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The Hail Team Gives ‘Em Hell

  



From May through August, all along the I-35 corridor from San Antonio, Texas to Minneapolis, Minnesota, the ambulance chasers of the hail dent industry spend their days and nights camped at car dealerships ahead of oncoming thunderstorms likely to produce hail. Their purpose is to be the first in line with a business card and credentials when a car dealership faces the carnage left behind by hail pounding the metal on hundreds of new cars on their lots. 
For five years prior to becoming a broker for the hail dent industry, Kirk Stanton of The Hail Team headquartered in Bolivar, Missouri chased hail. He knows what it is like to have a Friday night date with a car dealership rather than is favorite girl. 
  

The results may not be as romantic but at upwards of $2,000-a-day in earnings, it was the more profitable liaison. 
“A Paintless Dent Repair (PDR) technician chasing hail can make $200,000 a year working eight months out of the year in the U.S.,” Stanton says. “The financial aspects for a young man in his early to mid-twenties are overwhelming, but there is also a challenge in managing that lifestyle. Some of them make $2,000 a day and spend $3,000, and that is the truth.” 

Stanton was working at a Ford dealership in the late 1980s when PDR work was relatively new. “I discovered that dealerships went to car auctions where they bought brand new cars with hail damage for half price, fixed them in-house with a PDR tech on staff or on contract, and made a heck of a profit reselling them at new car prices,” he explains. “It didn’t take long for body shop techs and anyone with metalworking skills to catch on. PDR became very popular, very fast.”
 

After a year in the business and divorced with kids, Stanton says at first, hail chasing was part time. “I couldn’t be gone for long periods of time, living on the road like most of the guys, so I took the kids to my Mom’s house on Fridays and spent the weekend on the road performing hail dent repair,” he says. “After a couple of years, I decided there had to be a better way for me to participate without having to travel so much.”  


Stanton’s first company was called Dents Unlimited in Springfield, MO. “The PDR training portion of the business went crazy,” Stanton admits, but after a couple of years, he and his partner split. “I got remarried and opened a retail facility and training center in Kansas City called Dent Crafters around 1993-94.” 

Dent Crafters opened ten training facilities nationwide selling franchises in the States as well as four franchises in Alberta and Ontario, Canada. “We trained for every aspect of PDR,” he says. “We taught how to physically perform quality work, how to market their services, and how to do the appraisal work.” 

Stanton made it a point to learn the insurance adjustment side of the business because it was instrumental to the repair side. “The average broker is usually a former insurance adjuster or car salesman who really doesn’t know the dent repair side of the business. I know all three.” 

Particularly in parts of the country where they don’t have much hail, techs and insurance appraisers don’t know how to appraise hail damage. “We designed a pricing matrix for all areas of the country to make it easy to know what to charge. When you left our sessions, you were versed in all you needed to be successful.” 

Twenty thousand trainees came through their centers every year. “Unfortunately, as PDR got more competitive and the economy fell off, we became a high-end operation competing against basic training that cost $700 and a six-pack. We couldn’t continue.”

 

Stanton has been operating as The Hail Team for 20 years and has 800 to 1,000 hail chasers in his database, utilizing 80 to 100 of them as sub-contractors in a season. “I guess technically, The Hail Team is a broker, but I don’t like that term because it implies something is broken,” he chuckles. 

Stanton says many talented PDR technicians do not have the monetary resources to pick up and chase storms. Others are simply not good at sales. “They are capable techs but don’t have the personality or aggression to get in there and sell themselves in a highly competitive market,” he says. “They know and trust me to find a dealer who needs their help. I set it up for them, and guarantee them payment. Even if the dealership is slow to pay me, the techs get paid every two weeks.”

 

Stanton also has a cushy contract with Ford Motor Company and General Motors to do across the spectrum training; and with Zurich International insurance group who represents car dealerships worldwide, also for training. 

For a man who wanted to settle down, hail has taken Stanton around the world. He has brokered deals in Brazil and Mexico, in Canada where they have franchises, and a lot of hail; and in Johannesburg, South Africa where his teams have worked for over three years on the half-million claims placed in the most recent hailstorm. Most recently, Stanton took his services to Japan.

 

A couple of years ago, Junichi Isharia, owner of his own company called Hekomi 911 located in Tokyo, discovered The Hail Team on the Internet. “I was working a big hailstorm in Phoenix and we agreed to meet at SEMA where I spent a day with him. He was a delightful man very interested in learning more about hail dent repair. Japan gets hail from May through July. The majority of it is small, but recently there seems to more of it.” After that meeting, Isharia planned a trip to visit Stanton in Kansas City where he spent two weeks training. 

Less than a month later, Stanton received an email from Isharia. They had a huge hailstorm that had done significant damage in Hagami, a city in the province of Hokkaido, a farming community of about 40,000. One man owned eight car dealerships in the area so Stanton took a team with him to Japan. “We were met at the airport by TV stations and cameras. I felt like a celebrity!” Stanton laughs. “I stayed ten days but left several guys there who continued to work for four more weeks.” 

The Hail Team now has 16 franchises in Japan.  \

 “Car dealerships pray for hail. It is pure income for them. Insurance covers the damage less the deductible. I recently asked a dealership owner what he made in sales and he told me $1.8 million on straight car sales and $4 million on hail. Let’s say you pay the techs 25 percent of what the insurance company pays out. The rest is pure profit. Thirty-five percent, even 40 percent… they make money on hail.” 

But make no mistake about it ― the hail dent market is very competitive. A nasty hailstorm recently struck a Kansas town of 15,000. When the dealership opened an hour later, there were 20 dent guys waiting. In September in Sioux Falls, SD, a billion-dollar automotive group had over 4,000 cars on display at the Fairgrounds when a hailstorm struck. Two days later there were 80 hail dent techs sitting around waiting to land a deal. 

“It was the craziest thing I have ever seen,” Stanton says. “Myself and a crew were part of a collaborative effort that fixed 4,000 cars in 13 days. We were well-organized with people assigned to assessing damage, shuttling inventory, quality control ― we worked fast and efficiently. That is how much work was available, but you have to remember, there is a heavy concentration of dent guys out there. If we have a slow hail season, it can also get tough!” 

For several years, his colleagues pleaded with Stanton to come to the Mobile Tech Expo but he had declined, thinking it was a small cliquish local show with little to offer a 30-year veteran of the PDR business. “Three years ago, I decided to make a ten-day vacation of it. I took my wife and three sons thinking we would have some fun. When I went to the show, I was really impressed,” he says. “You meet a lot of people you know through the internet, social media, or by phone. There is also a huge international element to it. I looked around and saw all these tool companies, some of which I helped get started. I also see where the industry has gone with blending capabilities so that those guys aren’t just pushing dents anymore. It has also tripled in size in just the three years I have been going.” 

Two of Stanton’s three sons are in the business and his wife, Julia actively monitors and tracks storms, makes calls to the team, and helps with work permits and paperwork. “There are so many apps available now through the weather services that you can really get out ahead of these storms,” Stanton says. “We have it down to a science so that you know where a hailstorm will hit long before it gets there. That’s why it really is like ambulance chasing, only in a good way because those car dealerships want us there.”

 

Contact Kirk Stanton at The Hail Team
1199 North Sha Ree Lane
Bolivar, MO 65613
417-849-2940,
or email: kdstan57@hotmail.com.



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