Archive for category Economy

20 Years Ago

Twenty years ago today the United States subsidiary of Belron International Ltd. (Belron) operating under the trade name of Windshields America (WA) merged with Joe Kellman’s U.S. Auto Glass (USAG)/Globe Glass & Mirror (GG&M) companies to form a company named Vistar. The second and third largest automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) businesses merged on February 26, 1996. If memory serves me WA had 274 stores in 43 states and the retail arm of Kellman’s two companies, GG&M had approximately 200+ locations in maybe 20+ states. USAG was the network call center arm of the business covering all 50 states. The merger provided Belron with a majority shareholding in Vistar, but management control fell to USAG/GGA. WA had annualized sales at the time of approximately $ 225,000,000+ and USAG/GG&A had annualized sales were approximately $ 200,000,000+ so as one sales totaled $ 425,000,000+ with approximately 500 store locations.

At the same time Safelite Auto Glass (SAG) was the largest AGRR company in the United States both in the number of stores and total sales. SAG had well over 500 stores and sales of approximately $ 500,000,000+. So if you had been able to combine the largest AGRR company together with the second and third largest AGRR company’s sales would have been over approximately $ 925,000,000 in 1996. A very tidy sum by anyone’s measure. The race was on two determine who could become the true market leader in the United States AGRR industry.

Lo and behold just two and one half years later on December 17, 1997 the shareholders of Vistar and SAG decided that they could achieve their market goals better together than apart so they agreed to merge. SAG at the time was owned by the Boston based private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners. When the merger took place Belron received the largest shareholding followed by Thomas H. Lee Partners and Joe Kellman. After the merger Vistar was absorbed by SAG with SAG and Thomas H. Lee Partners holding management control.

As you would expect, when in just 1 year 9 months 21 days the three leading companies in any industry merge, attempting to bring together three distinctly different cultures would be a big challenge. Especially when the largest and smallest shareholders of the new SAG didn’t have management control even though they had considerably more experience in operating AGRR companies than the shareholder with control. I’m not going to delve deeply into what happened next, but the newly formed company lasted just 2 years 5 months 23 days before heading into bankruptcy via a Security and Exchange Commission filing on June 9, 2000. As reported at the time a SAG spokesperson said,

“In papers filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware Friday, Safelite, based in Columbus, Ohio — with 500 U.S. locations — listed $ 559.2 million in assets and $ 591.4 million in debts. A spokeswoman for closely held Safelite, Dee Uttermohlen, said the Chapter 11 filing was related to a debt-load from an acquisition three years ago–but added that the company has been renegotiating debt with creditors.”1

So with that bit of historical background of the two mergers that took place in 1996 and 1997, along with the fallout from those mergers with the subsequent bankruptcy in 2000; I read with interest the 2015 financial results released by Belgium based D’Iteren n.v., majority shareholder of Belron International (and its subsidiary SAG). SAG’s 2015 sales, as per a SAG press release from February 3, 2016 (follow link), are $ 1,500,000,000 ($ 1.5 BILLION). That certainly sounds like a lot of sales doesn’t it?

Looking back to the total sales of WA plus USAG/GGA plus SAG in 1996 ($ 925,000,000+) and reading the sales that was reported today for SAG (remembering that the company now comprises WA, USAG/GGA and SAG) I found it surprising. Very surprising. DollarTimes.com calculates the value of a dollar in one year and adds the cost of inflation to determine that value to today’s dollar. Using the DollarTimes calculator you will find that $ 1.00 in 1996 would equate to a value of $ 1.54 today. The site shows an annual inflation of 2.18% or a total inflation of 54.09% over the past 20 years. When you calculate the 1996 value of $ 925,000,000, today’s value is worth $ 1,425,313,518. So when you look at SAG’s reported 2015 sales against the 1996 sales you see a real growth of 5.24%.

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There has certainly been a lot that has happened in the AGRR industry in the United States over the past 20 years. While SAG has faced a number of challenges over the past 20 years they have always come out somewhat unscathed. Bankruptcy, legislative issues, what have you they seem to always come out on top. But in real dollar growth they’ve seen a 5.24% increase in sales. Seems small doesn’t it?

But arguably there is a problem if you only look at the growth in sales dollars over the past 20 years. Sales figures really don’t take into consideration calculating the effect of the large increase in windshield repairs that existed in 1996 versus today. Nor does it take into consideration the price compression that was wrought on the industry in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s by the insurance industry. Determining what those two factors have in the calculation of real sales growth is difficult as it requires you to look at both the industry’s and SAG’s 1996 mix of products sales and customer versus that mix today. SAG and Belron unquestionably know what those factors mean to the performance of the company, but I’ll leave that for speculation and debate by you.

