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“Follow-up” Interview with Sika Corporation’s John King (who is retiring)

John King is retiring this year as the Vice President – Aftermarket at Sika Corporation. In his role at Sika John has been a key influencer in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry both in North America and the world. I wanted to get John’s thoughts on the industry prior to his retirement and he agreed to talk.

JK head shot 3

Thank you for taking the time to talk again John. I know that you’re going through some changes in your life. You saw an auto glass installation for the first time in 1997 and a lot has changed since then to today. As you prepare to depart an active role in the AGRR industry can you tell us your view of the state of the industry as it relates to the safe installation of auto glass?

            John King:  For Auto Glass Retailers that continue to provide their Customers with Safe and Cost Effective Glass Replacement and Repairs, the future is bright, as there will always be a need for quality work.

Do you feel that there are more safe installations done today for consumers versus when you first entered the industry in 1997?

            John King:  Statistics like this are difficult to define, as it becomes more of an observation and opinion, than fact based.  However, Economics always drive business decisions, and unfortunately, for the Auto Glass Industry, the Economics of today are much more stressful, than in 1997.  For a number of reasons, the size of the Replacement Industry has shrunk over the past 7 years, resulting in a competitive climate that has far too many Glass Shop Companies and Independent One-Off Installers making Installation decisions based solely on the Revenue then need to survive.  When that happens, Safe Installations take a back seat, to getting the job done cheaply.  While “cheaply” does not necessarily mean incorrectly, it can mean that shortcuts in an installation may occur; “Slipping the Cowls, Short Urethane Beads, Incorrect Use of Priming Systems, No use of Priming Systems, and Not Holding the Vehicle until it is safe to Drive, are all symptoms of an unsafe installation”. 

            Unfortunately, I still believe that far too many Installers sacrifice a Complete Job, for a Quick Job.  Therefore, my answer is that today, that are still far too many unsafe installations being done. 

            On the bright side, those Shops and Installers that are doing a Complete Job, have vastly improved since 1997.  There is more adequate training available today, and for quality installers, who have kept up with training, and who are using the latest technologies of Urethane and Installation Equipment that better equip the Technician for making a Safer Installation, they are light years ahead of the best installs of 1997.

Do you think more needs to be done to ensure that replacements are being done correctly and are there any further steps you feel should be taken to ensure that auto glass is installed safely?

            John King:  No one likes or wants Government Intervention.  However, unless the Industry takes it upon themselves to collectively raise the “bar of performance” when it comes to proper installations, it will only take a high profile auto glass installation related death, to raise the awareness of the Public and those that Govern to actively do something about it.. The Television Program 20-20, that aired 12 years or so ago, raised awareness for a period of time, but unfortunately, that awareness petered out and the public is still at risk.  Quality Glass Shops who can “prove” to the Insurance Industry that they do perform Safe Installations, will be rewarded with business in that segment of the market.  Glass Shops who implement and use “Net Promoter Scores” and track their Customers’ Satisfaction and Continue to Train their Technicians will be doing what the Consumers need them to be doing.

            The Cash Market is another issue, and because it is structured differently and because there is “little to no quality barriers” for someone to enter the Auto Glass Industry, Consumers that utilize the Cash Market vs. the Insurance Market are subject to the unknown. 

Have you any advice or hopes for the industry?

            John King:  Again, there will always be a need for Quality Work in an Industry.  Just look at what 2014 has brought to the Automobile Manufacturers, with record numbers of Recalls. Consumers now have the lowest confidence ratings ever for Car Companies and those Manufacturers will only change that conception when Recalls are reduced.  Auto Glass Retailers, Glass Manufacturers, Installation Equipment Makers and Urethane Producers need to work together to ensure the Public gets quality installations.  There are many great people within the Auto Glass Industry and I believe that those committed to providing Safety will win their fair share.

Fill in the name of who is replacing you at Sika. I know that you’ve been transitioning him into your role as you are nearing retirement. Will there be any changes in direction for Sika?

            John King:  Mr. Marius Mavrodin replaced me, effective July 1, 2014, although I have still been consulted on important issues.  That followed 5-6 months of us working very closely together so that he understood the Industry and our Customer Needs as much as possible. Marius has been with Sika for a number of years, so he knows our capabilities and he is blessed with an Organization that works very hard to provide Quality Products, Services and Support to our Customers.  I know there is still room for improvement in what we do and Marius will lead this cause.

As an avid golfer I’m sure golf will play a major role in your retirement. Do you have any other plans you’d care to share?

            John King:  For the short term, my wife Marilyn and I will take a couple of months to catch our breath.  The last 45 years together have flown by and we have been blessed with 5 wonderful children, with the Grandchild count, now at 4.  They have been and will continue to be our major focus.  It is not so much that I want to retire, but rather, I don’t want to work 50 hours a week anymore.

            Fortunately, there are some opportunities for me that might take root.  While deciding that, Marilyn loves to play golf as much as I do, and that is a major blessing.  We will stay active in Church and Charitable Activities and perhaps do a little travel, but the one thing I will not miss are Planes, Trains and Automobiles, if you catch my drift.  I will miss the People, for they have made it all worthwhile, and to all whom I have encountered over the years, I am truly grateful.  And lastly but most importantly, I thank My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for looking after My Family and I.  We would have been lost without Him.

