Posts Tagged David Rohlfing
Each of us knows exactly where we were and what we were doing on and we will remember that day of infamy for as long as we live. 343 fire firefighters and paramedics, along with over 2,400 civilians were killed by terrorists on the day that brought down the . While the of terror wrought was so shocking on 9/11, the day also brought out the best of what America is, means and stands for. A few of the antonyms of infamy are esteem, honor and respect. On that day and the days that have followed showed the world the greatness of America.
One of the featured speakers at Auto Glass Week 2013 was Richard “Pitch” Picciotto. Pitch is a former New York City Police Officer, who for 28 years served with the Fire Department of New York () as a fire marshal, an arson investigator, then as a lieutenant and as a captain before becoming a chief in 1992. When the North Tower of the World Trade Center was bombed by terrorists on , Pitch was given responsibility for ensuring that the entire building was completely evacuated. He was on duty in New York the morning of 9/11 and he knew immediately that the attack was done by the hands of terrorists. His experience told him that the first tower hit on 9/11 was a terrorist attack and not a small plane hitting the building on a beautiful sunny day.
When Pitch arrived at the World Trade Center on 9/11 he was assigned responsibility for leading the evacuation of a number of floors of the North tower. The 110 story tower had 99 elevators which were rendered useless when the plane struck the building. Everyone who escaped from the North Tower that day came down one of three stairways, one each on opposite corners of the building and one in the middle of the building. On opposite sides of the building were stairways (Stairway A and C) which were 44” wide. The inside stairway (Stairway B) was 56” wide. You can imagine how difficult it was for fire fighters to go up those stairways to help evacuate the building when the stairways were already filled with panicked people trying to leave.
Although the North Tower was hit first, the South Tower was the first to collapse at 9:59 a.m. Inside the North Tower at the time of the collapse of the South Tower Pitch knew the tower he was in was going to also come down and he ordered the immediate evacuation of the building which meant every fire fighter dropped their equipment where they were standing when they heard the order and they started down the stairways.
Pitch was in between the 6th and 7th floor stairwell at 10:38 a.m. when the North Tower collapsed. He and 12 others in the stairway near him at the time of the collapse survived as the building fell in around them. Five hours later they were able to find their way out of the building and walked over the rubble of the Twin Towers to safety. Pitch tells the entire story of his experiences that day in a book he wrote titled “”. Since 2004 Pitch has been a Battalion Commander responsible for Battalion 11 which covers the Upper West Side of New York.
I had the extreme honor to introduce Battalion Commander Richard “Pitch” Picciotto to the audience attending. Those listening to his talk that day heard him tell in vivid detail his experiences that day in the North Tower. He spoke of the heroism of the countless fire fighters who put their lives at risk to save the vast majority of those in the Twin Towers on 9/11.
Pitch also talked about five points that he feels are important for all to focus on in the post 9/11 world we live:
1. Priorities in your life are what’s important
2. Get focused on family and friends – don’t give up on relationships
3. Be kinder and gentler
4. How do you get through life? With the help of generous support of people
DR First let me thank you for taking the time to talk Pitch.
RP My pleasure.
DR When you spoke at our recent conference I know that everyone was mesmerized by the story you told; one of leadership, perseverance and faith. What are the key traits that you feel are important to being a leader?
RP First and foremost you have to be competent. You have to know what your job is and how to accomplish it. Unfortunately we have too many incompetent leaders. They may be nice people, but they are not competent in their field.
DR In your experience do you believe that people are born with the traits required to be a leader or can someone learn to become a leader?
RP I think it is a mixture of both. There are people born with traits to be a leader, but these traits also have to be developed. And you can develop many (probably not all) by studying and learning from other leaders.
DR You first became a police officer for the City of New York and then made a career change to become a fire fighter in New York. What drew you to becoming a fire fighter?
RP I just loved the camaraderie and also the tremendous amount of gratification of doing the job. There is no greater feeling in the world than knowing that you and your team saved a life.
DR I understand that there is a term used by fire fighters – accountability – that has a different meaning to the one most are familiar. Can you explain the meaning of accountability as it relates to fire fighters?
RP As a firefighter you’re accountable for your actions, as a leader you are not only accountable for your actions, but also for all actions taken by those who you have trained and lead.