In my looking back over the past 20 years I’m taking a positive spin as you can see that today there are competitors both old and new that are busy chasing SAG. Be they local, statewide, regional or national competitors; there are countless companies working hard to take on SAG and its position in the AGRR space. There are AGRR retailers, alliances, networks, collision and glass companies, internet platforms chasing after consumers, insurers and commercial customers alike that need the services that the AGRR industry provides. Competition abounds and although it is always difficult to take the throne from the market leader, you’ve got to continue to try at the local, statewide, regional or national level if you want your company to find success in the industry with you’ve chosen to compete.

So when you look back 20 years ago to today at the AGRR industry and at what the landscape was like then versus what it is like today, what comes to my mind is a joke about a pony attributed to President Ronald Reagan.

“Worried that their son was too optimistic, the parents of a little boy took him to a psychiatrist. Trying to dampen the boy’s spirits, the psychiatrist showed him into a room piled high with nothing but horse manure. Yet instead of displaying distaste, the little boy clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to all fours, and began digging. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ the psychiatrist asked. ‘With all this manure,’ the little boy replied, beaming, ‘there must be a pony in here somewhere.'”

I admit that I’m an eternal optimistic and I always see the pony in the room, but I think that opportunities abound for those who want to take on any leader in any industry. Never give up. Never.
Just sayin’.

 

1. Desert News article titled “Safelite Glass files for bankruptcy after listing $591 million in debts”

2. http://www.tomfishburne.com / http://www.marketcartoonist.com

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Credibility Leads to Success

It really doesn’t matter what it is you do in life, to find long-term success in your chosen field or business you have to have the skill set to adapt and find solutions to the problems you and your business face. To be able to continually build on successes and achieve goals that you’ve set for yourself, or those that your boss or board-of-directors have set for you and/or the business, is key to finding long-term success. That then earns you credibility.

 

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How do you achieve credibility? There are a lot of ways to do so, but as a mentor once told me years ago, that way was to “fulfill the promise”. “Fulfill the promise” meant delivering on the budgeted fiscal year revenue and EBITDA that we developed for the company. The person who told me that was the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a multi-national company and I reported to him as President and CEO of the U.S. division. He taught me a great business and life lesson.

By surrounding myself with a talented team of like-minded individuals, together we fulfilled the promise year after year. That gave us credibility. Credibility provided greater influence in moving the business forward. Credibility also provided us flexibility to pursue new business opportunities, money for acquisitions to further the growth of the company and to build innovative software solutions that provided us with greater success. The key is that you have to work continually to fulfill the promise. It’s not an easy task but it’s the only way secure the future for yourself and the team.

Ultimately when you establish credibility, gain influence and flexibility in what it is you do you will find that new opportunities abound. It really doesn’t matter what it is you do in your life, if you have credibility it speaks to the ability to inspire others.

“In government institutions and in teaching, you need to inspire confidence. To achieve credibility, you have to very clearly explain what you are doing and why. The same principles apply to businesses.”

Janet L. Yellen, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

When you have credibility you gain influence. Your ideas and views have greater meaning and weight, which will help shape the direction of the company that you work.

“Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire team-mates and customers.”

Robin S. Sharma, Author

With credibility you also gain flexibility.

“What is clear is that business leaders must commit to champion change – to be transparent about their goals for change, to align their incentives systems to drive the change, and to make sure their work environments are flexible in a way that allows men and women who choose to work to be able to achieve all of their potential.”

Beth A. Brooke, Global Vice Chair – Public Policy, Ernst & Young

So working to gain and then maintaining credibility should serve you well in whatever endeavor you choose. Credibility is achieved when the actions you’ve taken allow others to believe in you as a leader.

Just sayin’.

 

EBITDA – earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization

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A Bump in the Road?

D’Ieteren, the parent of auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) behemoth Belron, offered some insight into the current state of affairs at Belron in a press release last Friday. Even the strong can have some problems. The title of the press release was, “Annual impairment testing and profitability improvement measures / Update on group’s FY 2014 outlook / Early views on 2015” You can download the release via this link. It provides some interesting insight.

When you read the details of the press release pay particular attention to the section titled ”IMPAIRMENT AND RESTRUCTURING CHARGES”. This section provides an in-depth discussion of the non-cash charges and actions that D’Ieteren is taking.

First of all the release states that “Since 2010, Belron has been facing adverse market conditions in the UK with the vehicle glass repair and replacement market down by circa 40% over the period (-12% in 2014) together with price deflation. This has led to an erosion in profitability during the period.”

