Archive for category New Year

Just Sayin’ Blog – Wind at Our Backs? – Part III

Last September and December I wrote blogs titled “Wind at Our Backs?” and “Winds at Our Backs? Part II” writing that “it appears that we may have some wind at our back” when looking at the key drivers (the weather, the economy and miles driven) of the automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry. If you focus mainly on the weather as a key driver and look at what we’ve experienced in the United States this past winter, many would describe it as harsh or brutal in much of the country. Based on the weather over the past week, even though the vernal equinox or the first day of spring arrived on March 20, 2014, our winter really hasn’t seemed to have ended yet. I live in Chicago and this past winter was the coldest (December – March) ever on record and snowiest (9.7 inches from snowiest on record – 1978-79 as reported by the WGN-TV Weather Blog) I’ve ever experienced anywhere, except maybe for one when I lived in Montreal.

Chicago Lakefront 2014x

Chicago/Lake Michigan February 2014

The Old Farmer’s Almanac forecasted that the 2013 – 2014 winter season would bring us colder weather and heavier snowfall in many sections of the country and for those who were hoping that the forecast would come true they weren’t disappointed. Stretching from the Rockies to the East Coast the weather has been a big boon to the industry with extreme or unseasonably cold weather that included snow and ice storms. I’ve talked with a number of retailers and suppliers who had a great first quarter of 2014 which followed a rather lackluster 2013. One supplier told me, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, that on a trailing twelve months he looked like a genius since all the strategies that his company had used in the past year to increase business had really paid off.

Starting in 2011 The Weather Channel started naming winter storms that are strong enough that meet the criteria set by the prognosticators. For the winter of 2013 – 2014 The Weather Channel’s list of 26 alphabetical names were developed with the help of a Bozeman, Montana high school Latin Class. The potential storms this winter began with the name Atlas and will end with Zephyr. Through today there have been 24 named storms with the current storm that hit the Upper Midwest with up to 18” of snow before heading off to Canada. Since it is now the first week of April and a couple of weeks since the first day of spring winter storm Xenia is dumping snow in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa. Enough already. Although this winter may have been good for some in the AGRR industry I’m thinking of it more like a Dr. Seuss book I read countless times to my sons when they were growing up – “Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!

 

When you look back at this past winter named storms starting out with Atlas in early October that delivered feet of snow from the Rockies to the Upper Plains winter storms kept hitting almost every week including some areas that haven’t seen much in the way of winter weather for a few years. In early February starting out in Georgia and hitting especially the Atlanta metroplex were a couple of storms that CNBC described as a catastrophic ice storm that effectively shut down Atlanta for several days before continuing on up the east coast wreaking havoc along the way. In early March the greater Dallas-Fort Worth and North Texas area got hit with an ice storm that crippled the metroplex. The Carolinas got hit by a couple of storms in February and March with the last one being Ulysses hitting around March 10th. If you live in the North you expect to get snow and you’ve learned how to deal with it, but it’s not quite the same below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Every year there is a contest that awards a trophy called The Golden Snowglobe that recognizes the snowiest city with a population of 100,000+. The trophy typically goes to Syracuse, Rochester or Buffalo, New York each year, but as of today it appears that for the winter of 2013 – 2014 the winner for The Golden Snowglobe will be Erie, Pennsylvania with 137.2” of snowfall.

For this blog I’m not going to address the economy or the miles driven. Neither of those has really changed all that much since my December blog. Regardless whether you feel the wind is at your back or not, you and your employees are the key driver(s) in your business. How you’re dealing with the various opportunities and obstacles that you face each day in your business determines the success you achieve. All that really matters is what is going on in the market or markets you operate and I hope that you’re achieving success in the markets you compete.

As good a predictor that The Old Farmer’s Almanac was for this past winter, the prediction for the 2014 – 2015 winter season from this long-time source hasn’t been published yet, but I recently saw a very detailed prediction made by The Weather Centre for next winter. Please take the time to read and interpret all of the information and let me know what you think what the upcoming winter will be like.

Since weather is so important to the AGRR industry, in the coming months I’m hoping that you get some hail in the markets you compete. I know a couple of suppliers that think that could be their winning strategy for 2014.

Just sayin’.

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Just Sayin’ Blog – What’s Your Line-up? – “Updated”

A little over a year ago I wrote a blog asking the question “What’s Your Line-up?” The genesis of that blog was a question I had been asked about who was on my fantasy football team. The question I asked in this blog though actually referred to who did I want to work with.

At the end of the National Football League’s (NFL) recent regular season, 5 teams switched out head coaches in hopes of finding new direction and sought after success. This annual event is known as Black Monday. With the NFL football play-offs in full swing and the field narrowing, all the teams that didn’t make it into the postseason had players cleaning out lockers and heading home to think about next season. For a variety of reasons, some of those players won’t be returning to their lockers next summer, but some NFL General Managers are quickly locking up the talent they feel is needed to find success for owners dreaming of holding up the Vince Lombardi Trophy at the end of next season.

We’ve seen a similar pattern taking place in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry haven’t we? There have obviously been a number of companies changing ownership during the past several years. Whenever there is a change in ownership that change often comes with different values and vision, along with a whole new way of doing business.

As with professional teams, every glass company wants to “put together the best team possible to ensure success”. If you have the right mix of team members in your business, achieving goals and finding success is much easier when you’re working hard to find that “special sauce” or recipe for success against others in your market.

Getting back to the original question, “What’s your line-up?” The real question is, ”Who’s on your team?” People are what make a business successful or not. It doesn’t matter what it is you’re trying to accomplish, its people that make any endeavor a successful one. You’ve got to show differentiation in what it is you deliver of course by using superior products and services versus those you compete, but its people that ultimately separate you from the herd and consistently drive above market results for your business.