DR Like many in the room listening to your talk I was mesmerized by the story you told. The experience you recounted seemed more of serendipity. The takeaway I got from your talk was that all of us need to celebrate and embrace those around us in our lives. As harrowing the experience of 9/11 had to have been for you, you seemed to have emerged from the events of the day with an amazing outlook on life. How were you able to achieve that?
RP I really don’t think I had a choice. It seems that if you dwell on the tragic events and repercussions of any tragedy it will consume you. I know myself and many of the firefighters did dwell and were consumed by the events of 911 to the point of depression, but for me I am now able to compartmentalize that part of my life (even though I reflect on the events of 911 every day) I try to enjoy life.
DR You ended your talk telling us five points that you feel are important for everyone to focus on. What was the genesis of those five points?
RP You listed the points. I truly believe this is what helped me, and hope it can help others. I came to this realization after a long time reflecting on the events of 911 and life and what is necessary to be happy.
DR Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions today Pitch. After you finished your talk you spent a great deal of time talking with those who attended one-on-one. I also saw you walking around the show floor and the hotel lobby. You were and are very approachable. I had a number of people tell me that you were someone that they’d enjoy having a beer with in their local bar. A man who would be comfortable anywhere, talking with anyone about anything. I have to concur with that as you and I talked several times and you were very kind and gracious to everyone you came in contact with. With what you went through on 9/11 you must have one huge heart.
Battalion Commander Richard “Pitch” Picciotto is an American hero. One of countless heroes, not seeking that badge that emerged from the events of 9/11. What makes people like Pitch so remarkable is that in his view he didn’t do anything more than his job on that day. Although he was only doing his job as Pitch says, he and other fire fighters saved the lives of over 27,000 people by getting them safely out of the Twin Towers on 9/11. I know that as a nation we remember the loss of lives that day, but in his eyes we should also celebrate life.
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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.
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.
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This past Monday, August 26, 2013 at The White House, United States Army Staff Sergeant and Calvary Scout Ty M. Carter received the Congressional Medal of Honor. The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. The medal is generally presented to its recipient by the President of the United States of America in the name of Congress. There have been 3,462 medals awarded over the years and there are 79 recipients still living today. Ty Carter is being honored for his gallantry in helping to defend Combat Outpost Keating, located in a remote section of Afghanistan, from an unwavering attack by a Taliban force. He and his fellow Americans were severely outnumbered.
When talking about the actions he took at the outpost that day on October 3, 2009 Ty was quoted as saying:
“When good men are dying all around you, you have to decide what your last moments are going to be like. Are you going to die behind something, or are to going to die standing and firing. Are you going to die pushing forward or falling back?”
What a great quote and an amazing mindset to have when you are in battle and facing terrible odds. It is impossible for me to imagine the horrific setting and events that took place that fateful October day.
When reading about Ty’s receiving this amazing honor for his valor and acts of selflessness, I started thinking about the character traits required to possess his mindset. I then thought about traits required to be so determined, driven and/or committed to achieve a specific goal. How those traits determine or define success. That led me to wonder about the traits required to be successful in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry today. Now before you say “what the &$%#”, I’m not in any way attempting to liken the American heroes who are brave enough to take up arms and defend our nation to the issues faced by retailers in the AGRR industry. There is obviously no real comparison. What I am suggesting is Ty Carter’s quote makes you consider that if you are going to be successful as an AGRR retailer or in any endeavor you had better have that determination, that drive and commitment to fight the good fight or you won’t be successful in the task at hand. You must discover the ways to find success as you are confronted with new obstacles; and you had better never take that success for granted because someone is always coming after you and yours.
There was once a time finding success being an AGRR retailer was a fairly easy task. A time when networks or third party administrators didn’t exist and when you didn’t have to deal with steering or any of the other tactics seen today. The landscape has changed and continues to change. In all likelihood it’s not going to be changing in any positive way and certainly not to your advantage, so you’d better be working hard to find ways to ensure your continued success.
In previous blogs (“It’s all a matter of perspective”; “Auto Glass Networks – Part 1” and “Auto Glass Networks – Part 2”) I’ve written about various tactics used and what actions you might consider in maintaining and growing your business. You have to focus and fight for your customer(s) and you can’t let anybody keep you from doing so. You can’t stop pushing forward. You can’t stop trying out new ideas or strategy’s to grow your business. You need to find that special something that makes you and your company stand apart from the others. You can’t ever give up trying. Don’t suffer from what Brad Stevens; former head men’s NCAA basketball coach for the Butler Bulldogs and new head coach for the Boston Celtics said after an NCAA game earlier this year, “The pain of losing isn’t as great as the pain of regret. You have to give it your best.”