A “EUR 89 million non-cash goodwill impairment charge is therefore required.” (Definition of impairment charge by www.investopedia.com)

“Belron entered the Chinese market in 2009 and expanded its network to 39 branches through a number of acquisitions, all of the businesses having both a wholesale glass and a fitting activity.”

“Experience to date has shown that Belron’s high business standards were not compatible with the carrying out of a profitable wholesale business in the region. Given the relative size of this activity in many of the existing branches, the discontinuation of the wholesale business means that these are no longer viable in the long term and will be either closed or sold. Following the closure of 31 non-profitable locations, Belron’s footprint in China will be concentrated on 8 branches.”

“This change will result in EUR 7 million unusual costs as well as a non-cash goodwill impairment charge of EUR 9 million, all provided for at year-end.”

“In Italy, following a decline in the vehicle glass repair and replacement market of circa 8% in 2014 and the decision of one of the major insurance partners to cease its collaboration and to establish its own network for fulfilling glass claims during the year, Belron has decided to implement a number of efficiency improvement measures. This will encompass merging the back offices of Carglass Italy and Doctor Glass, its franchise operation, as well as reducing administrative work in several branches thanks to the roll out of the new remote advisor system. The resulting EUR 4 million unusual costs will be fully provided for at the end of this year and will generate savings that should partially compensate for the reduction in sales.”

“In the Netherlands, vehicle glass repair and replacement market has halved in the last 5 years following the roll out of a new road surfacing technology that resulted in the vehicle glass breakage rate reverting to the European average while it was previously significantly higher. Profit improvement measures are currently being implemented both centrally and in the field operations that will require EUR 4 million unusual costs to be fully provided for at the end of this year.”

“In addition to its classical fitting business, Carglass Germany runs a separate activity offering glass repair and replacement for heavy commercial vehicles, notably buses and coaches. The profitability of this business has deteriorated in recent years due to the contraction in this market segment and will be negative by EUR 3.5 million in 2014. The decision has been made to close this business for total unusual costs of EUR 9 million.“

The value of the goodwill allocated to Brazil (EUR 20 million) is still under review.”

In the press release section titled, “TRADING UPDATE FOR THE PERIOD ENDING 30 NOVEMBER 2014” you’ll read the following:

“At Belron, year-to-date sales were up 1.3% on 2013 at the end of November, consisting of a 0.4% organic increase and 2.1% growth from acquisitions, partially offset by a 0.8% negative currency translation effect and a 0.4% decline due to fewer trading days. Total repair and replacement jobs have increased by 1.7% to 10.3 million.”

“In Europe, despite share growth, sales were down 4.8%, consisting of an organic decline of 6.6% due to severe market declines following an exceptionally mild 2013-2014 winter weather in Northern Europe, and a 0.6% decline due to fewer trading days, partially offset by 1.8% growth from acquisitions and a 0.6% positive currency impact.”

“Outside of Europe, sales were up 8.3%, consisting of an organic growth of 8.4% predominantly due to the extreme winter weather in the eastern US at the beginning of the year, and 2.5% growth from acquisitions, partially offset by a 2.4% negative currency translation effect and a 0.2% decline due to fewer trading days.”

During the early to mid 1990’s I held senior management positions at Windshields America, Belron’s retail subsidiary in the United States. I was fortunate to have worked with the greatest group of people that I’d ever had the opportunity to have been associated; the company grew from 50+ stores to 274 stores with exceptional sales and bottom line performance. Great people make all the difference in any organization. (December 16, 2012 blog post “What’s Your Line-up?”) The growth in store count and profitability was made possible by the performance of Autoglass. The Managing Director of Autoglass rightly boasted at the time that his company was providing the fuel (British pound profits) to help drive the growth of Windshields America and other areas of the world of Belron. True. It wasn’t his choice, but it was his view that he could have used those profits to further the goals that he had for Autoglass in the United Kingdom. Possibly true. Perhaps today Safelite profits could be diverted to help Belron around the world? If that does happen Safelite would have less money to spend in the United States to further their goals. Also a possibility.

So this week when you have a few minutes to consider the “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats” (SWOT analysis) that could affect your business in the upcoming year and decide on what actions you will take to ensure that 2015 achieves the success you desire, know that even the dominate player in the AGRR industry in the world is having their share of problems. Some of their problems are market driven, so not necessarily self-inflicted. But some of them are strategic and tactic driven, so those are self-inflicted. Regardless they are not going away so don’t rejoice, but there is hope.

Just sayin’.