Thank you very much for your thoughts and insights John. You have provided great leadership to the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry and I’ve certainly valued both our business and personal relationship. You will be missed by our industry. I’m sure everyone wishes you the best in your retirement and/or the new opportunities that await you.

I was honored at Auto Glass Week™ 2014 to present John with an inaugural AGRR industry award. The award begins a new tradition through which the industry honors an individual for the body of their contributions through the years. The award was once known as the Len Stolk Award (as you will remember Len was an individual focused on the advancement and education of all facets of the AGRR industry). John was an excellent choice to receive this inaugural award.

John and David resized

Photo courtesy of http://www.glassbytes.com

Just sayin’.

 

 

Below is the original interview that was done with John King on September 9, 2011

 

Welcome John King, Vice President – Aftermarket at Sika Corporation. Sika celebrated its 100 year anniversary in 2010, a true testament to the quality of their products and dedication to their customers. Sika has developed product systems in the automotive, construction, and industrial markets with a continuing focus on safety and sustainability.  In the AGRR world, Sika produces adhesives for sealing and bonding windshields in the aftermarket auto glass industry that meet and/or exceed OEM (original equipment manufacturer) requirements.

What changes have you seen in the auto glass world since you first joined Sika and began working in this industry?

            John King:  My first exposure to an Auto Glass Installation, was in 1997, in Zurich Switzerland, where I saw the Technician wearing a shirt and tie, and a smock.  This was how this tech dressed every day.  To him, his job was his profession.  While I certainly do not think that USA Installers need a dress code, I do see that many glass shop companies want to “raise the bar” of customer perception, installer performance and the glass shops’ commitment to safety, within our industry.  I firmly believe that this country has many technicians who are committed to this cause, and take pride in their work.  Unfortunately, over time, I have seen far too many technicians that care little about quality work, and even less about safety.  We have an Industry with an extremely low “barrier of entry”, meaning that anyone can put a phone number on the side of their truck and advertise auto glass repair and/or replacement.  However, that does not mean that they know what they are doing, and both the Public and Insurance Industry, know little about how to discern the difference between those who care and those who do not.  As our country’s economic conditions have worsened, our industry has become a haven for persons looking to find some type of income.  While it does not mean that those techs necessarily perform improper installations and repairs, we have to ask ourselves, have these new industry participants been trained?  How are they kept abreast of the ever changing details of vehicle glass replacement?  How many of them even care to know anything about “doing it right”?

What changes would you like to see in the future?

            John King:  Some States have talked about “Licensing” of auto glass technicians.  While I do not want glass shops to have to spend any more money then necessary, we have to ask ourselves, “How can we raise the barrier-of-entry into this industry?”    Licensing may be one avenue of doing this, while at the same time, providing a means of “raising the bar of safety” within AGR.  In any industry where the safety of the public is at stake, there are usually steps that those industry participants must take to first, truly understand what their work is to accomplish, and then secondly, prove they are worthy of doing the work.  In essence, become Industry Certified.  In AGR, the goal should be to provide correct and safe auto glass installations, meaning the vehicle’s passengers should not be placed at risk after their vehicle is returned to them.  Today, responsible Glass Shop Companies take this task upon themselves.  They see to it that any new technician receives adequate training, and spends time observing experienced and qualified technicians, before turning the new techs loose, to do jobs on their own.  The question to all of us should be, “How does the Public and or the Insurance Industry know that adequate training has taken place?”  In today’s AGR market, Glass Shop Companies spend their CSR’s time or their Outside Sales Rep’s time trying to convince prospective customers that “their installations are safer than their competitors”.   Unfortunately, there are many Glass Replacement Companies that are either ignorant of a truly safe and quality installation, or they are outright lying.  Licensing, which would include testing and certification, may be one of the ways to accomplish industry wide compliance of correct installation standards.

How long have you worked at Sika, and what do you find most rewarding about your job?

            John King:  January 1997 is when my career at Sika began, and I must admit it took me a while to have an understanding of how this industry works.  However, without a doubt, the most rewarding part of the business is getting to know people.  There are always business issues, business problems to solve, and strategies to implement, but at the heartbeat of this industry, is its’ people.  For me, there is nothing I like to hear more, than an unsolicited positive comment about how our Sika people are perceived by customers.  Whether Distributors or End Users, if our salespeople, or our customer service department are liked and appreciated by customers, that means that more than half the battle is already won.  The bottom line, is that most people, want to do business with good people. Therefore, if we can hire honest people with good interpersonal skills, and then adequately train them, and provide our customers with quality products, in the end, our sales people will provide excellent service and support to those customers, which would be ultimately rewarded with an ongoing business relationship.

Sika recently created a great animated cartoon called, “No Shortcut to Safety.” It’s a wonderful tool for glass installers and consumer alike, and describes the process of safe windshield installation without using laymen’s terms that can sometimes feel unfamiliar to people who don’t speak AGRR garble.

John, why did Sika Corporation feel it was important to develop this animation video?