Ty Carter didn’t stop fighting at Combat Post Keating on that fateful day in Afghanistan almost four years ago. He didn’t give up and he didn’t let the circumstances keep him from continuing his “pushing forward”. He never allowed himself to “fall(ing) back” as in doing so the outcome of that day would have been very different for both himself and the men he served with at Combat Outpost Keating.
In my last blog post I wrote about “Battles Won and Waged”. Nothing that I have ever done in my life or in my career in the AGRR industry are on the level or scale of the horrific battles that Ty Carter has faced in his chosen field. As a country we honored Ty Carter for his service to our nation and the many sacrifices he has made and continues to make on our behalf. Just as he never gave up on the day that he faced unimaginable challenges neither should we in the much lesser challenges that we face in being AGRR retailers. In my last blog I wrote,
“You’ve got to try to never let anyone, any company or thing get the better of you. Work hard to figure out a work-a-round to your challenge. Always remember that when you face a challenge it’s not always the battle won, the battle waged is just as important. It defines who you are.”
Ty Carter defined himself on October 3, 2009 and he continues to do so today as he continues to push forward, not falling back in ongoing struggles he faces in dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. He is a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and is one of only 3,462 so honored in the history of the United States Military. Ty is an American hero.
How are you going to define yourself?
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I was listening to someone giving a talk recently about the challenges that you experience over a lifetime and that “how” you deal with those challenges says everything about who you are. How you face and deal with the challenges in your life defines you.
Give some thought to the different challenges you’ve had to deal with in business the ones that you won and ones that you didn’t. How did these challenges shape you? Did you learn lessons from the ones you lost? I did. You have to believe that you are up to any challenge that comes your way in business, regardless of the outcome.
When I started to think about some of the challenges that I’ve faced over my 40+ years in business I began to recognize what the speaker had meant. Looking back at those challenges may have seemed more like battles at the time. Some of them I won, some I lost. In business you obviously need to be up for every challenge you face or you’re not going to be successful. You have to work continuously to find solutions to every challenge.
In the late 1970’s I faced a challenge that, at the time, I thought was insurmountable. But I figured out a way to balance out the needs of a supplier to whom I owed money when there wasn’t money immediately available to settle accounts. We worked together to find a solution that worked for us both. A battle won. My company thrived and was sold to the largest industry player seven years later.
In 1990, I went to work for a company that was losing millions of dollars per year and the challenges were countless. Over a six year period at this new company, and with the help of countless number of great people with whom I was very fortunate to have been associated, we worked through each of the challenges and found a solution. We moved the company to profitability in two years and became the second largest auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) company in the mid 1990’s. As a team, we grew the company from a 50+ store multi-regional player to 270+ stores in 40+ states and a force to be reckoned with.
I’ve also faced challenges that I couldn’t find a solution. As an auto glass installer trainee a long time ago, a gentleman with whom I worked by the name of J.C. Hand told me that if you’re going to be in this business you’re going to make mistakes. Although his commentary on life in the AGRR industry wasn’t necessarily sage, his words have always stuck with me.
When you face difficult challenges, you always seek out those whom you trust and admire to bounce your ideas off of on how to best deal with them. Listen closely to their advice. They may not always be right, but you’ll see what others would do if they were facing the challenges you are. The reality is that there are some challenges that you face that may be insurmountable. But you have to try.
You’ve got to try to never let anyone, any company or thing get the better of you. Work hard to figure out a work-a-round to your challenge. Always remember that when you face a challenge it’s not always the battle won, the battle waged is just as important. It defines who you are.
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In these cold days of winter my sports focus starts shifting away from the NFL, even though the ultimate game is taking place this coming Sunday night. The so called “HarBowl” pits the San Francisco 49ers coached by Jim Harbaugh versus the Baltimore Ravens coached by John Harbaugh. I wrote a blog last year titled “Meaningful Quotes – Harbaugh, Hogan and Einstein”. In that blog I used a quote from their father Jack Harbaugh
“Attack this day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”
While watching this NFL season we’ve witnessed how both of these coaches have guided their teams this season and on to win their divisional playoffs games. The two teams and coaches will meet in New Orleans on February 3, 2013 at Super Bowl XLVII. The Harbaugh brothers’ enthusiasm for the game and life is quite evident.