 

EPSON scanner image

Courtesy of http://www.TomFishburne.com

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Employees vs. Robots

I was reading an article that appeared in Tuesday’s USAToday with the headline – “Amazon puts 15,000 robots to work on Cyber Monday”. 15,000?!?! The Kiva Systems robots do tasks that historically have been done by some number of Amazons 88,400 employees. Robots picking products that are purchased online by consumers that then need to be shipped to them from Amazon fulfillment centers across the globe cost some number of people jobs. Using Kiva robots obviously provides great value to Amazon shareholders since they don’t require a human resource department to oversee payroll, other benefits such as medical and dental plans, vacation days, sick days, etc.. But this can’t be good for union and hourly workers.

Automation Robots vs People

 

Robots are obviously taking over or facilitating any number of manual jobs that historically have been done by employees. Amazon’s use of robots brings the product(s) ordered online and stored in shelf bins to a packer for shipping. Once the purchased item is delivered to the packer the robot returns the shelf bin back to where it belongs awaiting the next task. These robots have certainly saved Amazon the cost of workers who provided this service. The article says that Amazon spent $ 775 million for the Kiva robots and that, “The robots are part of a complex software and hardware system that simplifies picking and packing at warehouses that contain literally millions of items.” The article doesn’t mention that each robot, and the systems that supports them, cost an average of $ 51,667. Payscale.com estimates that the average Amazon employee salary cost is in a range of $ 50,098 – $ 122,195. After Amazon’s initial investment in the Kiva robots there would be ongoing costs for maintenance, repairs, replacements and of course those whose job it is to manage the 15,000 robots, but Amazon obviously did all the internal analysis and studies to see that the return on investment was well worth the $ 775 million.

The advent of using robots isn’t new, but with robots taking over responsibilities of human pickers at Amazon and the use of robots across countless industries and companies the potential loss of unskilled or low skill jobs could be devastating. Taking place at the same time is the strong push by some city and state governments to increase the minimum wage through legislation. Somehow there seems to be a potential disconnect.

Redwood.com compiled a report titled “The Top 10 Reasons Businesses Demand Enterprise-Level Automation”. Reason #2 in this report is:

“Happy and Productive Employees

Automated tasks keep people—who can get bored or irritated by doing repetitive tasks—free from drudgery. It also liberates them to do more strategic and valuable activities for the company. Automation lies at the core of all of our modern conveniences. Machines are made to do repetitive, boring tasks—without complaining.”

You can see where the use of robots and/or automation that is rapidly taking over or helping employees in their jobs providing cost reductions and greater shareholder value for companies who utilize them, but I’m guessing that most employees would prefer being “bored or irritated” and not “free from drudgery” versus not having a job. Certainly there are countless jobs that won’t be taken over by robots, but is your job completely safe from being replaced by a robot so that you can be freed to do something else? I’m guessing the Amazon employees that were picking products for packing at one time thought so.

If you’re a business owner or in management with responsibility for delivering shareholder value you have to continually be looking for ways to cut costs and increase value just as Amazon has done. There are countless jobs that aren’t going to be replaced by robots, but are there robots that can help you improve the productivity of your employees making their jobs easier and provide greater shareholder value? As companies compete against each other for business at a local, regional, national or international basis; looking for the slightest advantage against industry competitors the answer has to be yes. What are you doing to take any advantage available and ensure that you continue to grow and prosper in your industry?

Just sayin’.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

www.usatoday.com

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/12/01/robots-amazon-kiva-fulfillment-centers-cyber-monday/19725229/

www.kivasystems.com

http://www.kivasystems.com/about-us-the-kiva-approach/

www.amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Locations-Careers/b?ie=UTF8&node=239366011

http://www.amazon.com/Inside-Careers-Homepage/b?node=239367011

www.payscale.com

http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Employer=Amazon.com_Inc/Salary#by_Yearly_Sales

www.wikipedia.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pick_and_pack

www.Redwood.com

“The Top 10 Reasons Businesses Demand Enterprise-Level Automation”

 

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The Future in the Automotive Aftermarket Industry

For me, listening to keynote speaker Tony Aquila, CEO of Solera Holdings, Inc. at Auto Glass Week in Baltimore was most interesting. He led Solera’s purchase of LYNX Services, GTS and GLAXIS from owners Pittsburgh Glass Works LLC and PPG Industries, Inc. earlier this year. Tony’s accomplishments are considerable, especially considering that he grew up sweeping floors working in his uncle’s body shop and he has a 9th grade education. You have to be incredibly impressed by the guy.

The “Strategic Focus” web page for the company states, “Solera is the world’s leading provider of software and services to the automobile insurance claims processing industry.” (Link to corporate history) Solera will certainly be changing the world of auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) with innovative software solutions that will simplify the claims handling process surrounding glass repair and replacement. The organization has the potential to affect the way all consumers and influencers ultimately buy AGRR products and services dramatically. Depending upon the vision and direction Solera heads automotive aftermarket parts and service providers, including the auto glass repair and replacement industry (along with the collision repair industry and parts distribution industry) could be in for some big changes. It’s all about taking out market inefficiencies and reducing costs associated with those inefficiencies.