If you’re running the New England Patriots, the Denver Broncos, the San Francisco 49ers or the Seattle Seahawks; you’ve assembled a team that is comprised of the best you can find. The NFL team owners, general managers and coaches that put together that “special sauce” and get through the regular season and playoff games intact get the chance to get to Super Bowl XLVIII and hoist the Lombardi Trophy at MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014.

Those teams that didn’t get into the playoffs are working hard to find team members to add to their rosters during the NFL Draft May 8th – 10th 2014.

As I wrote in the original blog asking “What’s your line-up?”…as “an auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) store or company you had better make sure that your team is comprised of the best”. With all that’s happening in the AGRR industry perhaps there is someone you know that’s a perfect fit for your team.

royalty-free-teamwork-clipart-illustration-1050836

Every player in the NFL wants to go to the Super Bowl, but few really ever get the chance. The best teams with the most Lombardi Trophy’s over the years: The Pittsburgh Steelers hold the most Vince Lombardi Trophies, with six. The San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys are tied for second with five each. The Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants are in third with four; and the New England PatriotsWashington Redskins and the Oakland Raiders are all in fourth with three.The best in any industry want to be members of winning teams. You always try to associate yourself with the best. And you know when you’re not.

So I ask again the questions I asked in December 2012:

     What’s your line-up?

     Who’s on your team?

     Who can make a difference for your company?

     Who is it that can help you make your company better than anyone else in the market(s) you compete?

     Do you surround yourself with the best you can find?

Just sayin’……

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Wind at Our Backs? – Part II

As 2013 comes to a close I thought I’d take a quick look back at a blog I wrote in September titled Wind at Our Backs? I suggested that “it appears that we may have some wind at our back.” The wind was related to the three key drivers of the automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry: weather, the economy and miles driven.

The Weather – I wrote that The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a pretty good record at forecasting winter weather. For the 2013 – 2014 winter season, the magazine forecasted that we would be experiencing colder weather and snowfall in many sections of the country. When you take a look at the past month the forecast seems to be a good one. I live in Chicago we’ve seen January and February cold in December already. And we’ve had snow too. If you believe that cold, ice and snow are good for the AGRR industry and you live in markets that experience them, the start of winter in many areas has been good. The map below shows the snow cover in the United States as of today.

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Let’s keep hoping for cold, ice and snow for the rest of winter 2013-2014.

The Economy – Economic news continues to be positive with the United States Department of Labor – Employment Situation Summary reported that unemployment rate declined in November to 7.0% from October’s 7.3%. The major U.S. Indexes have soared to new highs the past month, but as someone I know always says “so far things are going well today, but it’s early”.

The Los Angeles Times reported in an article this week titled “U.S. economic recovery is expected to gain strength in 2014” stated, “The nation’s economic outlook has vastly improved in recent weeks with signs of stronger job growth, bigger gains in personal incomes and an improving housing market.” The article pointed out that the economic outlook for the country has improved sharply and that consumer buying is influencing businesses to hire which means that confidence in the both the long and short-term economy.

The positive economic outlook is reported at a national level but what really matters is how are things going in the market or markets you compete. I hope things are going well in the markets in which you compete.

Miles driven - On a trailing twelve months ending September 2013 the U.S. Department of Transportation–Federal Highway Administration (FHA) reports that travel overall was up 1.5% or 3.7 billion vehicle miles versus September 2012. For all of 2013 versus 2012 miles driven is up 0.4%. The only area of the country not reporting an increase year-on-year was the West with a 0.2% drop. The South-Atlantic and the South-Gulf regions both reported a 2.4% increase, along with a 2.0% increase in the North-Central and the North-East a 1.0% increase. Overall miles have increased 9.8 billion miles driven so far in 2013. The September 2013 Travel Monitoring and Traffic Volume report was good news for the AGRR industry.

An improving economy is helping to fuel this increase in miles driven, but so is the drop in the cost of oil. The graph below shows the rise and fall of gasoline prices during 2013 and as you can see prices are trending lower.

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Lower gasoline prices are obviously positive for your business and its helping to increase miles driven by consumers. Let’s hope that 2014 continues this trend.

As reported in an article titled “U.S. roads, bridges are decaying despite stimulus influx” that appeared in the USA Today earlier this year, “Indeed, just 38% of the pavement on roads stretching miles across the USA is in “good” condition…” Bad roads are good for the AGRR industry and as the article points out, “The cumulative cost of these tattered roads isn’t just about dollars and cents. Though poor pavement conditions do cost consumers billions annually in vehicle repair…” With government budgets tight both at a national and state level we’re probably not going to be seeing much money spent on fixing roads and the money that is spent will probably be short-term.

The three key drivers appear positive at the moment. You can probably argue that there are other key drivers in your business today such as the competitors you face in a market. As I’ve mentioned before I believe that you are the key driver in your business. You and the people you surround yourself. Taking advantage of opportunities in the marketplace the best you can as they come up will make the difference in how 2014 starts for you in your business. In talking with a number of people I know in the industry 2013 and the past few years have been tough.

With the three key drivers turning positive as we close 2013 and if you agree that the wind is at your back, what are you going to do in the next year to make your business stand out and drive success?

I hope that you have a Happy Holiday and that the New Year will most definitely be a very good year.

Just sayin’.

 

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Wind at Our Backs?

As we near the end of the first three quarters of 2013, it appears that we may have some wind at our back. There has been some slight improvement in a couple of the key drivers of the automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry. The key drivers of the AGRR industry are weather, the economy and miles driven.

