FITZGERALD’S RESTORATION PRODUCTS POISED TO ENTER A NEW ERA
Founder and Owner Dean Fitzgerald Reflects on a 40-Year Career…
By Ellen McKoy
Over the years, thousands of independent businesses have made their mark in the automotive aftermarket. Fitzgerald’s Restoration Products is no exception. From humble beginnings as a mobile provider of vinyl dyeing services to car dealerships in Northern California, Fitzgerald’s has evolved into a preeminent supplier of products and services for the restoration market.
To hear company founder Dean Fitzgerald tell it, his foray into the industry began in 1978. “I was 25 and just back home from the Army. My dad was retiring. He was selling the family print shop and wanted something to do part time,” said Fitzgerald. As luck would have it, his father spotted a classified Color Glo ad hyping a business opportunity to become a mobile-based technician restoring vehicle interiors for dealerships using a water-based vinyl dye.
Fitzgerald jumped on board, securing protected territories in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties for his new company, Auto Interior Restoration. But after a few years, a light bulb went off. “Color Glo was selling territories to get people into the business, not doing work in the field. If there was so much money in it, why couldn’t I do what they were doing? I didn’t want to still be patching holes in car seats when I was 50 years old.”
Not a chance. Fitzgerald has moved way past patching holes, having built a diverse and successful business. Now on the cusp of retirement, he spoke recently with Mobile Tech Digest, reflecting on the past and anticipating the next chapter in his life.
Growing the Business
Set on making money selling territories, Fitzgerald embarked in the early ’80s on a cross-country journey to attend a meeting of the International Vinyl Repair Association. Though the meeting was cancelled, he had the chance to work here and there along the way and learn more about the industry.
Upon returning to California, Fitzgerald switched gears. He relocated to his hometown of Stockton and set up shop in 1982. “I decided to move home and train people to do the work and sell supplies. It’s a more central location where I could serve a much larger territory, from Reno, Nevada, to all of Northern California,” he noted.
Fitzgerald’s 8,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art facility, acquired in 2008, includes a S.M.A.R.T. repair training center.
He dubbed the new venture Fitzgerald’s Vinyl Repair Products, but soon decided to rebrand as Fitzgerald’s Restoration Products. “I wanted to upgrade my image,” he said. “At the time, vinyl repair had a negative connotation—it had become a fly-by-night deal. Restoration sounds a lot better than vinyl repair.”
As the business grew, Fitzgerald focused on expansion, knowing, he said, that “to make a go of it, (he’d) have to go nationwide.” Early on, there were branches in Southern California and Connecticut. In 1991, he opened a distribution center in Columbia, South Carolina. As time went by, Fitzgerald’s not only grew geographically, but also far beyond just selling vinyl repair products.
Evolving with the Times
Noting it was “hard to sell just training and supplies for vinyl and leather repair,” Fitzgerald began focusing his sights on diversifying his lineup to meet the needs of a diverse customer base and take advantage of market trends. “Years ago, the trend was moldings and gold plating. But as they came and went, we added other products,” he said.
Indeed, a quick glance at Fitzgerald’s website reveals a mind-boggling array, including a line of private-label restoration products, along with several training programs. More recently, Fitzgerald latched on to S.M.A.R.T repair, acquiring an 8,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art facility in 2008, which includes a S.M.A.R.T. training center. “I had learned about S.M.A.R.T. repair,” he said. “We’ve got distribution and clients all over the country. So it was natural to add in detail products, bumper repair, exterior touch-up, PDR and windshield repair.”
Industry veteran Dean Fitzgerald, in business since 1978, plans to sell his company and chart a new path in retirement.
When looking back over a 40-year career, Fitzgerald is proud of the company’s leadership role. “We’ve been around the longest—we were the first. We’ve expanded, innovated and helped shape the industry.” But it hasn’t always been easy.
The recession initially hit hard as dealerships closed and some customers left the industry. And there’s a shortage of young people to train and perpetuate the industry. “A lot of people got into the industry when I did and have stuck with it. A lot of my customers are 50, 60 years old. It’s time to get young people into the industry. We’ve looked for new blood, but young people today don’t want to learn a trade.”
While Fitzgerald admits this scenario played into his decision to retire, it was more about just being ready. “A couple of years ago, I wasn’t sure. But feelings change. The time is right for both the market and myself.” So what lies ahead for Fitzgerald and the company?
“It’s been 40 years, and it’s time to sell. We’ll see what comes along, but I do have a couple of very interested buyers.” On a more personal note, he plans to find a part-time job and enjoy his favorite pastimes, camping and fishing. “I’m definitely looking forward to the next chapter in my life.”