How about you? Do you have a similar level of commitment and enthusiasm for what drives you in your life? Are you committed to doing the best that you can each and every day? Be that in business or in sport, there are times when you face difficult challenges that require you to make that extra effort that separates your company from another, one sports team from another.
The ability of you and your company to excel in business today demands that you have that enthusiasm and that you must surround yourself with those who you know have it too. Enthusiasm and the ability to give it your all, to use every play in the book and design your own new plays to beat your competition are keys to your success. This doesn’t mean that you’re always going to win just because you gave it your all,but you have to put yourself in the position to win. That’s certainly what I’m attempting to do and I want to associate myself with team members with similar enthusiasm who will help us to win.
As I mentioned earlier, this is the time of year that my sport focus moves away from the NFL and moves to NCAA Men’s Basketball. It ends quickly with March Madness, but right now, as a fan, I enjoy watching big games between NCAA powerhouse names. Whether you’re a fan of the Big 10, 8 or 12; the ACC; the SEC; the Big East; the Pac 12 or other conferences, you know what those big games are. In any game a top team can be defeated by another team not as highly ranked and seemingly with less talent. How? With enthusiasm and the desire to win underdogs can prevail. Upsets happen and, as long as your team is not the loser, it’s always fun to watch. In recent games you could see:
13th ranked Butler Bulldogs (now 9th)
over the then 8th Gonzaga Bulldogs (now 7th)
25th ranked Miami (Florida) Hurricanes (now 14th)
over the number 1 ranked Duke Blue Devils (now 5th)
unranked Villanova Wildcats (still unranked)
over the 3rd ranked Syracuse Orange (now 6th)
unranked Georgetown Hoya’s (still unranked)
over the 5th ranked Louisville Cardinals (now 12th)
Just to name a few.
The Gonzaga versus Butler game on Saturday, January 19, 2013 played at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis was especially exciting and turned into an instant classic. After a hard fought game, Butler won the game on a last second shot by sophomore forward Roosevelt Jones. After the game Butler Bulldogs men’s head basketball coach Brad Stevens in an interview with ESPN suggested that,
“The pain of losing isn’t as great as the pain of regret.
You have to give it your best.”
The message is do everything you can to win your game even if you sometimes come up short. Don’t let anyone or any company determine the path you take and then find that you regret it later.
Win or lose in business or sport you must have what Jack Harbaugh exhorted his sons to always do and give it your all.
“Attack this day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”
Great advice. And as Jack Harbaugh has also told his family for a longtime,
“Who’s got it better than us? Nobody!”
With his sons battling each other as head coaches in Super Bowl XLVII it appears a fitting motto for his family.
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I was talking with someone the other day and she asked, “What’s your line-up?” We were talking about business, but the question threw me for a second. Was she asking about my fantasy football team? I wasn’t quite sure so I asked, “My line-up for what?”
I live in Chicago and like many big cities we enjoy a number of professional teams. The Chicagoland area has an:
NFL football team – The Chicago Bears,
NBA basketball team – The Chicago Bulls,
NHL hockey team – The Chicago Blackhawks,
AHL hockey team – The Chicago Wolves and an
MLS soccer team – The Chicago Fire.
Each of these professional teams have enjoyed well known successes and equally well known failures over the years. Champions in one way or another, but for some it’s been a while (i.e. Bartman…just an excuse). One common element of each is that it’s the job of ownership and/or management to put together the best team possible to ensure success week in and week out which will drive increased fan interest and that equals increased revenues and profits. That right mix of team members should determine how the goals that are set for the team are accomplished.
For me, this time of year my focus moves from football to NCAA basketball. In an article in the USAToday from December 10, 2012 the University of Illinois men’s basketball coach John Groce calls the bond between team members “T-n-T” (toughness and togetherness). That seems appropriate for getting the team through a season of home and away games working their way to the ultimate prize of getting an invite to the dance – March Madness. March Madness is one of the greatest sporting events and to get there Coach Groce is right that it takes “T-n-T”. I think he’s onto something.
Getting back to the question, “What’s your line-up?” When I asked what she was referring to she said, “Oh. I meant who’s on your team?”