How Optimism Works

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has been published since 1792 and is “North America’s most popular reference guide and oldest continuously published periodical”. Forecasting the weather is a specialty of the Almanac and the publication touts an 80% success rate at correctly forecasting winter weather. The Almanac recently published the weather maps for 2013 – 2014. The Almanac is forecasting the following weather for regions they report for this coming winter:

  • The Northeast a winter milder in the North and colder in the South with slightly above average snow in the region;
  • In the Atlantic Corridor a colder winter with snowfall above normal;
  • The Appalachians will see a colder winter with snowfall near normal;
  • The Southeastern United States will see colder weather and above normal snowfall;
  • In the Lower Lakes temperatures will be slightly milder with below normal snowfall;
  • In the Ohio Valley area winter will be colder, along with below normal snowfalls;
  • The Upper Mid-West will be a mixed bag with a warmer winter in the eastern part and below normal in the western part of the area. Snowfall will be above normal;
  • The Heartland will be colder than normal this winter and snowfall near normal;
  • The rest of the country is expected to be colder than normal with average to above average snowfall;

All-in-all a mixed bag with the weather and I hope that wherever your business is located you’re benefited by a colder and snowier winter.

The economy is also a bit of a mixed bag. Positive news came from new car sales which can be an important factor in an improving AGRR industry. J.D. Powers detailed year-on-year improvement in new-vehicle sales in the United States by reporting in their August 2013: Monthly Automotive Sales Forecast that “August new-vehicle sales reached the highest level in seven years.” The report went on to state, “New-vehicle retail sales in August 2013 are projected to come in at 1,270,400 units, 12 percent increase from 2012”. That’s great news for the AGRR industry. J.D. Powers is predicting growing new-vehicle sales for the remainder of 2013 and well into 2014. Really great news for the AGRR industry!

CNNMoney reported this past week in an article titled, “Jobless claims fall to 7-year low, but…” the rate of unemployment showed signs of dropping which is great news, but is tempered with the suggestion that it’s a result of people continuing to drop out of the work force. There are “11.3 million Americans who remain unemployed” the article reported with “three unemployed people for every job opening”. As with the weather, unemployment figures vary by region so its how your local economy is doing is what could affect how good your business will be in the next year.

The price of oil and how oil prices effect gasoline prices is another key part of the equation for the AGRR industry. As reported by the United States Energy Information Administration in the “Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update”, prices year-on-year through September 9, 2013 on regular gasoline show that prices are down $ 0.26. Lower gasoline prices are great for both the consumers we rely on for business and for all of those company vehicles providing mobile service. Hopefully the price of gasoline will stay low.

You can look at reports from the U.S. Department of Transportation – Federal Highway Administration (FHA) as positive or negative depending where you reside. The FHA showed in its June 2013 Travel Monitoring and Traffic Volume Report that year-on-year miles driven were relatively unchanged with a slight decline of 0.1% from June 2012. The news that miles driven is not showing growth wasn’t great news for the AGRR industry that thrives on vehicles out driving on roads, but staying level was better news than a drop.

So how are these three key drivers affecting your business and do you think the wind is at your back? Regardless of whether the wind is at your back or not, I think there is a fourth key driver to your business and it is the most important one for finding success in your business. That key driver is you. So how are you going to take advantage of the marketplace you compete? What is it you’re doing to make your business stand out among all those with whom you compete?

I’ve written in previous blogs “The Times They Are (Always) A-Changing” and “The Times They Are (Always) A-Changing – Part II” about the opportunities in the marketplace for AGRR companies. I strongly believe that there are opportunities for independents in our industry, but you’ve got to surround yourself with the best people and make sure that they are all committed to the goals and aspirations that you have for your business. If you haven’t got that you’re going to be struggling.

What else are you doing to separate yourself from your competitors? Look for ways to be successful and be relevant in your market so that you stand out. There is a recipe for success in your market and you’ve got to figure out what it’s going to take to make sure you find and keep being successful. It starts with you as you’re the key driver of your business.

If the three key drivers are beginning to turn to your favor and with the possibility of the wind at our backs, what is it you’re going to do in the next year to see that you not only survive, but thrive in the AGRR industry? It’s really up to you.

Just sayin’.

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Just Sayin’ Blog – “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”


In the current presidential election season I’ve been seeing several news outlets play clips of Ronald Reagan in 1980 during the presidential election when at the end of a debate with then President Jimmy Carter he asked a question to the viewing audience,

“Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

The question Reagan asked was a seminal moment during that year’s presidential campaign with the majority of voters answering with a strong “NO” catapulting Reagan into the Presidency.

 

It made me think about how those who compete in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry are doing this year compared to the past one, two, three or more years. Are you, your family or the company you work for better off this year than the past few years?

 

This past week I attended Auto Glass Week 2012 (AGW) in Louisville, Kentucky and while there I talked with a number of attendees who all work in the AGRR industry. I spoke with retailers, wholesalers, distributors, suppliers and networkers; and I didn’t get very many positive answers to the question “are you better off?”..… That’s not to say there weren’t those in attendance who felt that their company was doing better this year than over past years, but since I asked the question at an industry conference even people who aren’t doing better may be trying to put a more positive spin on their own story.

