When Myke Toledo launched Dent Time, his San Diego-based paint and dent repair business, he was a teenager, a college student and, ultimately, a renegade.
“I began in 1991 with my dad,” says Toledo. “And the truth of the matter is that, at that time, I wasn’t all that motivated to do dents. I was going to college and taking criminal justice courses. And I was doing dent repairs to make a little money on the side. At that time, I just didn’t know what I really had.”
What Toledo had was a knack for doing some of the best work around. Add to that an inherent restlessness with academia and a drive to do everything differently, and the result was a thriving, multi-networking repair operation.
“I was busting my butt in school, and I discovered that, in less than two hours, I could do this kind of work and make money,” he says. “It started snowballing and I thought, We have something here. My dad just wanted to stay where he was at-he thought as it was, it was good enough.”
Today, Toledo’s business involves a collective effort of six different companies-all with complementary repair niches-that service the southern California region. But none of Dent Time’s success would have happened if it wasn’t for a young man’s frustration with the status quo.
“For 10 years, I was bottled up,” remembers Toledo. “I had so much energy about what I wanted to do. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. I wanted to be different-from the presentation of our Web site, to our vehicles, to our uniforms. I knew that we couldn’t hold back on presentation, and today, that’s what we’re known for-good, even quality, premier customer service and presentation all across the board.”
And in that drive to build his vision, Toledo held on to private and very personal goals.
“I really wanted to prove to myself that I could make this work,” he says, “and I wanted to prove it to the PDR industry. And it does work. Most people in this business just show up with a uniform, in a car that is unrecognizable, with no presence. We woke a lot of people up, a lot of people in the industry.”
Part of Dent Time’s success, says Toledo, is his dedication to a Web presence and the power of Internet marketing.
“What happened was that our Web site [www.denttime.com] started getting popular with the search engines,” he says. “It started getting a lot of traffic very quickly. I had a very good Web master and he showed me the ropes and that really intrigued me.”
Networking with other repair services in the area further catapulted Dent Time into the big time.
“In 2004, I began meeting with other companies in southern California and talked with them and they liked what we were doing,” says Toledo. “Working with these other successful companies helped to build Dent Time’s recognition.
“One of the beauties of joining forces like that,” he adds, “is that everyone understood where everyone was coming from. And it keeps working. No one steps on anyone else’s toes and it feels like you have a big brother who can help. It allows for integrity. We can easily say, ‘Hey, I can’t do this particular job, but I know someone who can.’ It all adds up to a very strong networking team.”
The 2007 Dent Time community now includes 12 business owners and technicians, distributed among six different companies. There are no conventional employees, as everyone is in an independent contract, each with a niche that covers the expected bumper, wheel and windshield repair and window tinting services, among several others.
“But we also go anywhere,” Toledo adds, “and we do fleet accounts to retail to wholesale.”
Six Years of Growth
Since Toledo set it up in 2001, Dent Time has enjoyed a half-dozen years of continued growth-35 percent a year, he notes.
“We’re 100 percent mobile and that contributes to our growth and success,” says Toledo. “We understand the benefits and the pros and cons of having a shop, but the bottom line is that there’s more profit with a mobile operation. There would be a lot of overhead with a shop.”
The other element Toledo understands well is advertising beyond his Web presence, though he says that the venues for his company’s marketing are constantly shifting.
“We spend a little on traditional advertising,” he says. “We advertise in one of the four phone books here, in the most widely distributed Yellow Pages.
“But the research is showing today that the only people who use the phone books any more are those without computers and the elderly,” he adds. “Most people just don’t turn to the phone book any more. Our number-one way to generate phone calls comes from the Web.”
To keep that consistent, Toledo makes sure Dent Time comes up on the first page of searches on Google and elsewhere.
In fact, Toledo thinks his marketing tactics could work very well for other up-and-coming PDR techs, so he’s launched a second business dedicated to educating and grooming the next generation of dent repairers.
“We have another business where I help other technicians build their businesses,” he says. “We help other companies grow, using Dent Time as a foundation to help them. Some technicians starting out have a hard time getting the formula down. For example, we help them get their Web presence up and at the top, and help them get promoted in their area. We offer advice on what to market and what not to market.
“Some of the tactics that have worked for us-and so will work for them-we share, like getting as much as possible for free,” says Toledo. “A lot of this exposure can be found simply on the Web. Google locals and Yahoo! locals, for example, offer free advertising. There are a lot of things a business can do that don’t cost anything.”
He also recommends hiring a good Web designer, shows them how to work with local car washes, and encourages technicians to specialize.
“A lot of people in this business try to overdo their advertising,” Toledo explains. “They put too much money, time and effort into a business card or an ad, which can turn off a reader. It must be simple and inviting-then it’s effective. It must be cool and up-to-date. We get a lot of compliments on ours.”
But intuitive understanding of what types of advertising [or non-advertising] generate the most business is only one of Toledo’s success secrets. He also knows well the value of experience and knowledge.
“In 2004 we opened up another division of Dent Time called Bumper Time [www.bumpertime.com],” says Toledo, “with my partner Dave Miller. He really changed our company a lot. He really helped me. He used to be a general manager for a chain restaurant and he knows how to run a business. Bumper Time is a fast-growing company and it has doubled our profits.”
Dent Time’s future plans involve, not surprisingly, spruce-ups to the Dent Time Web site and an increased public presence.
“We have a big plan for a new Web site coming up,” says Toledo. “It’s definitely going to be built for everyone, including the entire networking team. We’re going to have new videos and our site will continue to be even more interactive. We want it to appeal to all clients and customers, so everyone knows this is the place to come to.”
Toledo has worked out most of the dings in the world of building a successful reconditioning business and knows that there are certain steps that, taken wisely, can pay off.
“Check your own market before opening up a shop,” he suggests. “Make sure your ducks are lined up. You have to be a dedicated worker. If you’re not putting 100 percent into it, you won’t get 100 percent back.
“I’d also suggest to those starting out to take things slow,” he adds. “When starting something, do one thing at a time. Finish one thing at a time-a Web site, then a business card. Get goals done. Don’t do five or 10 things at once.”
But at the end of it all, be different, advises Toledo. There’s nothing that breeds success like individuality.
“Don’t do it like everyone else,” he says. “I don’t like to blend in with anyone. When I do things, I do them loud; I make sure people can see me. When people search for this service, I make sure they see me.
“I like to stand out differently from the crowd,” he adds. “I don’t want to be mixed up with everyone else-I often do a U-turn and make myself different. I don’t have an exact formula, but I know that in presentation and in being professional, the business handles itself.”