Over the past year or so in blogs I’ve posted I’ve talked about what I feel is the most important thing in business – people. In a blog titled Inconvenient Truth(s) I wrote,
“You can’t really find the greatest success in your business without surrounding yourself with the best people you can find. Basketball legend John Wooden was quoted as saying,
“Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.”
Sound advice from a true winner.”
You obviously need to have a good product and service offering that differentiates you from others in the market, but if you look at other past blog posts you can see a reoccurring theme of what I think is important and that’s the people. In order to find real success in business you have to be able to assemble a great team that can deliver on the promise you make to your customers for your product and service.
It really doesn’t matter what kind of business you have, you have to surround yourself with the best. So whether the business you’re responsible for running is a sports team, a body shop, a donut shop, a retail clothing store, an auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) store or company you had better make sure that your team is comprised of the best and you better find a way to keep them.
Let’s face it, businesses thrive, languish or ultimately fail depending on how their team performs. You can’t take your team for granted. The best people want to be a part of a winning team and they don’t want to settle for second best. Great team members embrace the vision you have for your business and for your team. They are your team as long as you keep them motivated and focused on delivering on your customer promise, while providing them an environment for them to excel. They are after all stars and they want to perform and be a part of the best.
So if someone asks you “What’s your line-up?” Think about who makes up your team. Do you have a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, a basketball player like LeBron James, a hockey great like Wayne Gretzky?
Who’s on your team? Who can make a difference for your company? Who is it that helps make your product better than anyone else in the market(s) you compete? Do you surround yourself with the best you can find? You should.
“What’s your line-up?”
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The ability to accept and adapt to change is a critical component to finding success in business. As much as we find comfort in the places we know best, we must continually push ourselves and our company toward a place that no one else has found yet or will never figure out.
How do you set the bar higher than your competitors so that you can outperform them? That’s a question that you need to answer for your market and business.
In 1964 the singer songwriter Bobby Dylan released a song “The Times They Are A-Changin’” which portrayed a time of great change in the United States. Every new generation looks back at the preceding generation as one being unwilling or unable to change and stuck in the past unable to move forward. The 60’s were a time of great change in social norms, fashion and music, as well as in the political landscape. We’ve been experiencing a great deal of change in retailing for quite some time, but especially so in this new Millennium and it doesn’t seem to be abating.
Right now there is a ferocious retail battle royal in the retail consumer market with two of the largest retailers, Walmart and Amazon.com (big box versus internet retailer), fighting to determine how consumers will buy countless products in the years to come. In 2009 Amazon.com began rolling out a program offering same day shipping in a number of cities. It has since developed a large network of warehouse distribution centers to service its customers across a large part of the United States. To counter Amazon.com, Walmart started a Walmart To Go offering online shopping of a select number of products shipped directly from their store locations to customers. And in a few markets Walmart is offering same day delivery of products. The strategy that Walmart is attempting is difficult and a potentially dangerous one as it already has 4,000 big box stores (including Sam’s Club) which have a very high cost to operate. The margins that Walmart operates under are also very small, so the gambit is one that is sacrificing current profits to maintain and hopefully gain market share against Amazon.com and other retailers unable to compete. When your sales are $ 444 billion a year versus Amazon.com’s $ 48 billion it would seem that you’d have an edge, but last year Amazon.com saw a 41% increase in sales versus Walmart’s 6% overall increase in sales.
Which company is following a strategy that will allow it to be the most successful retailer in the future? Time will tell, but even when you’re Walmart you’ve got to consider that your strategy for taking market share from the mom & pop businesses, which has proven to be such a successful model for years, could ultimately be at risk from other companies with strategies that don’t require big box brick-and- mortar stores. Each is trying to find a unique selling proposition (USP) that will attract consumers to ensure long-term success and neither will stop until it is found.
Who remembers A & P (The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company)?A company that once was considered the Walmart of its time, A&P held the title of the world’s biggest retailer in the 1930′s when it had 16,000 stores in the United States. In the late 1930′s A & P began the self-serve grocery store concept, but by the 1950’s it failed to recognize the changing marketplace and failed to listen to the demands of the ever-changing consumers. It eventually became an irrelevant retailer. By not adapting to the changes that were taking place in the marketplace, A & P began a decline in sales that ultimately caused it to file for bankruptcy. The company did emerge from bankruptcy, but A & P probably never again will capture the greatness it had once achieved.