 

While at AGW I had several retailers tell me that they’ve been looking closely at what they’re currently allowed to charge to insurers for replacements versus their costs to acquire the part to be replaced, cost of labor and benefits, the cost of urethane (and primer cost if needed), fuel costs for mobile vans, insurance costs, etc. Each of them told a story that they had seen profit margins shrink over the last year or years. One retailer told me about a customer for whom he had replaced a windshield for a few years ago and again replaced the windshield in the same car. The customer happened to be insured with the same insurance company and they still had the invoice from the first replacement in the cars glove box. When the retailer looked at that prior invoice and then looked at the current invoice, with the pricing that he’s allowed to charge under the insurance pricing guidelines, he saw that he was getting less money today for the same replacement. More than a little surprised when he got back to his store he went back to look up what he had paid for the part and urethane from a few years ago versus his current costs and found out that he actually paid more for the part and urethane this time around too. So he got less for the sales invoice and paid more for the part and required supplies to install it; and that doesn’t even take into consideration the increase in all his other costs.

He started to question why he’s agreed to the pricing guidelines and was also giving consideration about whether he should pull out of or stay in the pricing/billing mechanism required to bill for work he does for the network that the insurance company uses to manage its auto glass losses. He asked me what I thought about that. His idea which might be beneficial to some, could also be a very risky strategy for others. Still it is an interesting question to ponder don’t you think?

 

While talking with another retailer he was lamenting the fact that gasoline prices are killing margins. That’s understandable since the price of gasoline has gone up over the past year and depending where you live regular gasoline is up $ 2.00 a gallon since 2009.

The average price of regular gasoline on January 29, 2009 was $ 1.84 a gallon as per a ConsumerReports.org.

As per the American Automobile Association Daily Fuel Gauge Report the average price of regular gasoline today is $ 3.81.

By the way, in 1980 the average price of regular gasoline as per the website 1980sflashback.com was $ 1.25.

The retailer said that the price he’s paying at the pump to fill up mobile vans, along with the delivery surcharge he’s being charged by his auto glass supplier due to the rising cost of gasoline is a killer; with no opportunity to pass those costs along to insurance customers.

 

One supplier complained about competition from foreign suppliers in the market with goods of “lesser quality and price” putting even further pressure on wholesale prices.

Another supplier talked about the market size shrinking and suggesting that surely some weaker competitors will drop out of the market this year which could certainly benefit the stronger competitors.

One supplier mentioned that this coming winter was going to be a good one (of course meaning a bad one) since acorns are abundant and that woolly worms are darker this year and not as light as last year….  I said, “What?” He went on to explain what he read in the Farmers’ Almanac. I went online and looked up both of these legendary prognosticators of a bad winter and he was right! The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that when woolly bear worms are darker in color it signifies a bad winter coming. I found in the Farmers’ Almanac a story on when there are more acorns than normal it can predict a rough winter as well. I’m not sure about either as true predictors of this coming winter’s weather, but maybe if we all also cross our fingers; find a four-leaf clover or a penny face up; knock on wood; see a rainbow; rub a rabbits foot and don’t step on a crack, break a mirror or open an umbrella indoors………  I think you get the idea.

 

Certainly other costs of doing business have gone up over the past year or more which most AGRR businesses are bearing with little opportunity for upside revenue to cover them. Many of us have lived through lean years and bountiful years in this industry. It’s always been that way hasn’t it? Hopefully the pendulum will swing back to an improved time for the AGRR industry in 2013.

 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities 1859

 

The reality is that the current marketplace demands that everyone in the AGRR industry find ways to deliver or provide a superior product and/or service offering via a low cost model to combat those who are willing to deliver or provide a poor product and/or service via an even lower cost model, if you want to survive.

 

So if you’re asked the question,

“Are you better off than you were four (or one or two or more) years ago?”

what would your answer be? Obviously you are the only one that can answer that question, but here’s hoping that you’re surviving all the turmoil that’s been experienced by many in the industry over the past few years. And that the upcoming year will have a definite swing to the better for you, your family and your business. Wouldn’t that be a welcomed change? You bet!

Just sayin’.

 

Cartoon courtesy of weblogcartoons.com

 

 

 

 

 

21:15

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Hopes for the New Year (Summer Update)

Image courtesy of Digital Cosmonaut

Is your glass half empty or half full in 2012? It depends upon your point of view.

Last January I wrote a blog titled ‘Hopes for the New Year’ and in March I updated the blog with how events were influencing that blog posting. In the original blog I offered the hope that 2012:

“turns out to be a great year for those in the automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry (or if great is too high a bar to set at the very least better than 2011)”.

I’ve talked to a number of people across the country and, by virtually every measurement, the first two quarters of 2012 certainly have not been seen as very favorable to the AGRR industry, especially when compared to 2011. So far this year it has been a bust for the vast majority for most in the industry.

There are a few exceptions of course. With one of the warmest winters on record, 2012 has started out with little help from one of the three key driver’s effects the AGRR industry – weather. During the second quarter a few markets have had some favorable bad weather. If you happen to have a store(s) in markets that have had hail storms this year such as the greater Dallas metropolitan area that was battered by big storms earlier this month business has probably been GREAT. The storms in Dallas could cost insurers up to $ 2 billion in automotive body and glass damage as suggested by the Southwestern Insurance Information Service and reported by www.propertycasualty360.com. Those hail storms in Dallas, along with large storms in the greater Saint Louis, Louisville, Denver and Indianapolis metropolitan areas, as well as those in a few other marketplaces scattered across the United States have certainly provided a welcome benefit for some in the industry.

The second key driver for the AGRR industry is the economy and by most reports that’s not working to our advantage either. A number of United States economic metrics as reported by CNNMoney shows that:

  1. consumer confidence is at a five month low
  2. home prices are at the lowest level since 2002
  3. the annual Gross Domestic Product in the first quarter of 2012 is down versus the fourth quarter of 2011
  4. in May the U.S. manufacturing growth has slowed, the May jobs report shows that hiring has slowed and unemployment rose for the month
  5. after taking out the lowering cost of gasoline, retail sales grew by 0.1% overall in May and
  6. inflation was down .3% in May, but after taking out the impact of gasoline and food inflation was up .2% for the month trending at an annual rate of 2.3% year-on-year.

