Archive for May, 2012

Just Sayin’ Blog – Memorial Day – A Debt of Gratitude

Interment of Major General Jesse M. Allen

Memorial Day celebrates the men and women who gave their lives in service to the Armed Forces of the United States of America. The debt of gratitude that we owe each of those who have fallen and who have given the ultimate sacrifice is a debt that cannot be repaid. Since the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775 there have been over 1,343,812 Americans who have died in service to our country. Memorial Day gives us all the opportunity to honor those who have died while serving the country by remembrances.

Recently my uncle, Retired Air Force Major General Jesse M. Allen, died. He served in both the Army and Air Force. His military service began in 1942 when he enlisted after high school and was sent to Europe during World War II. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery earlier this month and he had a rather storied combat career serving in World War II, the Korean War and in the Viet Nam War. During the Korean and Viet Nam Wars he flew over 237 combat missions. My uncle was known to say that “If you can dream it you can become it” as he entered the service as a private and rose to the rank of major general when he retired after 30 years of service.

This day of remembrance also gives us an opportunity to recognize and honor all who serve and have served the Armed Forces of the United States. We certainly owe a debt of gratitude to every American who chose to serve and Memorial Day is an appropriate time to do so. Although I did not serve, there have been a number of my family members who have honorably served over the years starting with Ethan Allen, the leader of the Green Mountain Boys in Vermont during the Revolutionary War. Both my father and brother served as combat pilots. I am very proud of their service.

If you have served in the Armed Forces or have family or friends who have served, I’m sure that you are proud of your own service or the service that others have given to our country. Today is a great day to remember and give thanks for that service.

I have had the great honor to have worked with many people in my career who honorably served their country and I would like to thank them again for their service. The lessons that those who serve learn about loyalty, leadership, honor, integrity, and personal ethics and these are assets that they are able to build upon and utilize throughout their lives. One does not have to serve in the Armed Forces to have learned these important attributes, but those who have served have a great sense of what these values mean both on a personal and professional level.

We should all be thankful on Memorial Day for individuals who choose to serve their country by joining the military to help protect us so that we can live in a safe and secure country. I know that on this day I am very proud of my family members who have served and those that serve today. I want to thank them for their sacrifices in service to our great nation.

I hope that you take the time to give thanks for their service and sacrifice as well.

Just Sayin’…..    

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Just Sayin’ Blog – It’s all a matter of perspective isn’t it?

Television station WAVE Channel 3 in Louisville, Kentucky, aired an investigative “Troubleshooter” news segment titled “Windshield fraud growing, costing drivers money” two weeks ago. The station reported on the sales tactics one company uses in the Louisville market (and other markets in the United States) to find customers who may be in need of auto glass replacements.

 In the segment, WAVE “troubleshooter” reporter Eric Flack spoke with a former auto glass technician from the company. The auto glass technician evidently had contacted the station with a number of accusations relating to his former employer. The story included interviews with a fraud investigator from Arizona, the director of the Kentucky Insurance Fraud Investigation Division and a gentleman that WAVE reported was a sales representative for the company that was the focus of the investigative report.

As someone who has spent the majority of my life in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry, the investigative report WAVE Channel 13 news aired made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Perhaps it did for you as well.

There are countless sales and marketing tactics that companies, large or small, use to market AGRR services to influence the decision maker(s) for the key customer groups – whether they are insurance, commercial or cash customers. The barriers that exist today for a small company attempting to access customers have never been higher. Many small companies find themselves in a position where it is very difficult, if not impossible, for them to compete for one or more of the key customer groups due to the changes that have taken place in how customers seek replacements or how insurance company glass losses are managed. Many companies are using more aggressive tactics to attract customers so that they can survive in the marketplace. I’m not suggesting that all of these various tactics are either right or wrong. You may hear the term “windshield bully’s” used to describe some of these tactics.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that an AGRR company would attempt any number of tactics to attract customers, especially when facing possible extinction. The weather, the economy and miles driven have been negatively influencing the market over the past several years. Everyone competing in the AGRR industry is scrambling to find the right recipe for survival in their market(s). I think that a fourth key market driver could be added into the equation and that additional driver is the dominant AGRR retailer, who also happens to be a leading insurance claims administrator, wholesaler and distributor as well.

The dominant retailer uses a number of its own sales and marketing tactics to ensure its position in the marketplace. Perhaps the key tactic is the ability for it to spend millions and millions of dollars on national television and radio advertising to attract current customers to its platform. This tactic also provides the opportunity for the dominant retailer to influence long-term customer choice as well. The attempt to influence customer choice long-term is very costly and not easy to achieve in the large diverse United States market, but it is a tactic that the retailer’s owner has used with great success across the globe.

