Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Chris Watts, owner of Headlight Renew Doctor, speaks about his product while at his Ringgold, Ga., residence Wednesday afternoon.
Three years ago, Chris Watts had only $37 to his name and a dream.
Now the Headlight Renew Doctor, as he's known in his industry, wants to head up a company with $10 million in sales by year's end.
His kit cleans and refinishes cloudy headlights in 15 minutes, while he says competitors' products take hours.
"I just shipped some product to a French distributor -- they're right at a $5 billion per year company," he said. "I've got inquiries from Spain, Italy and Poland."
He's also just signed a deal with a New Zealand-based company to ship product "down under" within 30 days.
The kit includes the tools and instructions needed to sand down grime, smooth out the plastic and finally seal the vehicle's headlamps.
Mr. Watts started his second career in the headlight restoration industry when his paint and bodywork business "just died" in September 2007, he said.
"I started going to these car lots and bringing these cars to my house to clean the headlights," Mr. Watts said. "I realized I needed a mobile service bag so I developed a system that doesn't need any power tools."
His first mobile service bag sale was to Mitchell Kearnea, service manager at Marshal Mize Ford on Highway 153.
"I thought, this was easy, so I took every penny I had and put 10 kits together," Mr. Watts said.
It would be the last sale he would make for two months. At one point his liquidity declined to $37, he said.
Who uses the Headlight Renew Doctor?
* Ringgold Chrysler Dodge Jeep -- Ted Boldt, service manager
* Marshal Mize Ford -- Mitchell Kearnea, service manager
* Lexus of Chattanooga -- Evan Gibson, service manager
* Kelly Automotive Group -- Richard Lawson, service manager
* Jaguar of Chattanooga -- Billy Manis, service manager
* Goodyear Express Tire Center -- Steve Schneck, owner
* Trantham's in East Ridge -- David Trantham, owner
* Glass Doctor -- Mike Hailey, manager
Source: Headlight Renew Doctor
How much does a kit cost?
* Single-use kit -- $24.95
* Sample kit (three uses) -- $49.99
* Pro series kit for newer headlights -- 59.95
* Shop kit (40 uses) -- $499
* Average price of a new headlight -- $400
Source: Headlight Renew Doctor
Suddenly, sales took off. He sold kits to 40 auto service centers in Chattanooga, then he took a whirlwind sales trip to Atlanta, Ga., then Knoxville, Birmingham and Huntsville, repeating the circuit for over a year, he said.
Ted Boldt, service manager at Ringgold Chrysler Dodge Jeep, has been a customer since the beginning.
"I've had no returned products, and no flaking, that was always the problem with these other kits," he said. "The other kits would look great for six months, than flake off."
Jaguar Land Rover Porsche of Chattanooga uses the product, and service manager Billy Manis said he isn't surprised that Mr. Watts was beating out the worldwide conglomerates with his homemade headlight cleaner.
"There are people every day that come up with ideas that the engineers can't think of," he said. "For a guy running a body shop to turn around and have what he has now is pretty impressive. It shows his motivation and belief."
Mr. Manis uses the cleaner on his own car.
After finding success with auto shops, Mr. Watts said he "began contacting larger distributors."
He inked contracts with several large companies, hired five employees and ramped up production to a capacity of 10,000 units per week with help from contract fulfillment houses.
But it hasn't always been an easy road, he said. He's lost deals to large competitors with well-funded sales teams, and he's learned from his mistakes.
"I learned sometimes it's not about slamming the competition, but being honest about the differences between Headlight Renew and my competitors," he said. "Most guys will come in and wine and dine the buyers, and spend thousands of dollars. I just need 20 minutes."
Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...