Just look at the AGRR industry. To ensure that service level expectations of the consumer is ultimately met, any software program would need to have access to the real-time inventory level of any supplier or distributor warehouses in the area, the inventory levels of any AGRR shop or technician in the vicinity vying for repairs or replacements, along with the schedules of all technicians available to properly repair or replace the part.

Imagine when an auto glass replacement is required, if it would be possible for the software program to instantly search for the part determining which supplier(s), distributor(s) or AGRR shop(s) has (have) the part in stock; perhaps ranked by cost for the part while finding the best auto glass replacement technician suited to properly install the part; when and where the consumer wants it installed. With that capability you then have to start asking some questions like:

Once the software program has all of the information required to start processing an auto glass replacement, who or what company is directly buying and paying for the part(s) required?

It could be:

  1. The AGRR shop or technician facilitating the replacement or
  2. Maybe the customer’s insurance company or
  3. If it’s a cash job the consumer could pay.

Which of the three above pays for any part required is important to determine the all-in price to be paid for replacement parts, along with the price paid for required installation supplies and labor.

So which organization determines the pricing level for the various scenarios outlined above?

Who is buying and paying for the part and installation supplies required?

Who is paying for the technician to install the part?

Answers to these and many other questions will give you an idea as to where the industry could be heading. There will be changes coming and margins are probably going to change in the AGRR industry in the near future. And probably not for the better.

What is it you’re doing to be prepared for the future?

Just sayin’.

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Courtesy of TomFishburne.com – Marketoonist.com©

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Vehicle Miles Driven Improving?

You may have seen statistics recently relating to the increase in miles driven in July 2014 versus July 2013. Seemingly great news for any business in the retail automotive repair industry as miles driven is one of the key drivers that affect the industry and any increase is a positive indicator. As shown on the United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration web site[1],

Travel on all roads and streets changed by 1.5% (4.0 billion vehicle miles) for July 2014 as compared with July 2013.”

Region

Total Travel

Percentage Change

North-East

38.3

0.0

South-Atlantic

55.4

2.4

North-Central

61.1

1.3

South-Gulf

53.4

2.2

West

58.6

1.3

o    Estimated Vehicle-Miles of Travel by Region – July 2014 – (in Billions)

o    Change in Traffic as compared to same month last year.

Great news it would seem. The governmental web site further shows that,

Cumulative Travel for 2014 changed by 0.6% (10.1 billion vehicle miles).

That sounds like continued improvement and more great news for the industry, but perhaps not…..

In the Thursday, September 18, 2014 edition of the USAToday™ a small graph was shown in the USA SNAPSHOTS® section on the front page with the header “USA’s driving stalled” (click link). According to Advisor Perspectives, the organization that provided the information shown on the graph, miles driven in the United States:

 

 “Adjusted for population growth, January to June miles driven this year are down 8.5% since 2007 peak”

 

Down 8.5%! That certainly isn’t great news for automotive retailers. You can read the article titled “Vehicle Miles Driven: A Structural Change in Our Driving Behavior“, that was written by Doug Short for Advisor Perspectives that was the source of the information on the declining number in its entirety by following this link (click here). The article takes an in-depth look at how miles driven are being affected by gasoline prices, changes in driving behavior, the effects of an aging population, unemployment trends and changes in the ways we interact with one another due to ever changing improvements in communication technologies.

 

Miles driven, along with weather and the economy are the three key drivers[2] for the automotive retail industry. How have these three key drivers been affecting your business? Based on Mr. Short’s perspective on miles driven, automotive retailers will have to rely on improvements in the economy and favorable weather to offset a real decrease in miles driven to help drive growth. You’re going to need to take greater advantage of your push and pull marketing strategy to attract customers.


If you have a desire to continue to grow your business (and who wouldn’t) into the future; it would seem advisable to work hard on ways to differentiate and separate yourself from your competitors. The decline in the miles driven has certainly had an effect on volumes to date and will unquestionably continue to influence the automotive retail industry going forward. With declining miles driven the opportunities for replacing or repairing damaged auto glass, for collision repairs, for tire replacements, oil changes, etc. will also obviously continue to decline. It’s critical for smaller retailers to find new ways to attract customers just as the large market leaders aggressively pursue those same customers with name brand awareness campaigns. Now is not the time for complacency.

 

Just sayin’.

