MOBILE TECH EXPO: SALUTING INDUSTRY LEGENDS
Face to Face with Dent Network’s Tom Price
By Ellen McKoy
Tom Price has spent his entire career working on cars. Known for his prowess as a PDR ace, he first mastered the art of detailing, once worked in a body shop and then, long before most folks knew what PDR stood for, he became an early adopter of paintless dent repair.
As Price’s career progressed, he began attending industry trade shows, where he met Kevin Halewood. Over the years they became friends. From time to time they tossed around the idea of a trade show for dent repair, detailing and related pursuits. Lo and behold, in 2001, Halewood launched Mobile Tech Expo.
Now as the Show is poised to celebrate its 20th anniversary at the Rosen Shingle Creek in a matter of weeks, we’re tipping our hat to Tom Price, innovator, influencer and industry legend. His vision and contributions to the industry, especially his role in the Dent Olympics, have helped make the Show a success.
From Detailing to Dent Repair
Tom Price, owner of DentNetwork in Johnstown, Colorado. Price’s “epiphany” led to the creation of the popular Dent Olympics.
Growing up in Bloomington, Illinois, under the watchful eyes of his exacting father, Price was taught early on how to expertly detail the family car. From white walls to vinyl top, the car had to sparkle when his dad, a minister, arrived at church on Sunday morning.
That experience instilled a solid work ethic. “I loved my dad, but he was really strict, more like a drill instructor. He knew how to do everything right and taught me how to do it right, too. So I learned how to work, be excellent at what I did and appreciate the importance of doing a job right,” said Price.
Price began detailing cars at home while in high school. He later worked as an assistant manager at his best friend’s body shop, where he learned to polish paint, while still running his home-based detailing gig.
One day an auto body supply salesman stopped by the shop and showed Price and his friend a bag of paintless dent repair tools. They were amused and confounded. “We laughed,” recalled Price. “To us it was like snake oil. We were body shop guys. We just didn’t get it at all.”
After Price left the shop, his father-in-law helped him open a detailing business. “I had a really good business, and I became a really good detailer. But I was spending so much time detailing people’s cars that I wasn’t making any money.”
As luck would have it, an advertisement about fixing dents caught his wife’s eye. “The only name on the ad was DWI. I wouldn’t normally have followed up,” said Price. But at his wife Lisa’s urging he sent in his resume. “Next thing I knew,” he said, “I got a call from Dent Wizard. They were like the McDonald’s of the business.”
Following interviews—during which the proprietary PDR process was very hush-hush—Price headed to Miami in August 1992, where he was trained by Dent Wizard founder Natalio Balderrama. He graduated the next month and returned to Illinois where he called on dealerships and used-car lots for the local Dent Wizard franchise.
“Nobody really knew what PDR was at the time. When I went to dealerships, I’d pick out a car with a dent, take it behind the building where nobody could watch, fix the dent and bring it back. The shock and awe factor was amazing. They’d never seen anything like it. It was magic.”
Natalio Balderrama (left), founder of Dent Wizard, and Tom Price flank Dent Olympics winner Ivan Sklaruk, who was trained by Price.
Chasing Hail: A Family Enterprise
Flash forward to 1996. Price was working six days a week for Dent Wizard and tiring of the heavy workload and the corporate atmosphere under new management. “I was really proud of being part of Dent Wizard. I was making more money every year and able to support a middle class lifestyle. But things were different after the company was sold.”
During a trip to the NACE show in Las Vegas, he met Todd Sudeck, owner of Dent King. Not long after, he and his family relocated to Los Angeles, where Price became Ding King’s training instructor. Later on, after a stint doing PDR work on airport rental cars, the Prices returned to Illinois, where he opened One Hour Dent Removal.
“It was a beautiful retail shop in a former oil-change building,” said Price. “I thought people would be standing in line. But they weren’t because they didn’t know what PDR was. It was still too new. Even after three years, I couldn’t make ends meet, so I started chasing hail.”
He sold the shop to a Ziebart franchisee, trained the owner and with his wife and two young sons in tow, traveled for a year training other PDR techs and chasing hail. “When we got back to Illinois, I went completely mobile, chasing hall all over the country and in Canada,” he said.
But the family was destined to move again, this time to Colorado, where he had visited his mother’s family as a child. Having made several PDR training videos, some filmed in Colorado, a local colleague made him an offer—Price could run his PDR shop while he handled the dealership work. When the recession hit in 2008 and the deal fell through, Price went back to chasing hail and opened the DentNetwork in Johnstown.
In the years since, DentNetwork has evolved into a family business. His wife runs the office, while his two sons, Luke and Seth, have followed in their father’s footsteps.
“Both of my boys are hail chasers. I tried to talk them out of it. I told them they’re smart kids. I would pay for their first year in college, like my dad did for me, and they could take out loans after that. But they decided they want to chase hail.
“Luke, my eldest son, is a supernatural talent. I’ve trained about 200 guys and he’s among the top two or three. Seth is like me, he has to work hard at it. But they’ve both done well, and I’m proud of them.”
Putting Dent Olympics Front and Center
For many years, the National Auto Body Congress & Exposition, better known as NACE, was a trade show for the collision repair industry. And because it was where new equipment, tools and technology were unveiled, it was a natural draw for dent techs. Over time, however, attendance dwindled, exhibitors pulled out, thus opening the door for others to step in.
All in the family. Price’s sons, Luke (left) and Seth are both successful hail chasers. Luke has served as a Dent Olympics judge.
Enter Tom Price and Kevin Halewood. As Price recalled, “I knew that a lot of dent guys were going to the NACE. I asked Kevin if he thought we could ever have our own show. He didn’t think it was possible at first. But the next thing I knew, he came up with Mobile Tech and asked if I could find a way to get dent guys to come.
“I racked my brain, talked to different people, and one day I had an epiphany—we could have a dent contest.” And, voila, the Dent Olympics was born. It began as a grassroots effort, with Price and others making up the rules as they went along and the competition held in outdoor tents. Not so anymore.
Now a top-notch PDR tech, Price was a pioneer in the days when few people understood what paintless dent repair was all about. “It was magic,” he said.
“It’s down to a science now. We put rules in place. It’s become uniform and very professional,” noted Price, who helped oversee the competition for several years. “It’s a big deal, front and center at the Show. The prizes are great, guys get bragging rights in their business. It’s still the biggest draw.
“The Show has always been the highlight of my year,” continued Price. “It started out as fun, but as I realized the value of networking, it’s become very purposeful. Kevin’s grown the Show and the new owners have done a good job taking it to another level. But to me, the secret sauce is Kevin Halewood still being in the equation—he just ties the Show together.”