None of these economic metrics provide very much good news for how the rest of 2012 will fare.

Additionally, as reported by Bloomberg.com the Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke announced last Wednesday that if the job outlook didn’t improve in the near term that the Federal Reserve would move to further stimulate the U.S. economy and then last Thursday the U.S. Labor department announced that unemployment claims were trending up over the past four weeks versus falling during last fall and winter. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reports that the United States could slide back into a recession based on economic performance. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia announced last Thursday that “manufacturing conditions, the diffusion index of current activity, fell from a reading of -5.8% in May to -16.6% (in June), its second consecutive negative reading”. None of these reports point to an overabundance of positivity looking forward for the U.S. economy.

The U.S. isn’t alone in the world as the difficulties that we face on the economic front pale to the issues faced in Europe and if they don’t resolve their problems they could ultimately affect our economy. The European powerhouse Germany reported that manufacturing output was at its lowest level in three years, certainly not a good sign for the rest of Europe and anyone in the AGRR industry that compete in the European markets (i.e. Belron). And to add to the economic woes of the world, in June China hit a seven month low in manufacturing activity as reported by HSBC Group.

One key driver – miles driven – has been showing improvement. Earlier this year the price of gasoline was predicted to hit $ 5 per gallon with the rising price of oil, but with oil prices continuing to drop due to the poor world economy the national average price of a gallon of regular gasoline on June 18, 2012 was $ 3.533 as reported by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Reports shows the national average price of a gallon of regular gasoline at $ 3.411), consumers have been given welcome relieve. There was more good news for continued increases in miles driven as reported in an article titled ‘Gas prices could hit $ 3 a gallon by autumn’ that was published last Friday in USAToday. In a blog post in mid-March I included the picture below left of a sign at a service station at the corner of LaSalle and Ontario in downtown Chicago, Illinois. The picture below right was taken yesterday at the same station and as you can see the price is well above the nation average.

March 19, 2012                                                                                                                   June 25, 2012

The U.S. Department of Transportation – Federal Highway Administration had reported that the cumulative miles driven year-on-year through March 2012 are up 1.4% or 9.7 billion more miles driven. The graph below shows how miles driven historically have grown since 1987 until the downward trend that started in early 2006.

Increased miles driven obviously turn into more opportunities for auto glass to be repaired or replaced, but only if the “do nothings” actually do something. Sadly, figures on miles driven out yesterday for April 2012 versus April 2011 point to a reversal in the trend that we had been seeing in miles driven with the month of April being down .4% year-on-year. Not a good sign.

While taking with someone in the industry recently I suggested that you could add another key driver that affects the AGRR industry besides weather, the economy and miles driven. That fourth driver would be Safelite Auto Glass. With Safelite’s capture of the second largest insurer earlier this year, the majority of the U.S. AGRR retailers found a dramatic fall-off in repair and replacement opportunities for Allstate Insurance Company insured’s.

Safelite’s continued dominance in AGRR markets across the country and its constant advertising campaigns that are seen and heard via its television and radio commercials is proof that Safelite is working hard to continue to grow market share. Many AGRR retailers have been curtailing their own sales and marketing spend because of the slowdown in repairs and replacements. You can be sure that Safelite’s non-stop advertising during this slowdown will certainly pay big dividends when economic conditions do begin improve in the future.

I left Safelite in late 1989 and my boss at the time used to talk a lot about “the pendulum swing”. He was referring to a business adage – when sales are good the sales departments of a company rules and has the most influence so the pendulum swings to their side, but if sales are bad the accountants rule and the influence of sales departments wane. I’m not sure how that adage is playing out at Safelite today with my former boss at the helm of the company, but I’m pretty sure that accountants are certainly influencing the decisions being made in many companies today and that’s not good for the people who work at those companies or for the long-term success of those companies.

How’s business where you work? Are you seeing sales improving or are sales falling behind? How are sales affecting you?

In a previous post I wrote:

People are the ultimate key driver to any successful business. Companies that don’t recognize the incredible value that attracting and then keeping the most talented people undoubtedly will suffer when weather, the economy and miles driven have a negative impact on the business. Recognizing that employees are the key driver that helps every organization find ways to innovate, increase customer service levels and create value for all stakeholders will allow it to flourish and remain competitive in the marketplace.”

With all that’s happening and effecting in our industry today, “Be Smart in 2012” and take special care of the ultimate key driver in your business – your people……

Just sayin’……….

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Hopes for the New Year (Spring Update)

On January 10, 2012 I wrote a blog titled ‘Hopes for the New Year’. In the blog I laid out my hopes that 2012:

“turns out to be a great year for those in the automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry (or if great is too high a bar to set at the very least better than 2011)”. 

Since we’re nearing the end of the first quarter of 2012 I thought that I’d take a quick look at the first hope I listed for this year. My first hope was regarding the 3 key business drivers for the AGRR industry – weather, the economy and miles drive.

Weather – I had asked for ‘good’ weather for the year. ‘Good’ meaning bad of course. That means snow, hail, and especially ice if you happen to be in the AGRR industry.

As I’m writing this blog watching March Madness the temperatures in Illinois are in the mid 70’s and the sun is shining. Farmers in the Midwest have already been in the fields doing prep work getting ready to plant crops in the near future if the temperatures stay this warm. The lack of a winter in 2011-2012 is discussed in an article titled ‘For much of the USA, winter never got off the ground’ . In the article is a graph that details the year-on-year drop-off in snowfall in major cities across the Northern states. the lack of snowfall is blamed on the location of the jet stream this year to last. For those in the AGRR industry, hopefully it will get back to where it belongs in the 2012-2013 winter season. On a personal level I’ve enjoyed the lack of snow this winter, but from the Upper Midwest to New England the mild winter has forced countless companies to take a hard look at costs they can take out of their businesses. Costs equate to people.

