Archive for November, 2012

Just Sayin’ Blog – The Times They Are (Always) A-Changin’

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
Rapidly fadin’
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”.

Just sayin’……

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Just Sayin’ Blog – A “Reasonable” Path to Follow

In 2012 elected representatives in two states, South Carolina and Massachusetts, introduced legislative initiatives related to the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry. In both states the initiatives ultimately turned into bills that were passed and signed by the respective state’s governor. The legislative process is often referred to as “sausage making” (attributed to American poet John Godfrey Saxe), taking ideas of a diverse group of interested parties (in this case both large and small AGRR retail companies, manufacturers and distributors, networks or remarketers, third-party administrators, insurance companies and others) who attempt to influence legislation in hopes of making the sausage to their own individual taste. Legislators, with the help of all the interested parties and of course the lobbyists employed to help influence the outcome for their clients, attempt to find common ground so that when possible all of the interested parties see something of what they originally wanted in the bill that is ultimately passed but probably not everything each was hoping to achieve. There is of course always next year…

In the blog I posted on June 12, 2012 titled Auto Glass Repair & Replacement Industry Legislation in South Carolina ***UPDATED*** , I wrote about the law that was passed and signed by the governor in South Carolina earlier this year and what it meant to those who compete in all facets of the AGRR industry in that state. The South Carolina law takes effect on January 1, 2013. In this blog post I’d like to take a look at the bill that was passed and signed into law by Massachusetts Governor Devel Patrick and what its guidelines mean to those that it is truly meant to protect – consumers in the State of Massachusetts. I believe that this law is one that should be a template for use in other states that want to pass AGRR legislation in the coming year.

Massachusetts Bill 2216 took full effect on November 1, 2012 and the law’s primary focus is on what it should be – consumers. When you review the requirements of the law, it states that businesses that provide AGRR services in the state are required to follow a number of guidelines in order to be licensed which ultimately will provide a variety of protections to consumers. Licensed? That seems “reasonable” doesn’t it? With the importance of a safe installation of the windshield to vehicle owners in the state it seems like a “reasonable” expectation that residents of the state should feel confident that the Massachusetts Division of Standards is watching out for them and their passenger’s safety.

What are some of those protections? The first is that any company or individuals doing replacements for Massachusetts residents register with the state and maintain an address in the state. Any new company or a company that is seeking renewal of its license for a shop or shops must have a physical location or locations and that the company maintain indoor facilities to perform repairs to vehicles. Again that appears to be a “reasonable” expectation on the part of consumers.

If you’re going to operate in Massachusetts a company must register its vans as commercial vehicles and obtain all licenses and permits that are required by the various governments (local, state or federal). Again that seems like a “reasonable” expectation of a consumer in the state.

There is a requirement in the law that a “registered motor vehicle glass repair shop shall maintain records for each motor vehicle upon which motor vehicle glass repair services have been performed”.  That the registered motor vehicle glass shop has to maintain records to “show(ing) the usage of all glass parts, major accessory parts, including moldings and major hardware and component parts”. Remembering that the law is really all about protecting Massachusetts residents, the bill goes on to address the requirement that the registered shop maintain records about “the brand, product number or name and lot and batch numbers for the adhesive system product used” (language that relates to the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standard – AGRSS™) and again is a “reasonable” protection of the consumer in case of a failure or recall of the glass part or adhesive product used. The law requires that the registered shop maintain records for “18 months or for so long as a warranty  on the motor vehicle glass repair service is performed is in effect, whichever is longer.” This is another guideline in the law that is now in effect that seems like a “reasonable” expectation of a consumer in case they experience an issue relating to the AGRR service provided in the future.

The law also requires that the consumer must be provided, upon their request that a “registered motor vehicle glass repair shop shall disclose all information relating to the charges for the repair or replacement services, including the amount of the charges, the identification and line item charges for the parts provided and verification of the parts used, regardless of whether the amount is paid by the consumer or billed to the consumer’s insurance company.” That seems “reasonable”. If a Massachusetts consumer has a glass repaired or replaced, shouldn’t they expect that the price that is being invoiced by the company that is actually doing the repair or replacement is the price that is actually being charged to their insurance company when a claim is filed against the consumer’s insurance policy? Yes that does seem “reasonable”. I’m not sure how a network or remarketer who is used to receiving a “spread” on the work being done by others on its behalf in Massachusetts deals with that new guideline, but it is now the law.

There are also requirements relating to the actions that are allowed to take place by third party administers, networkers or remarketers and insurance companies that operate in the state. The law also includes a section relating to guidelines that outlaws anti-steering by any of the aforementioned to ensure that consumers can use a shop of their choice. No third party administer, network, remarketer or insurance company can require that a Massachusetts insured use a particular AGRR glass shop. That also seems “reasonable” expectation doesn’t it? A law that is providing the consumer the opportunity to choose the shop they want to use via this legislation is a good thing.

The law authorizes the Massachusetts Division of Insurance to not only enforce all of the guidelines, but authorized the authorities to collect fines associated with any violation of the law by those providing AGRR services to Massachusetts residents. The law requires consumer transparency and that too is a “reasonable” expectation that consumers should expect to receive when they are in need of auto glass repairs or replacements.

I believe that Massachusetts Bill 2216 which has was enacted by the state legislature and signed by the governor into law could be a template for similar legislative initiatives in other states in the coming year. In a previous blog titled Network Participation Agreement – “Special Update” I suggested that as an AGRR retailer you might want to,

continue to focus on the customer and provide exceptional value with outstanding transparency.” 

It seems to me that the Massachusetts law provides transparency and new protections to residents of the Bay State who may require the services that AGRR industry provides to them and those protections are indeed “reasonable”. The guidelines in the law and the protections it provides must be abided by AGRR retailers in the state, third party administrators, networks, remarketers and insurance companies or there are consequences to any who may attempt to circumvent the law. The guidelines provide protections for residents/consumers that are “reasonable” for all to follow and are in the best interest of residents/consumers. The Massachusetts law is, I believe, a great place for other states who are interested in protecting its residents to start. What do you think?

Just sayin’……………

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