 

complacent brands

Courtesy of TomFishburne.com


 

 

 

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Help Wanted: Writer Wanted for Social Media Conversation Page on Auto Glass Repair & Replacement

Hashtags

 

An interesting email hit my inbox on Monday from a company representing Service AutoGlass, a part of Safelite Group, Inc. The email came from Fun Online Corporation which is headquartered in New York, New York. Mike Schoenback  (and his partner Ron Luks) sent the email and it started with,

“Hi David,

I came across your contact information through Glassbytes.com.  Our company (Fun Online Corp) is working with Service AutoGlass®, a national provider of wholesale vehicle glass products and installation materials, to launch a social media conversation page in the fall of 2014.”

So the wholesale division of Safelite wants to interact with its customers via social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, along with numerous other social media sites? The email went on to say,

“We are interested in connecting with a person with good writing skills who has technical experience with auto glass repair and replacement and a familiarity with the industry. We are looking to hire such a person on an ongoing (freelance) basis to respond to posts on the social media page and work with us to develop conversation starters. Experience as a blogger is a big plus. This is a paid position.”

I guess I tick a couple of the boxes they’re looking for. I’ve spent my career in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry, I am on some social media sites so I’m familiar with how those work and I blog. Even though it looks like the opportunity is being “outsourced” to Fun Online, the fact that it is a paid position is also great to know. The email ended with,

“I’m writing to see if you may be interested or if you have a colleague who may be interested in this opportunity.  We’re happy to have a phone or email conversation if you’d like more information about this.

Thanks very much!

Mike Schoenbach

Ron Luks”

Their email didn’t mention Safelite, just Service AutoGlass. I replied to let them know that I really appreciated the email letting me know about the opportunity, but I didn’t think I would be an appropriate person for the role they were looking at for a variety of reasons and I guess they didn’t look at some of my blog posts. I replied to Mr. Schoenback explaining that I was pretty sure that Safelite wouldn’t want me to fill the role even if I was interested. That being said I was once a part of Safelite filling a number of positions in the mid to late 1980’s leaving as the regional vice president of New England in late 1989; so I do have some familiarity with the company. I just didn’t think I’d be a good person to help “develop conversation starters” for them at this point in time. I’m sure that I could come up with a few “conversation starters” though. Here are some possibilities:

“If an auto glass replacement somehow slips through the hands of Safelite and you’re lucky enough that the opportunity comes to your company would you consider giving us a call so that we could sell you the part?”

“Here at Service AutoGlass we’re your all-in-one source for products and service, even if Safelite is spending countless millions on television and radio ads and is your biggest competitor. Come on…..give us a call. Won’t you?”

“We know that Pilkington, PGW, Mygrant and other wholesale distributors aren’t in the retail AGRR space installing auto glass in competition with you, but that shouldn’t stop you from giving us a call should it?”

I’m sure that you can come up with a few of your own. I asked a friend in the industry for a social media conversation starter for them and he suggested,

“They say you get what you pay for…. What did you get from us?”

I wished Fun Online success in finding someone to fill the social media role for Safelite…  er’ I meant Service AutoGlass. I found out that they sent the same email to a few other people in the AGRR industry as well. Imagine my disappointment hearing that. Perhaps they contacted you to see if you were interested? If not and you’re interested in the freelance position you can contact Mike and Ron to find out more. The Fun Online web site states:

“At Fun Online Corp. we’re your eyes and ears during business hours, evenings, weekends and holidays. A round-the-clock business infrastructure is expensive and can be a logistical nightmare. We can create a social media team or expand your current team and save you money. You’ll have 100 percent full coverage.”

It seems like a great opportunity.

Just sayin’.

 

 

* Cartoon courtesy of TomFishburne.com/Cartoons

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Hobson’s Choice (a Free Choice or No Choice at All?)

I recently read the argument that attorneys for Safelite Group Inc. (Safelite) made relating to Connecticut’s Public Act-13-67(c) (2) in a glassBYTEs.com article. They argued that,

“it puts appellants Safelite Group Inc. and Safelite Solutions to a Hobson’s choice….”

Hobson’s choice[1] refers to a businessman by the name of Thomas Hobson who ran a livery in Cambridge, England in the 1600’s. Hobson required that every rider asking to hire one of his horses to always take the horse nearest the door. If a patron didn’t want to use that particular horse no other horse could be used. A “take it or leave it” choice. As another source on the origins of the phrase states[2], “A Hobson’s choice is a free choice in which only one option is offered.” I thought using “Hobson’s choice” in this particular instance an interesting one considering the origins of the term. More on that later.

