Chattanooga: Headlight service grows ambitious

Chattanooga: Headlight service grows ambitious

February 7th, 2009 by Amy Williams in Business

A year after starting a business restoring car headlights, Ringgold, Ga., entrepreneur Chris Watts is starting to see the benefits of his hard work.

Headlight Renew Doctor restores cloudy, yellowed headlights using a technique developed by Mr. Watts. In the past year he has grown the business from a small mobile firm to selling do-it-yourself kits at almost 60 retailers in seven cities in the Southeast.

In 2008, he had $75,000 in sales - meeting a goal he set for himself from the start.

"I've been really pleased with the growth," Mr. Watts said.

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But he finds himself at a crossroads where he is not sure if he should hire some help with sales or continue it on his own.

He credits the slowdown in the economy with the success of Headlight Renew Doctor. Like the rest of the auto service industry, Mr. Watts has seen his own business benefit from the recession.

The drop in the stock market that came last fall forced him to make some adjustments to his business plan and eventually led him to take his chances in Atlanta. There he sold 14 headlight renew kits in two weeks, he said, and learned firsthand the benefit of people's holding onto their used cars.

"That 80,000-mile car they were going to trade in on a new one, they are keeping another year, maybe two, and that's when this headlight deterioration takes place," Mr. Watts said. "So it is actually helping my industry."

Steve Wigley manages the service department at Long Mercedes of Chattanooga, where the service has been offered for the past year. He said Mr. Watt's process brings the surface of the headlight down to a smooth finish, so a coating can be put on top that helps with night visibility.

"It's a great service and we've had great success with it," he said.

The headlight renewal technique Mr. Watts developed involves sanding the headlight's plastic casing and removing the cloudy layer. Mr. Watts, who has 20 years experience in auto painting and body work, found a type of urethane spray that works especially well to coat the sanded light cover. That spray, along with tape, paper and sanding supplies are provided in the kit.

The charge to have Headlight Renew Doctor's mobile service ranges from $59.99 to $99.99 depending on the car. He said his technique can save people from having to replace a headlight, which can cost from about $100 to more than $500 for some older cars.

At Long Mercedes, the service is done for $129.95, much less than it would cost to replace both headlights on a Mercedes, Mr. Wigley said.

While continuing the mobile business and shopping the kits around to car dealers and auto parts retailers within a few hundred miles of Chattanooga, Mr. Watts also is looking for an investor to help take the product to national retailers Sears, Valvoline and Goodyear.

"I'm working between sales," he said. "I'm still paying my bills at my home with this."