Many in the industry view other tactics the largest retailer uses as being aggressive. One tactic competitors complain about is the attempt to steer an insurance customer that must file an auto glass loss claim through the retailers claims administration business to its own retail division; even though the customer has requested that another retailer do the work for them. How many of you have experienced that tactic when you are required to call the largest retailer’s claim administration division to file a claim with your customer on the line? I have heard many a customer service representative say to the retailer claims administrator while on a 3-way conference call with their customer on the line:

“You do know that I’m still on the line right?”

or

“I’m still on the call and you’re talking to my customer trying to take the job away.”

Has that happened to you and/or to your customers when they want to use your service for their glass needs? Is it possible that the largest retailer is the true “windshield bully”?

 

Whether you’re with the company that was highlighted by WAVE Channel 3 in Louisville or you’re the dominant retailer in the United States; many in the AGRR industry find some tactics cross the line of reasonableness, may go against the rules insurers have set for doing work for their insured’s or in some cases tactics may be against the law, but in the current environment companies may try things that they would have never have considered just a few years ago in order to survive.

It’s all a matter of perspective isn’t it? When looking through the eyes of two different competitors, one company sees the other company as being too aggressive or maybe a “windshield bully”, while the other is just doing what they believe they need to do just to survive when faced with the tactics used by others in the marketplace.

Just sayin’……..

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Interview with Eric Asbery, President/CEO www.Equalizer.com

Today I’m talking with Eric Asbery, President of   Equalizer Industries, Inc., an undisputed premier provider of innovative tools and products for the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry in the world. The company was founded by Eric’s father Ray Asbery in 1987. Ray unexpectedly passed away last September 27th at the age of 67.

Over the years Equalizer has received many awards, including several “Best of Show” awards. Company executives have also received a variety of industry awards including Eric’s being recognized in 2007 by the National Glass Association (NGA) with its prestigious NGA “10 Under 40” award; in 2005, Equalizer Vice President of Sales, Gilbert Gutierrez was awarded the prestigious Len Stolk Award” and Ray was honored by being awarded in 2004 the “Carl Joliff Award” by the Independent Glass Organization, in 1994 the NGA’s “Professional of the Year” and in 1992 Inc. Magazine’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award. In fact, Auto Glass Week 2012 will be dedicated to Ray’s legacy.

Equalizer is headquartered in Round Rock, Texas which is about 15 miles north of the Texas state capitol of Austin.

 

DR:  Thank you very much for taking the time to answer some questions Eric. I’m a big fan of Equalizer and I only wished that the tools that your company has developed and brought to the market over the past 25 years would have been available when I first started as an auto glass installer 40 years ago.

Eric Asbery:  I hear that very often. As I was growing up, my Dad was transitioning from being an auto glass technician to a manager over several locations. I can remember him always talking about how there were no specific tools that technicians could use and that the taking glass out of automobiles was getting harder.

 

DR:  I know that your father got his start in the AGRR industry with U.S. Auto Glass. How did long did he work for Joe Kellman and what were his responsibilities while at U.S. Auto Glass?

Eric Asbery:  Actually, Dad got his start in AGRR as an installer in Louisville, Kentucky in the early 1960’s. He was hired in 1985 by Joe Kellman to manage the Austin, Texas market for U.S. Auto Glass. He worked there until late 1987.

 

DR:  What was the impetus for Ray to start the company and how was he able to envision the tools he developed over the years?

Eric Asbery:  Early in 1987, Dad and his technicians encountered the problematic 1986 Ford Taurus. It was a radical new design and the lower part of the windshield was attached by a thick, heavy bead of urethane that was nearly impossible to use conventional tools to remove it without breaking the windshield further. Many technicians were so frustrated by it that they resorted to just breaking it out with a hammer. One Saturday morning, after several of these tough jobs had come through his shop, Dad woke up with the design for the original Equalizer tool in his head. He went to work that Monday with the first Equalizer after building it over the weekend in our garage.

Dad was always inventing. He was a working man that really enjoyed working with his hands. He was always trying to improve upon any working situation he encountered. He listened to those around him, when they encountered a problem with their daily work; he always tried to make their job easier. Whether it was a tool or technique, it was very enjoyable for him to make work more productive for everyone.

 

DR:  Equalizer is known for its products all over the world. How did that happen and what are you planning to maintain and grow that presence, especially beyond North America?