This link to the summary of the act that was first introduced in the Insurance and Real Estate Committee of the Connecticut House and ultimately signed by the Governor of the State of Connecticut required that in the handling of any insurance auto glass claim in the State of Connecticut that:

“The act requires that a glass claims representative for an insurance company or its third-party claims administrator, in the initial contact with an insured about automotive glass repair services or glass products, tell the insured something substantially similar to: “You have the right to choose a licensed glass shop where the damage to your motor vehicle will be repaired. If you have a preference, please let us know. ” By law, appraisals and estimates for physical damage claims written on behalf of insurers must have a written notice telling the insured that he or she has the right to choose the shop where the damage will be repaired (CGS § 38a-354).”

Fairly straightforward.

A public radio program called “A Way with Words” talked about Hobson’s choice on one of the program segments. One of the hosts of the radio program, Martha Barnette tells us:

“The phrase Hobson’s choice goes all the way back to 17th-century England. For 50 years, Thomas Hobson ran a stable near Cambridge University. There he rented horses to students. Old Man Hobson was extremely protective of those animals. He rented them out according to a strict rotating system. The most recently ridden horses he kept at the rear of the stable. The more rested ones he kept up front. That meant that when students came to get a horse, Hobson gave them the first one in line—that is, the most rested. He’d let them rent that horse, or none at all.”

Perhaps you see where I was thinking that Hobson’s choice was an interesting phrase for the attorneys to use in their argument. First, Public Act-13-67(c) (2) is a duly enacted Connecticut law so their client really doesn’t get a choice in deciding whether they wish to follow it or not. As is their right, they can dispute the law which is obviously why the company is filing the appeals to the act which provides Connecticut consumers a choice in what company repairs or replaces their damaged auto glass. It’s just that at his stable Hobson didn’t want the same horse(s) being used each time by his patrons. Hobson wanted his patrons to use only the horse(s) that he wanted them to use. You can understand why Hobson wanted to rotate his horses so that each got equal use. Safelite wants Connecticut consumers to only use the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) company that Safelite wants them to use. In this case it would appear that Safelite is Hobson.

By enacting Public Act-13-67(c) (2), the State of Connecticut took steps it deemed appropriate to protect consumer choice for residents of the state. There are any number of AGRR companies operating in the State of Connecticut for consumers to use when they sustain auto glass damage. So is it “A Matter of Self-Interest or Consumer Choice”? Isn’t it Safelite that is attempting to provide Connecticut consumers with a Hobson’s choice?

Just sayin’.

Take it or leave it

Another example of a Hobson’s choice would be from Henry Ford’s book titled My Life and Work and written in 1922 referencing options available for the Model T Ford.

Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

 

[1] Merriam-Webster.com meaning of Hobson’s choice

[2] Wikipedia.org description of Hobson’s choice

Other sources:

http://www.glassbytes.com/documents/07302014SafeliteLettertoCourt

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobson’s_choice

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hobson’s%20choice

 

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Road Trip

A few weeks ago we decided to take a road trip. The trip has taken us through Indiana, Michigan, Canada, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia, North Carolina and now onto South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and then back to Illinois. We could add a couple of other states to the trip. It has been a great road trip. Besides keeping my eyes on the road I also kept an eye out looking for windshields in need of repair or replacement as I have since I entered the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry. I was also looking for mobile auto glass vehicles along the way.

Road_Signs2

In an article titled “April Miles Driven Increases” that appeared in glassBYTEs.com last week, the web site reported that there was an overall 1.8% increase in miles driven in 2014 versus 2013. Only the Northeast reported fewer miles driven. Based on our experience, the number of vehicles of all types on the road has been pretty amazing. We’ve encountered very heavy traffic everywhere we’ve been so far and, since one of the three key drivers for the AGRR industry is miles driven (the weather and the economy the other two), perhaps this is another good sign for glass breakage and future business….at least in the states visited on this road trip.

I’ve spoken with a number of people who either own or work for AGRR retail and wholesale companies; regardless of the area in the country in which they compete, each says business has been great this year! In other road trips over the past few years there have always been a plethora of windshields in need of repair or replacement on the drive, along with countless plastic and tape wrapped broken door, quarter or back glasses (the “do nothings” – those who break glass and don’t repair or replace it). On this road trip I have been surprised to see very few broken windshields or taped up door, quarter or back glasses. Hopefully this is a sign that people are repairing or replacing glass when it breaks.

I saw the first AGRR mobile van on the road trip in Canada – a Speedy Glass van (I was the President and CEO of Belron Canada in the late 90’s and early 00’s). I didn’t see my next mobile van until I saw a Tiny & Sons Auto Glass mobile van in Massachusetts. I have driven by a number of glass shops on the road trip (and stopped by a few) and I didn’t see any mobile vans parked at the shops so I assumed (hoped) that each was busy doing mobile replacements. I’m in North Carolina now and I haven’t seen any more mobile vans. Odd I think as I see them in Chicago all the time.