There has been welcomed hail this year in a number of states. This obviously brings glass breakage, but sadly much of that hail came with tornado’s that caused death and destruction as well.

I haven’t talked to anyone in the U.S. who is happy with how this year has started or how they’re doing year-on-year. Regardless of whether they’re a retailer or a supplier it appears that everyone is hunkering down in 2012. The only ones who might have a slight smile are insurers.

It’s not only here in the United States, even the venerable Belron keystone subsidiary in the United Kingdom Autoglass® has had to “slash jobs at its head office and axe 16 out of its 101 branches resulting in a large number of redundancies (lay-offs)“ as reported on February 29, 2012 by the Insurance Times – UK.

The Economy – Indications are that the economic environment is moving in the right direction with the February 2012 unemployed rate down to 8.3% from a high of 9.1% in August 2011 as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Wall Street Journal – MarketWatch.com reports retail sales improving in the first two months of 2012 and home prices and sales are beginning to rise seemingly pointing to a turn-around for the housing market.

All of this is good news if you’re a retailer, but the signs of a recovery could be short lived as Bloomberg reported last Friday that the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment fell to 74.3, the lowest this year, from 75.3 the prior month. That means consumers aren’t feeling too confident in the recovery quite yet.

What’s happening on the national economic level is important, but even more important is what’s happening in the local economy in which you operate. What’s the unemployment rate in your market, how are retail sales and are you seeing a recovery in the housing markets? How is your business performing so far in 2012? Feeling good or bad about your prospects?

Miles Driven – Miles driven has shown some minor improvements at the start of the year, but that might be short-lived. In early January Ed Morse, Head of Commodity Trading at Citibank was predicting $ 4 a gallon gasoline as a floor price by the end of May 2012.  As of today the average price in the United States for a gallon of gasoline is $ 3.84 as reported by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. A few blocks from where I live in Chicago a BP® gas station is selling regular unleaded gasoline for $ 4.459 a gallon and $ 4.709 for premium.

Recently ExxonMobil’s CEO Rex Tillerson spoke with the TODAY Show’s Matt Lauer and said “Despite rising crude oil prices and threats to stability in the Middle East, the price of gas is unlikely to reach a national average as high as $5 per gallon in the near term”. Well isn’t that comforting news.

Politico recently reported that President Obama’s Energy Secretary Steven Chu was “walking back” his comments in an interview he had with the Wall Street Journal in 2008 when he told the newspaper,

“Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the

   levels in Europe”.

Really? The prices per gallon in Europe in 2008 averaged over $ 8 per gallon as reported by CNNMoney.com and in 2008 the price for a barrel of oil reached a high of $ 147.27. Today oil is hovering around $ 108 per barrel and the average price per gallon of gasoline in the United Kingdom is over $ 8. Can you imagine what the price per gallon will be if (or when) oil goes higher?

The tensions that continue to build in the Middle East between Israel and Iran obviously add further concern to the price of oil and the gasoline our industry relies so heavily on.

Hopefully all of the key drivers that effect the AGRR industry will all trend positively in the coming months, but with the price of gasoline being such an overriding influencer of both miles driven and the economy even the prospect of future weather events won’t help. What the industry doesn’t need are consumers who become ‘do nothings’ by keeping their hands in their pockets holding onto their cash unsure of what’s coming later this year. If that happens, retailers and suppliers alike will continue to have to make those very hard decisions on what costs to cut next. The first and easiest cuts always involve people.

People are the ultimate key driver to any successful business. Companies that don’t recognize the incredible value that attracting and then keeping the most talented people undoubtedly will suffer when weather, the economy and miles driven have a negative impact on the business. Recognizing that employees are the key driver that helps every organization find ways to innovate, increase customer service levels and create value for all stakeholders will allow it to flourish and remain competitive in the marketplace.  

I wrote in a blog earlier this year about the need to ‘Be Smart in 2012′, quoting Coach Pete Carril who said, “The strong take from the weak, but the smart take from the strong”. I hope you’re being smart in 2012.

Just sayin’……….

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Just Sayin Blog – Be Smart In 2012

There have certainly been a number of events happening since the first of the year that are effecting or may affect the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry in 2012. Where to start? Well let’s see:

 

1.    First the earth shook on January 2, 2012, when Safelite® Solutions officially took over the responsibilities for administrating Allstate® Insurance auto glass claims from PGW Lynxservices®. By all accounts Safelite® Solutions must be doing a masterful job in this new role administering claims for Allstate® as I’ve heard from a number of you that your auto glass claims from the second largest insurer in the United States are dramatically lower since the administrator change took place. Mild weather could also be a contributing factor. Adding to the pain of lost units, the pricing for those Allstate® replacements are also lower.

 

Have you seen your auto glass claims with Allstate decline since January 2, 2012?

 

2.    On January 6, 2012, glassBYTEs.com™ reported that Grey Mountain Partners Acquires Binswanger. Binswanger is a truly amazing full-service glass company with its roots going back to 1872 with its first location in Richmond, Virginia. It is certainly great news to hear for all of the Binswanger employees that they have a new owner who is interested in working with them to help build the company. I think that a strong Binswanger is healthy for the glass industry in the United States.

 

How about you?

 

3.    Neil Duffy recently announced in his very well written blog View From The Trenches that he’s considering a new career by starting a ‘new third-party glass claims administrator’. It sounds as though he’s thought it out pretty thoroughly by looking at all the pros of this new venture and I for one think he should go for it. I don’t see any cons.