Eric Asbery:  In the early days of Equalizer, we received a lot of attention on a worldwide scale. Every trade show we exhibited at or magazine we advertised in, people who did auto glass anywhere in the world were drawn to us because we were producing tools that hadn’t existed before. The timing was right and we knew it. We were fulfilling a need, right when it was needed the most. We simply focused on providing great customer service and the world came to us.

We now have over 100 different distributors worldwide; we are constantly traveling, researching current automotive glass installation trends and training the appropriate people necessary to satisfy the needs of technicians everywhere. As the global economy allows, we are always in search of new areas to market and support our products.

 

DR:  Equalizer has always been known as the dominant company for auto glass replacement tools. Do you plan to do the same for repair?

Eric Asbery:  The auto glass repair market is something we have always invested in. There are several great repair systems out there and we have carried several of them over the past several years. If our coverage of this market is consistent, then there is a chance we can become the dominant supplier. However, our primary goal is to ensure that any product we offer gives the auto glass technician the best opportunity to do their job effectively and easily.

 

DR:  Many people are always looking forward to the new Equalizer catalog. In the last several years, you also established a great presence on the internet. Do your customers still like to look through a paper catalog or is there a shift to see the products through electronic media?

Eric Asbery:  We have found that even though there is an ever-growing part of the industry that is becoming electronically inclined, most people still like to “flip through pages” of our catalog and that will be the direction we will continue to go until we sense that a major shift to electronic media is on the horizon. We think our catalog will continue to stay in printed form for quite some time but we always alternately develop and make available electronic versions of our promotional or marketing materials.

DR:  When did you join Equalizer and what areas of the company were you responsible? How did your responsibilities grow over the years?

Eric Asbery:  I have been at Equalizer since day one. My role at Equalizer, until 2005, had been directly related to developing Equalizer’s brand, image and marketing presence. In 2005, Dad (then 61) and I began work on my transitioning to the daily management of Equalizer. We both considered that transition complete in late 2010. Although Dad had never had any definitive plans for retirement, we all figured he’d work at Equalizer into his 80‘s. In retrospect, I am very relieved we had this foresight.

 

DR:  I know that many of the tools that Equalizer has developed over the years have unquestionably helped reduce countless injuries of auto glass technicians. The number of cuts, lacerations, back and neck strains requiring visits to hospital emergency rooms has had to have gone down by those using your tools and products. I know many companies supply auto glass technicians with Equalizer tools just for that reason. Hopefully this question doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable, but do you hear from those who buy and use your tool thanking you for how Equalizer tools make it easier for them to do their jobs?  

Eric Asbery:  It is a very humbling experience to hear from someone who has benefited greatly from something you created for them. We receive feedback from hundreds of technicians each year thanking us for offering these products to them. My favorite memories from over the years have been when a technician has walked up to my Dad or any of us working at a trade show or open house and proceeded to tell a “before and after” story about our one of our tools and how it has greatly impacted their life in a positive way. It is truly the best part of my job.

 

DR:  When new car models come out each year they often have auto glass parts factory-installed in ways that many responsible for replacing those parts feel were designed by diabolical design engineers who seem to try to cause problems. How quickly do you start looking for replacement solutions for those parts that could cause difficulties?

Eric Asbery:  We have a network of “Equalizer Inventors” who are mostly auto glass technicians who have worked with us to design or create products over the years that we sell and/or produce for them. These technicians will encounter new design problems during their job on a daily basis and within a very short time they inform us of it. In many cases, they will offer a potential solution based on their experience and that’s what gets the ball rolling to create a product that will simplify the experience.

 

DR:  With the sudden great loss of your company’s leader, mentor, friend and your father, what plans do you have in the future to continue to grow the business and provide the AGRR industry with leading edge and innovative products in your leadership role?

Eric Asbery:  Since the beginning of our company, our focus has been to serve the needs of auto glass technicians everywhere. We developed relationships and processes to ensure we have been on the leading edge of technology for this industry. Nothing has changed or will change in this area. This is why Dad founded this company, this is our purpose.

We are always on the lookout for the next big thing, the next viable trend. Be it a tool, a process or just an idea or concept. We will travel, learn, adapt and teach. We will continue to gain from the experience of technicians in the smallest auto glass shop to the biggest national chain. We will always listen, respond and provide the best products available. This is what we do.

Thank you very much for spending the time to answer my questions Eric. You have a great company and I wish you continued great success.  You and your team have provided the AGRR industry with amazing products. I know that many join me in anticipation of the next great product that you develop to further improve the installation process as well as the safety of technicians around the world. Thank you for all you and your company do.

Just Sayin’

Equalizer Industries, Inc.

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