A free online service launched last summer may help body shops find new customers, who instead of driving around town for estimates can upload images of minor/cosmetic damage to their cars and put the repairs up for bid.
Unlike DingIT, a similar Web site launched in 2003 (but no longer active) that charged shops 15 percent commission, DentBetty.com is 100 percent free for both consumers and body shops. But founder Andrew Mann says the site is still in the early stages of its evolution and will eventually seek ad revenues and other forms of income. Right now, however, he said it doesn’t make any money at all and is simply a labor of love.
“Our current plan is to eventually charge modest subscription fees to shops so that we can keep the lights on once we prove that we’re a valuable service to them and to consumers,” says Mann.
For a consumer to find a shop in his or her own zip code, a minimum of three body shops within 50 miles of that zip code must be active on DentBetty. So far, 26 shops have signed up.
“So if [a customer] is in Des Moines today sorry, she’s out of luck,” says Mann. “She’ll be dented in Des Moines and stuck driving around town to find a shop.”
The process is similar to eBay in that customers can rate their experience with the shops they choose and check the feedback given by past customers before awarding the job to a shop that has submitted a competitive bid. Consequently, shops that try to lowball bids just to get customers in the door and then do shoddy repairs will likely not be sought out again.
Opponents of such collision repair bidding sites have in the past stated that such sites promote rampant cost cutting "just to get the job" and unsafe repair practices. But some repairers see no problem with the concept.
Paul Vittoria, owner of Bill and Bill’s Body Shop in Oakland, Calif., has only been on DentBetty for three months but has already repaired a car for a customer he’s certain he wouldn’t have booked otherwise.
“It’s been good so far as it gets our name out to customers who we normally wouldn’t have seen,” Vittoria says. “One gentleman came from 25 miles away to have us repair his car.”
“It’s exciting because it takes less time to do [an online estimate] about five minutes compared to half an hour when a customer comes in with her car,” Vittoria added.
Chuck Sulkala, owner of Acme Body & Paint in the Boston area and executive director of the National Auto Body Council, is aware of DentBetty but as of yet is not a member. Overall, he thinks it’s a good concept.
“If anything, I suppose [DentBetty] gets the consumer thinking about not going through the insurance company, which may involve cancellation, rate increases, etc., so for that I guess it has some value,” Sulkala said. “And considering that awareness of other options may at least get the consumer into a shop to have a professional at least look at his or her vehicle, I guess that’s valuable too.”
As of right now, no insurance companies have approached DentBetty about settling claims, and it remains purely a customer-paid enterprise. However, given the insurance industry’s interest in cutting loss adjustment expenses and maintaining competition among shops, it would be a natural extension of their claims departments.
The participating shops can use whatever estimating program they wish, as the bids are displayed to consumers in dollar amounts. The consumer doesn’t see a detailed estimate, even after he or she has selected a winning bid, but that may change as the system evolves.
Mann says he plans to add a function whereby shops can submit an optional PDF file with their written estimates to show line for line what they intend to do with the dollars they bid on the job. The theory is that this would allow shops to compete on a more level playing field.
BettyNet, DentBetty’s collision repairer network
From the archives: DingIT 6% Net – 15% = Bad…Getting the Repair Plan Right