From the February 2003 issue of Startups

Ammar Katabi, 36, learned to be a perfectionist from his father, who told him that failure is not an option. But never was this lesson so hard to live by as when Katabi opened a Dent Doctor franchise in Columbus, Ohio. Inexperienced at the dent-repair process, Katabi was faced with a job that he initially couldn't do. "That's what killed me in the beginning," he says.

Specializing in paint-free automobile dent repair at a relatively low cost, Dent Doctor has franchises across the United States and provides franchisees with four to five weeks of training in repairing dents. However, the training is just the beginning. According to Katabi, it takes eight months to a year to reach a level of expertise, and when the franchisee is inexperienced, a dent that should take 10 minutes to repair can instead take up to seven hours. To get his own franchise underway, Katabi needed three months of additional assistance from Dent Doctor technicians. "The training is the [hardest] part of our business," he says. "But if you last a month, you'll be fine."

When Katabi opened his doors to customers in 2000, he faced further challenges. His expenses were high, due to the prominent location of his store, and business was slow, but he never considered giving up. Over the past two years, he has built a team of five employees who are as dedicated to the franchise as he is. Often working until midnight, the team, says Katabi, has the general attitude of "We'll keep pushing dents out until we can't push anymore."

Katabi has built a large customer base that returns not only for the standard repairs such as small dents and dings, but also for extra services such as windshield repair and detailing. By providing these extras, Katabi climbed to be ranked among the top five franchisees in sales in 2001; and he expects 2003 sales to exceed $500,000. Katabi's highly visible location, while expensive, has been an asset in attracting customers to the business, and he considers advertising another key factor to his success.