically demanding.
“Welding is just hard work,” he says.
Chris McWhirter, meanwhile, was fresh out of high school and working in restaurants, living paycheck to paycheck, when he realized he needed to learn a trade if he was ever going to get ahead financially.
The answer for each of them was a career in paintless dent removal, a method of removing dents from autos battered by hail or other events such as door dings that don’t demand a paint job or replacement part to repair.
While both men are from Springfield, they didn’t meet until they were several years into their careers.
“We met at a storm in Olathe, Kansas, working for a larger corporate broker,” McWhirter says of their introduction in 2011. “We just really hit it off. We found out we were from the same town, we had the same views, we care about the same things when it comes to life and business. From that storm, we started working together. Everything has worked out great.”
The two chased storms together, doing insurance repair work independently, for many years. In 2016, they formed HM Dent Works LLC, and last year began creating a training offshoot: HM Dent Works Academy LLC. The repair facility and academy will be operating this summer in a 5,000-square-foot building they recently acquired at 2647 W. Bennett St. They’ve been operating out of a temporary shop in southwest Springfield.
Their plan is to have McWhirter continue to chase storms while Henson focuses on getting the academy off the ground and builds business at the repair shop. Co-owner Julia Henson, Henson’s wife, focuses on marketing.
“The guys are fantastic at pushing dents and chasing hailstorms, and I’m good at business,” she says.
Chasing the money
Travel is a key component of paintless dent removal, or PDR, as it’s called in the industry.
Henson says he keeps a close eye on storm predictions and prepares to arrive as the hail starts hitting.
“You can’t call and say, ‘Hey, I saw that it hailed, and I’ll be there Monday,’” he says. “Now, if you’re not standing on their doorstep, you just don’t get in. It’s more cutthroat.”
PDR technicians work out a deal with auto body shops when catastrophic events happen. In exchange for getting the space to work storm-related insurance claims and make repairs, they give the body shops a cut of what they make. Henson says the repair shop’s portion ranges 20%-40% with the remainder going in the tech’s pocket.
“They just put me in a corner and feed me work. It’s very lucrative work. The shop can make several hundred thousand dollars,” he says, offering an example from 2020. “We had three storms last year. I had six guys working for us. A good tech can gross about $6,000-$7,000 a day.”
Henson says his team grossed $1 million last year. His personal best while working solo was in 2016, when there were massive storms in Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Amarillo, Texas. He says he grossed $405,000 that year.
“For the average paintless dent repair tech, working six (months) on, six off, there’s no reason you can’t make $150,000-$200,000. That’s just steady work. That’s not even hustling,” Henson says.
But the good pay can draw unskilled people.
“These guys think they can go buy a set of tools and watch some YouTube videos and get good at this craft – and that’s just not possible,” Julia Henson says.
After a career that has taken Henson and McWhirter to all 50 states, Australia and Canada, the two decided to design a training program that would give techs in training all of the tools they need to run a successful business, not just the tools required to pull dents.
“There’s always been training options, but you don’t really get what we offer,” McWhirter says. “You don’t have to have an education, per se, but proper training is essential.”
The owners say the academy’s curriculum was developed over many weekends with a whiteboard, spitballing ideas.
They wanted to train techs how to make top-quality repairs, but after 20 years on the road, they knew there were a slew of other issues that go along with being an independent contractor or operating an LLC.
The 10-week course includes two weeks of online training followed by eight weeks of on-site, hands-on training. Lodging and tools also are included in the $20,000 tuition fee.
The creators say the HM Dent Works curriculum also examines some unexpected areas of the trade.
“We’re taking it as far as having a therapist come in and talk about married life on the road,” Julia Henson says. “If you make $300,000 in five months and you don’t work the rest of the year, you’ve got to save your money and think about your taxes. They wind up broke and can’t even get out there to work because they can’t pay their hotel bill.”
McWhirter and Henson say their motivation is to teach trainees all the things they weren’t taught.
The academy held a beta course in January, allowing them to fine-tune the curriculum, which ends in becoming HM certified if completed. They expect to move into the West Bennett Street shop in July and launch the first class in August. Henson says he expects a full class of five students but can accommodate more. The enrollment period ends July 1.
While students tend to be entrepreneurial, McWhirter says he expects body shops will send staff for PDR training.
“When we’re not around, or when it is slower, I believe every body shop is going to have their own guy,” he says.
Henson says he hopes future techs find the gratification he’s found in the business.
“I’m so glad I did it 20 years ago. It’s provided just a wonderful life,” he says.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May the all-items inflation index surged 8.6% over the past year, the highest increase since 1981.