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!