After the strong winter season across much of the country we experienced some “Wind at our Backs” which was discussed in previous posts. Perhaps with a steady increase in year-on-year miles driven, and if the economy will come out of the doldrums we will see some positives for the AGRR industry. You still have to have to figure out how to deal with the big guys increasing market share and the brand recognition programs in play. If this year’s weather provided and continues to provide AGRR opportunities, if the miles driven continues to grow providing further opportunities and if the economy going forward gains strength and provides further opportunities; you’ve got something to work with. Not always easy I understand, but if it was easy you’d have a lot more competitors to deal with. You just need to continue to figure out what you can do to push and pull consumers to your business.

Just sayin’.

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Disruption Innovation in Business

 

Clayton Christensen developed his disruption innovation theory studying the computer industry. Disruption in virtually any industry will determine winners and losers in business. If you visit the Christensen Institute web site you’ll read that:

“The theory explains the phenomenon by which an innovation transforms an existing market or sector by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability where complication and high cost are the status quo. Initially, a disruptive innovation is formed in a niche market that may appear unattractive or inconsequential to industry incumbents, but eventually the new product or idea completely redefines the industry.”[1]

Image

Courtesy of TomFishburne.com

At the annual Code Conference held at the Terranea Resort, located in Rancho Palos Verdes, California that brings together some of the world’s geekiest folks; Google’s Sergey Brin debuted Google’s driver-less car (link). These cars were designed without a dashboard, steering wheel or a brake pedal. Why? A driverless car doesn’t need any of those accessories in the cars of the future as seen by the visionaries at Google. Could this be an example of “disruptive innovation” that could affect multiple industries?

This Google designed driver-less vehicle is very different from the self-driving vehicles that Google equipped with the driver-less technology installed on the Toyota or Lexus models that Google first began using. The initial self-driving cars Google used were off –the-lot models made by original equipment manufacturers so each came equipped with a dashboard with all of the typical accessories you’d expect to find both on and under the dash. But this new Google car comes without many of the accessories deemed required, up until now, and Google added a few other things that you will find disruptive long-term. It evidently is equipped with a flexible plastic windshield.

The car can only top out at 25 miles per hour and you’re not going to be seeing it on the highways anytime soon, but nonetheless with Google behind it one can only assume that the company’s long-term goal is to dramatically change driving habits. Will this technology be successful in disrupting the car industry? It would take time and a lot of treasure, both human and monetary. Google certainly has the wherewithal to attract the best and brightest to make this project a reality and money isn’t an issue.

Experts believe a self-driving car will make driving safer. Imagine that you can text or talk on your phone to your heart’s content as you won’t need to be concerned about distractions. Human driving errors should be greatly reduced if all the other cars around you are interconnected resulting in greater safety. Older drivers would have more freedom which would be good for them and great for everyone else concerned about grandma and granddad getting behind the wheel. Disabled drivers would also gain new freedom to rely on themselves versus others. An EY Automotive study says that autos with Autonomous Vehicle Technology will surge from 4% in 2025 to 75% by 2035.

There are going to be winners and losers as self-driving cars gain traction in the coming years. What will greater safety and independence for everyone mean to the insurance industry and all of those in claims departments today if the number of accidents drops? To the collision and automotive parts repair industry? To the rental car industry? To the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry? To the trucking industry? Countless industries will be affected. There’s going to be a lot of businesses that will rise and fall with this disruptive innovation and a lot of people at risk of losing their current job in an industry affected by the self-driving car.

There will probably be a day when those who want to drive their own cars could be viewed similarly as today’s drunk driver or someone that is texting as they are putting self-driving car riders at risk.

What will the likely outcome be if Google’s self-driving cars become a “disruptive innovation” and disrupt car manufacturers, the transportation industry as a whole and change the habits of the driving public in the years to come? We’ll have to wait to see.

So is there something a company or companies are doing today (or will be doing) in the AGRR industry that is (or will) disrupt the way things operate? Are there innovations that will “completely redefine(s) the AGRR industry”? I think the answer is yes to both questions. There are plenty attempting to disrupt what it is you are doing today and I know that there are those trying to disrupt the future of the industry with new innovations.

Here is another definition of disruption innovation:

“A disruptive innovation[2] is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology. The term is used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in a new market and later by lowering prices in the existing market.”

You probably think we already have enough disrupters in the AGRR industry, but what is your plan going to be if you’re not one of the one’s who has designed or is designing a “disruption innovation” in the industry? Something is certainly coming.

Just sayin’.

 

 

 

[1] http://www.christenseninstitute.org/key-concepts/disruptive-innovation-2/

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disruptive_innovation

 

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