“Not all who wander are lost.” This is a quote often seen on bumper stickers, shirts, coffee mugs, and social media memes.
Kyle Ellis, owner of Edmond-based Auto Hail Logistics, would likely agree, adding that some wanderers may be hail chasers—traveling the globe, making dents and dings on cars disappear, and making smiles appear on the faces of their owners.
“There’s a lot of gratification that comes from seeing when someone is happy to seeing their car restored, usually a lot quicker and a lot cheaper than they would get at typical autobody shops.”
Ellis uses the paintless method of dent repair, a technique where a technician uses a variety of special lever-like tools with specially-shaped tips to reach the underside of the damaged panel and carefully massage the metal back to its factory shape.
A standard body shop may often replace a damaged body panel, requiring lots of vehicle downtime, body reconstruction, and paint, but the paintless method can be completed in a fraction of the time while returning the vehicle to very near its original condition.
“It’s just a smarter repair,” said Ellis. “Any time your vehicle is resprayed, it’s never going to be the same. Dentless repair saves your OEM (original equipment manufacturer) finish.”
Mangum, Oklahoma-born and Edmond-raised Ellis was introduced to the trade as a teenager by his stepfather who worked as a technician at an auto auction lot now known as Insurance Auto Auction.
After selling cars for a year, in 1996, Ellis joined up with his father on a hail chasing crew and traveled to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he started learning the basics: spending more than half a year dropping headliners, removing trim, and opening access points for more experienced technicians to work their magic on the metal.
“I was a slow learner. It’s really a highly skilled job,” he said.
Ellis said for three or four years after that, he worked with his stepfather, continued working the “hail trail” and visiting various towns all over the country, and working at a number of large auto retail locations, all the while training his arms, eyes, strength, and skill in making dents and dings disappear.
“Eventually, I gained the confidence to do cars on my own,” said Ellis, saying it was then he began chasing hail all over the country.
In 2008, Ellis took his trade abroad; he and a fellow business partner ran a crew that repaired hail damage in auto lots in Sydney and Melbourne, processing as many as 4,400 cars at a site. His father joined him on some of these trips as he continued to hone his craft.
“I kept getting faster and better, but a lot of the time, working around other guys, I learned I still had a lot to learn,” said Ellis, remarking how the particulars of Australians really helped increase the quality of his work.
It was for nearly ten years he and his partner’s crew were at the beck and call of one of the largest Japanese manufacturers, traveling wherever in the world hail damaged their cars.
“Whenever hail happened, whether port, rail, or factory, they called us to come and inspect. Within 24 to 48 hours, we had to be on-site and get a bid together,” said Ellis. “We always went after the Japanese or Korean manufacturers because they always wanted quality, and that’s what we brought.”
His work brought him not only to Australia, but to 14 other countries including Canada, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands.
“That was fun. Europe was fun,” said Ellis, reminiscing visiting the Rhine River, touring castles, and experiencing different cultures and foods. “I have three full passports. I’ve still got them. Their stamps are fun to look through.”
Ellis said his kids got to travel as well, going to Australia for two weeks every year and to Canada as well.
“Getting to see what life is like outside of America—everyone should leave just to appreciate life in different countries,” he said.
It was his divorce in 2018 that brought him back to Edmond to stay.
“Returning to Edmond, having a life where I grew up, being able to come back and see people I grew up with, and to be in one place after 22 years traveling is a good thing.”
Now, he is training his 18-year-old son in paintless dent repair, acquainting him with the sense of touch and feel, the hand-eye coordination, and strength required to make dents disappear, just as his father taught him.
“We have three generations represented here,” he said.
After being back in Edmond for a number of years, Ellis said depending on the weather and other factors, he on average processes five to ten cars a week and foresees the shop not only expanding into a new space but into applying vinyl wraps.
“At this point, (the work is) more enjoyable. I take pride in what we do. We are the guys people send other people to.”
While Ellis may not be wandering or chasing hail anymore, he is still making dents disappear and smiles appear, and that, in turn, is what makes him smile.
Subscribe to Email Updates
SubscribeGet Edmond Business news in your inbox.
About Thomas Berger
Thomas Berger is the owner of Ciskus Creative, an Edmond-based creative agency focused on creating marketing content for small and medium-sized businesses.
Prior to starting his own company, he worked as the communications/marketing specialist for an Oklahoma City-based office technology company. Former to coming to the Oklahoma City area, he had worked as a career journalist for more than a decade — initially reporting for several newspapers in western North Carolina and northeastern Oklahoma and later as a multimedia journalist for KJRH Channel 2 in Tulsa.
Thomas has lived in Edmond with his wife Alison since 2013. He has a passion for traveling, photography, learning languages, landscaping and coffee roasting. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Western Carolina University.