 

What do you think?

 

4.    Then there is that anonymous letter from a ‘Concerned Citizen’ that surfaced yet again last week titled “New Anti-Trust Concerns”. This letter had a postmark from Bloomington, Illinois, and its resurfacing at this time might have some relationship to #1 above.

 

It does seem pretty obvious that the letter was written by someone in the auto glass industry as no one else would really care about the issue. The letter does raise a number of interesting points, but the conclusion of the ‘Concerned Citizen’ is that:

 

‘While the relationship between a TPA and its insurance company clients may not be illegal, the abuse of that position could be unfairly excluding independent competitors.’

 

There are a number AGRR initiatives taking place in various states where attempts are being made to try to restrict the big guy from taking your lunch money day in and day out. If one of them was successful it would certainly be good for independents in the industry.

 

Are there any legislative initiatives happening in your state that will be of any help to you in your business?

 

5.    For those of you who happen to follow @Safelite on Twitter you may have seen them sending out ‘Tweets’ asking for your input. One ‘Tweet’ poses a question to its followers and directs you to a web page survey question asking ‘How likely are you to recommend Safelite?’ Safelite® gives you the opportunity to answer with a ‘Not Likely’ – 0 score to an ‘Extremely Likely’ – 10 score.

 

I’m not sure to whom exactly Safelite® is targeting the question, but you’ve got to provide an email address in order to answer the question which is somewhat problematical. If you’d like to offer your view anonymously I guess you could use a fake email address.

 

I know what my number is in answer to the question. What number would you mark as your answer?

 

6.    And finally there was an article in the Chicago Tribune on January 18, 2012, reporting that the average age of vehicles in the United States has climbed to 10.8 years. The article stated that in 2010 the average age of vehicles was 10.6 years with the average age of vehicles having climbed steadily since 1995 when it was at 8.5 years. Over the past several years low new vehicle sales has certainly been a major factor in the increase in the average age, but with new car sales picking up new car manufacturers are expecting a great year in 2012. That will help to slow the growth in average age and hopefully bring it down. What does average age have to do with the AGRR industry?

 

One byproduct of an aging vehicle fleet is that you see an increasing number of the ‘do nothings’ (consumers that delay replacements) when auto glass breaks. Consumers obviously will be more accepting of a repair over replacement if the vehicle is older. New vehicles typically provide a higher average invoice value since the only replacement glass initially available to consumers will be auto glass manufactured for the vehicle by the Original Equipment Manufactured (OEM) glass company (i.e. Pilkington-NSG, PGW, Saint-Gobain Sekurit, etc.). The cost for non-OEM manufactures to reverse-engineer a replacement part for new vehicles is initially too expensive due to the low volume of parts needed in the aftermarket. The older the age of the vehicle fleet the more opportunities for non-OEM suppliers to sell reverse engineered replacement parts that are typically cheaper than the OEM’s. Ultimately that can mean less profit for the AGRR industry as a whole. New vehicle sales should mean more profit opportunities for those in the AGRR industry.

 

What do you think?

 

 

I hesitate to mention other things going on so far this year that may have an effect on your business like the lack of a severe winter in the East, the predictions for much higher gasoline prices later this year, a sputtering economy, the price changes that have taken place in the State Farm® Insurance Company auto glass program and various people coming and going from here to there. How you’re dealing with the variety of issues that you’ll face in 2012 will determine how you survive the year. Someone I’ve known for a long time in the industry commented to me last week that, ‘2012 is shaping up to be a watershed year for many in the industry. Survive this year and hope that next year will be a better one.’ That outlook makes sense to me. We’ll see if he’s right.

 

In closing, a former Princeton University men’s basketball coach by the name of Pete Carril wrote a book titled “The Smart Take from the Strong”. It’s a great book. Pete Carril was 5’6” tall, he was an All-State Pennsylvania high school basketball player, an Associated Press Little All-American in college and he coached at Princeton for 29 years before going on to the NBA to become an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings. Coach Carril is also a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. When he was young man his father told him:

 

            ‘The strong take from the weak, but the smart take from the strong.’

 

So be smart in 2012!

 

Just sayin’…….

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Hopes for the New Year

I’m hoping that 2012 turns out to be a great year for those in the automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry or if great is too high a bar to set at the very least better than 2011. In my opinion there are few key things that need to happen (and perhaps more than a few) for 2012 to be a great year. I’ve listed some of my hopes for 2012. Perhaps some are on your list as well.

  1.  Our industry is affected by three key business drivers:  weather, the economy and miles driven. Sadly we have no control or influence over any of these so I’m hoping for some luck for 2012.

Weather – I’m hoping to see “good” weather this year. I think you know what the definition of “good” means. For the most part 2011 was a “good” weather year.

In many markets, the AGRR industry and all those affected by it rises or falls depending upon the severity of the winter season which means snow. A severe winter brings increased breakage while a mild winter has the opposite effect. Annual demand obviously can vary considerably based on those weather fluctuations. I have many friends that compete in the snow-belt and at this time of the year they are looking at weather reports day-in and day-out to see when and where that next big snow will be. That snow, of course, has to come in the right amount and at the right time of day for maximum effect and that would be during rush hour. It would be great to see snow come in every other week so that after that big snow there would be sunny weather that follows allowing all those new repairs and replacements to be completed.  If there is no snow, owners/managers are forced to make tough decisions they’d prefer not to make relating to cutting expenses, so please let it snow. Snow brings out plows and salt trucks. If the area you live in still uses gravel or coal or sand, even better. 