There are many ways for your business to remain relevant and continue to survive in the retail world. Whatever you believe it is that you must do to remain relevant you need to make sure that your customers believe it too. For some businesses remaining relevant may mean selling or merging with a competitor. In recent weeks several businesses have announce that they are doing just that. You’ve probably read about recent acquisitions announced or completed by Gerber Collision & Glass (in Florida), ABRA Auto Body & Glass (in Minnesota), Guardian Auto Glass LLC (in Maryland) and Safelite Auto Glass (in Wisconsin and South Carolina). Of course buying and selling companies in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry isn’t new, it’s been going off and on in spurts since the mid 1980s. During the past 30 years, a number of companies have acquired others in the AGRR industry to increase their own market share and separate themselves from or take out competitors. It certainly seems that there has been an uptick in acquisitions of companies of all sizes and I’m sure you’ll be hearing of others very soon.
Other ways you can remain relevant are by finding that USP that separates you from your competitors. So what is that something that only you can do in your market, something that raises the bar so high that your competitors either can’t or won’t try to achieve it therefore distinguishing you from others in the eyes of consumers? If you find that USP, you will survive against other retailers in the battle royal that exists in your market. Of course the need to find that extra something has always existed in business, but maybe more so today with the pace of change that you see across the retail industry. When you see the mega-retailers like Amazon.com and Walmart fighting over current customers to determine which will find the USP that will secure future customers and separate it from others, you know that the same battles that have been going on for years aren’t subsiding anytime soon. It is the same in the AGRR industry and you can be sure that things that you’re doing today in your business will change tomorrow and you need to change with it.
So when Bobby Dylan wrote in the last stanza of his hit tune in 1964,
“The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.”
I think that he could have added another word to the last lyric, “For the times they are always a-changin”.
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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.
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!
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“Can’t tell the players without a scorecard”… an old school expression but those words seem particularly relevant today, as one looks at recent events surrounding the subject of auto glass networks.
In my recent blog titled “Network Participation Agreement” from August 6, 2012, I discussed the ADDENDUM announced by Safelite® on July 20, 2012 regarding its www.SGCNetwork.com Network Participation Agreement. It stated in the last sentence of Section 1.10 of the ADDENDUM, “Further, Participant shall not offer, directly or indirectly, to any insurance agent or its personnel anything of value in consideration for the referral of work paid for from the proceeds of an automobile insurance policy.”
In that post, I also asked “do you think that Safelite® is also a participant, having signed the Network Participation Agreement and having to follow all of the sections of the agreement? If yes, then Safelite® has to follow the same rules as everyone else. That seems fair right?”
I guess that question entered the spotlight sooner than I could have imagined with the publication of the glassBYTEs.com™ article from August 23, 2012 titled “Safelite Funds Allstate Windshield Repair Marketing Material” written by Casey Neeley.
In that story, an Allstate consultant is quoted as saying, “Safelite approached us about creating marketing material for our agents to distribute and the first run of such materials was funded entirely by Safelite and provided to our agents”.
Now we get to the scorecard part because I have to wonder “which” Safelite it is that is funding promotional materials. Would that be Safelite® Solutions LLC, the self-proclaimed “third party administrator” of glass claims, or Safelite Auto Glass®, the self-proclaimed “largest vehicle glass repair and replacement organization in the U.S.” After all, both those entities are involved – but as noted in the prior blog, it is just not very clear about the role that Safelite® Auto Glass plays in the equation, either with the insurance carrier or its agents. If you follow the link at the end of this sentence, Safelite® refers to all of its organizations as “A Family of Companies” (*referenced from http://scheduling.safelite.com/companies.jsp).
While this distinction, or lack thereof, is not at all apparent from any public information I find on this subject, one thing becomes crystal clear – the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry could certainly use a whole lot more transparency. In fact, one could make the case that much of the recent legislation efforts have been focused on creating such transparency in auto glass claims transactions, with particular attention, rightly or not, on Safelite® and its “Family of Companies”.
From the view of this blog, transparency only serves to benefit consumers in making informed claim decisions, making their policy dollars work to their fullest, and identifying safe auto glass replacement services.
I guess I have to rephrase my original blog question to now ask, “Do you think that Safelite® [Auto Glass] is also a participant, having signed the Network Participation Agreement and having to follow all of the sections of the agreement?”
