When disaster strikes, Fort Worth company gets the call

PDA President and CEO Tom Dolfay

Property Damage Appraisers Inc.

100 Energy Way

Suite 1900

Fort Worth 76102

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A storm suddenly brewed during an otherwise calm sunny day in July last year. The winds caused a construction crane in Dallas to collapse, causing severe damage to an apartment building and killing one resident. There was significant physical damage and fast response from emergency personnel.

Beside first responders, a special team carrying tablets, measurement devices and clipboards was also soon called to the scene. The team was from Fort Worth-based Property Damage Appraisers Inc. (PDA).

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In the aftermath of a tragedy, when many operations halt, that’s when officials with PDA go to work.

Specializing in disasters, PDA found operating in the niche market lucrative. Founded in 1963 and mostly obscure to general consumers, PDA has gradually grown into a giant and the go-to company in the damage appraisal industry.

“The evolution of our business is you’re not going to see many mom-and-pops around anymore. It’s going to be the grocery or gas station situation,” PDA President and CEO Tom Dolfay said. “The sophistication needed to be able to embrace the changes and having a footprint like we have, nobody else can match that.”

PDA is an independent appraisal firm that offers value estimation services for its partners and their customers.

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PDA currently completes more than 420,000 appraisals in a year and anticipates growing even more. There are always accidents waiting to happen.

The company moved its headquarters to the Pier 1 Building a few months ago. The new HQ supports about 40 jobs. More than 650 local appraisers office in about 250 PDA locations across the country.

Apart from independent contracting, PDA’s client lists include most, if not all, of the major insurance companies. As PDA covers the whole U.S., it supplements areas the insurance companies may deem understaffed or inaccessible.

Before Dolfay joined PDA 10 years ago, the primary business for PDA was personal vehicle appraisals. Over the years, PDA has branched out into heavy machinery and larger automobiles, like, tractors, trailers, airplanes, harvesters, bulldozers and oil rigs.

There are plans to expand further in real estate as well.

Along with adapting to serve new submarkets and customers, PDA needed to tackle external forces as well. Challenges like certain regulatory changes made by federal agencies increasing the sales threshold required for appraisals, or behavioral changes of consumers and insurance companies have impacted the industry in recent years.

Rather than fearing incoming change, PDA embraced it. The solution PDA choose was technology.

“The Amazon effect is something we’re looking at,” Dolfay said. “It’s not about you the insurance company, it’s about the consumer and how they expect the service and business to be handled. Especially the younger generations. They don’t want to sit back and wait.”

In February, PDA launched a new digital service that guarantees same-day service and 24-hour inspection for heavy or specialty equipment. PDA also built its own operating management system, a new digital optimizer tool that matches the most qualified appraiser for the job as quickly as possible on a national level.

“A lot of our success is because of our ability to be nimble,” Dolfay said. “And a lot of our success is recognizing that the way people did things in the past just doesn’t make sense. We’re looking at ways to make it more streamlined, more effective.”

Historically, the cycle time it took for an auto appraisal file to the process was five days. PDA’s ability to reduce the claim process down to a single day saves individual consumers at least $60 per file as well as the time-consuming hassles, Dolfay said.

With the new digital tools, PDA will now be able to adopt the same initiative for heavy equipment and vehicles as well, the first in the industry.

“We want to do it not just for the speed. We want to do it for the ability to respond effectively and get the job done,” Dolfay said. “Look at what Amazon and so many other places did – same-day deliveries. So, in our industry, we looked at it and said what can we do to be more efficient and more effective for our clients. But as important is the consistency across the United States.”

PDA also stepped away from a pure franchise model and started opening corporate stores in recent years. The company operates 62 corporate-owned office locations at present.

Out of all the PDA locations, about 40 offices generate at least $1 million in sales per year, Dolfay said. On average, a PDA office grosses about $300,000 annually.

“We’re calling it ‘claims-convergence,’ ” Dolfay said. “We want to be the one-stop-shop for the claimant. And you know that it’s going to get done. I’m excited for the opportunity to be able to build that.”