Then there is ice. Ice can be even better than snow for the AGRR industry. Then there are cold snaps that can cause star breaks to run out when drivers go out and clean frost off windshields on cold mornings with scrapers or   even better – hot water. And when drivers turn on the defrosters to get rid of frost and warm air hits cold windshields. 

Hail is nice too. Of course not too small that won’t break the glass, but not too big either.  Just the right size will do. Rain isn’t ever really that good for our industry, but if it does rain please let it rain at night.

The Economy – My hope for 2012 is that in the United States and everywhere else in the world the economy becomes robust.  Since 2007 -2008 the economy in the United States obviously has not been robust.  During economic downturns many who experience auto glass breakage – the “do nothings” – delay repairs and/or replacements.  Everyone in the industry hopes that as the economy improves those “do nothings” will replace that broken auto glass.

A fully-employed workforce in the United States would be great. My hope for a robust economy includes the wish that everyone has a great job and that its a great paying one. All those fully employed people should have a car too — actually several cars would be even better. It would be great if all those cars would be fully insured with a zero dollar comprehensive insurance deductible. And, since these are my hopes for 2012, I hope that all those cars are fully insured with an insurance company that doesn’t use Safelite® Solutions as its auto claims administrator (I’m guessing most of you’d agree with me on that one). I hope everyone is going on vacations this year and preferably driving to all the beautiful places there are to visit and see in our great country.

A bad economy requires those competing in the AGRR industry to take an introspective look at their businesses.  That introspective look should include “SWOT” – your strengths and weaknesses versus the opportunities and threats you face. How you deal with SWOT generally determines how successful you’ll be.

Miles Driven – Miles driven are key to auto glass breakage and my hope is that for 2012 gasoline prices remain “low” which will equate to more miles driven by putting more people in their cars and on the road providing more opportunities for drivers to break auto glass.

The total monthly vehicle miles driven have been growing since the federal government started tracking the data. In September 2011 the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Commission released an in-depth Traffic Trend Report. If you follow this link to a graph on miles driven, after hitting a moving 12-month high of 3.039 billion, yes billion miles driven in the rolling 12-months ending in November 2007 the graph shows a down-tick in estimated vehicle miles driven that occurred in 2008 – 2009.  Thankfully the miles driven appear to have somewhat stabilized for now.

But the cost of gasoline is a major influencer relating to total miles driven. On December 18, 2011, a Chicago Sun Times (Chicago Sun Times article) article titled “At gas pump, 2011 was the year of the big squeeze” reported on the annual cost of gasoline for the average American family in 2011. The opening line of the article stated, “It’s been 30 years since gasoline took such a big bite out of the family budget.” The article goes on to report, “the typical American household will have spent $ 4,155 filling up this year, a record.  That is 8.4 percent of what the median family takes in, the highest share since 1981.”  This wasn’t good news for AGRR retailers in 2011. 

On January 6, 2012, a Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times article) article titled “Gasoline prices start the year at a high – and rising” reported on how gasoline prices are starting out this year. The article states, “but this also may be the year of the gas-pocalypse, analysts warn. That’s because gasoline prices are the highest ever for the start of the year, and they’re on the rise, supercharged by expensive oil and changes in refinery operations.” That’s certainly not good news for AGRR retailers looking for 2012 to be a better year than 2011.

The AGRR industry really needs to see lower gasoline prices that will cause a spike in miles driven for its business outlook to improve in 2012. Based on predictions made by Edward Morse, head of commodities research at Citigroup Global Markets, Inc., on December 22, 2011, on Bloomberg Television’s “Surveillance Midday” that doesn’t seem likely. If you follow this link Mr. Morse talks about factors affecting the crude oil market and the outlook for oil and gasoline prices. You’ll see that he holds out little hope for “low” gas prices in 2012.  Mr. Morse sees the floor for gasoline prices to be $ 4 by the end of May 2012. That’s certainly not good news for AGRR retailers in 2012.

My hope for 2012 is that gasoline prices are low and miles driven are high. Based on the realities of the marketplace and comments from experts you’d better cross your fingers and say a prayer for that one.

  1.  I’m hoping that in 2012 some entity – some organization or company in the AGRR industry steps up and becomes a leader for the industry. By the way, I’m certainly not suggesting that the “market leader” can assume that role.  I don’t think that’s possible. I am hoping that leadership is shown by someone who really cares about the AGRR industry and the issues that it faces, offering positive ideas for all to improve the valuable services that the industry provides to consumers.
  1. I hope to see fewer imports of auto glass manufactured overseas coming to the United States/North America and the imports that do come to our shores at least be from those companies that are major suppliers of Original Equipment Manufactured auto glass to car manufacturers and not those who primarily make after-market parts.
  1. I hope that every windshield that needs replacing in 2012 is replaced using the Auto Glass Safety Council’s auto glass replacement standard known as the AGRSS® Standard.  The standard is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards development organization.  The AGRSS® Standard (ANSI/AGRSS® 002-2002 Automotive Glass Replacement Standard) is North America’s only auto glass replacement standard and it addresses the proper procedures that must be used by auto glass technicians, along with other company employees who are also important to ensure the safe installation of auto glass.  No other company or organization maintains any standard remotely similar to AGRSS®.  I also hope that replacements are completed using a urethane that provides a 1 hour safe drive away time.  Your customers deserve nothing less.
  1. My final hope is that someone steps up and attempts to compete on a larger scale against the market leader. The industry really needs a strong competitor to Safelite®.  I really don’t care who that is, but come on already.  Somebody step up on the retail or third party administrator side and give them a go.

I hope everyone who competes in the AGRR industry the best of success and luck in 2012.

And finally I’m hoping for a great 2012 for myself.

Just sayin’……..

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