One can only hope that in the interest of transparency and consumer informedness, the players involved make it quite clear about the roles and participation as pertain to Safelite® Auto Glass, an entity portrayed as separate and distinct from Safelite® Solutions LLC. And there is one organization that could answer that question today.
For the rest of us, the best course of action might be to continue to focus on the customer and provide exceptional value with outstanding transparency.
In the meantime, not a bad idea to keep the scorecard close by to recognize the players on the other team, and act accordingly.
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In my last blog I wrote about Safelite® Auto Glass and its SGC Network, which is one of the networks (or third party administrator -TPA) that operates in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry in the United States. Safelite® released a new addendum to its Network Participation Agreement that outlines new guidelines or requirements on AGRR companies that either participate in the SGC Network as sub-contractor’s that Safelite® uses to do repairs and replacements for Safelite® or those AGRR companies that are forced to invoice work they do for certain customers through the Safelite® SGC Network. A reader of that blog suggested that I write about networks in general, so here goes.
While Safelite® is the largest AGRR network it is by no means the only one. All AGRR networks share some similarities, but each is unique in how it operates. Since there is no single AGRR company that covers every square mile of the United States providing services solely through its own AGRR technicians to consumers, every network must attempt to aggregate the services of thousands of disparate AGRR service providers into a single “quasi-retail” service entity. Each of the networks attempt to replicate a full service AGRR company that looks like it is capable of servicing each and every consumer with a single price and service offering that suits the needs of every insurance or fleet company customer it has in its network. That’s where the problems begin.
The first problem a network has to manage is the reality that each of the AGRR companies that participate in its network are not under its control, so a network has to deal with inconsistency of service levels to its customers. That is an issue; a really BIG issue. Currently, a network attempts to counter inconsistencies by stipulating increasingly detailed and specific guidelines in its effort to create some semblance of uniformity amongst a very large, broad and diverse set of participants. How do the networks accomplish that? It takes a great deal of work to try to herd all those cats. Some do it poorly while some are more accomplished at the task.
It’s quite the challenge though, and perhaps never so clearly indicated as by Safelite®’s recent addendum whereby it now seeks to go beyond standards of repair and replacement practices to actually regulate the business conduct of its participants. By venturing into this area it may seem as a case in point that the network may be leaning into “too big to fail” territory, as it tries to corral a wide range of participants into a single product offering. It is likely to be very difficult, if not impossible for a large network to monitor and enforce all of the stipulations on which it seeks agreement from its numerous participants.
It makes me wonder if the newest Safelite® addendum might actually be showing off some of the real challenges that at least one of the largest network entities is experiencing in trying to solve a problem and meet its entire customer needs.
As I mentioned, every AGRR network must attempt to cobble together its own group of AGRR service providers (participant) attempting to provide a service model that it hopes attracts its targeted customer(s).
That’s the networks strategy. Now how about your decisions as an independent AGRR retailer? It’s probably best to make your own assessment of how network participation fits into your overall marketing and sales strategy. You may not be able to avoid networks altogether, as most insurance companies require that billing for the service provided be processed through a network. But remember, in all cases, it is the choice of every AGRR company to decide whether it will or won’t participate in the opportunity to receive repairs or replacements from every AGRR network. As an AGRR retailer, you may prefer to do work for one or more of the networks because the network provides value to you in exchange for the value you provide. Some AGRR retailers choose not to agree to the pricing or service requirements that a network has on participating. That again is the choice of the AGRR retailer. It’s probably not a good strategy if you’re relying on a network for your repairs and replacements, but if you do you should be consistently working on lowering your costs as you can be assured that the network will be looking for you to lower the value you receive for repairs or replacements.
Networks are an established part of the AGRR industry and they aren’t going to go away. Legislative initiatives may be attempted state by state to help regulate or moderate how networks operate, but networks do provide value to the customers that use them. Whether or not the networks that operate today will be in business five years from now will be determined by the value, service and quality that it provides to its customers. Only the strong will survive. More on how networks operate in a future blog posting.
Perhaps the best advice for today’s AGRR retailer is simpler than we all have been thinking: “focus intently on the customer, listen to what they need, and set about to do the right thing.” A very simple and straightforward concept.
Sam Walton is quoted as saying,.
“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
Stay focused on your customer and provide value to them and you should do okay.
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