John King: The AGR Industry is a cross section of groups.  We have the makers of product, the distributors of products, and the users of products, and those who need those products and services, who are collectively the Consumers, or Fleet Customers, or Insurers.  Communicating to a wide array of groups, with a single message, is always a challenge.  Our message needed to be part technical, part educational, part logical and if possible, part entertaining.   Most groups can understand all 4 parts of the message, if the message is short, and studies indicate, even with very intelligent persons, that 4 minutes is tops, to maintain someone’s attention.  We investigated a number of ways to develop and communicate our No Shortcut to Safety message, and when we came across the animated concept, it made sense to use the video’s simplicity.  We also found from experts in video communication that presenting a new message with an entertaining format, also maximizes the listeners retention of the subject matter; hence a cartoon format. 

What were your goals and target audience for this important message, “No Shortcut to Safety?”

John King: The message was still the key objective, and a message of a Safe and Reliable auto glass installation needed to be created and delivered to the Shop Owner, the Technician, and their Customers.  .

How would you like to see this video utilized? In other words, what do you feel is the most effective way to reach out to drivers to educate them about safe windshield installations?

            John King: Ideally, it is a combination of utilization of the video.  First of all, we know safety is important to most consumers.  This video has been shown in glass shop waiting areas to hundreds and hundreds of vehicle owners, and feedback from them has been exactly what we desired.  They have told those glass shops that they understand what they are doing for them.  Nothing has been more rewarding than reaching the Public with this message of No Shortcut to Safety.  Currently, glass shop waiting rooms are still the most common place where the message is shown.  However, with smart phones and the internet, we would hope to experiment with some glass shops being able to forward this video, to their customer, once they have scheduled a job.  The video then acts as an explanation to that customer as to what they should expect, when the job gets done.  This approach could then create a real value added marketing piece for shops to make the whole glass replacement experience, an even better one for their customers.

Thank you for joining us John.

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Interview with Chris Thornton, Managing Director – Auto Windscreens, United Kingdom

It’s always an interesting exercise looking at automotive aftermarket retailers that excel in the industry they compete to understand reasons for their success. It doesn’t matter where in the world a company operates; be it in the United States, Canada, Brazil, the United Kingdom or elsewhere in the world. Those companies that do standout and outclass rivals, take on market leaders in the industry they compete and are recognized for the high levels of service they provide to customers, deserve our admiration, respect and emulation. One such company is based in the United Kingdom. Auto Windscreens is headquartered in Derbyshire, in a town named Chesterfield 150 miles north of London. Originally formed in 1971 Auto Windscreens has gone through a number of evolutions to get the company to where they are today. Auto Windscreens is the United Kingdom’s fastest growing and most dynamic provider of (auto) glass repair and replacement services (AGRR). Suffice it to say that the company has a lot of things going for it right now.

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Auto Windscreens has won several prestigious awards over the past several years. Among them:

  1. At this year’s 2014 British Insurance Awards Winner Auto Windscreens won top honors for two award categories:
    1. Customer Care Award
    2. Service Supplier of the Year
  2. Both in 2014 and 2013 they were recognized by The Sunday Times being selected as one of the “Best 100 Companies to Work For”.
  3. Auto Windscreens was ranked second in the United Kingdom and when the received recognition as a “Top 50 Call Centres for Customer Service” in 2011. At the same time they were also named the “Best Newcomer” and the “Best Service Provider”.

These are very impressive awards for any company. George Bernard Shaw said, “Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery – it’s the sincerest form of learning.” I think that there is a lot automotive retailers can learn from Auto Windscreens.

Chris Thornton is the Managing Director (the U.K.’s version of Chief Executive Officer) of Auto Windscreens and I thought hearing from him on a number of topics would be interesting to readers of this blog. Chris took over as Auto Windscreens’ Managing Director earlier this year.

Chris Thornton

 

DR: Thank you for taking the time to talk Chris.

CT: My pleasure David. I like nothing better than talking about Auto Windscreens

DR: Auto Windscreens has certainly seen some great successes of late. What do you believe are key the reasons for the company’s successes?

CT: It’s all about being the best at everything we do in delivering the finest service possible to our customers. And in order to do so every member of the team has to play their part. As we offer a Customer Satisfaction Survey to every customer, we can see exactly where and when we are delivering this outstanding service and where we may have some improvements to make

DR: What were some of the issues (positive and/or negatives) you and your management team faced in moving the company forward after you joined Auto Windscreens in 2013?

CT: The atmosphere and approach within Auto Windscreens is outstanding. Everyone knows what we are looking to achieve and how to get there. I am a firm believer in clear and regular communications within the business.

Our biggest challenge is maintaining this as we expand. Many of the UKs biggest insurers and fleets are in discussion with us at the moment as we are clearly THE automotive glass company to be dealing with.

That expansion impacts across our business and one critical area is recruiting and developing technicians to work at the same high standards as we do now. At the end of the day we are a people business.

DR: Of the issues you’ve mentioned which one do you feel made the biggest difference in getting everyone focused on providing customer excellence?

CT: Communication and training is essential.

From the moment we take the customer call, the focus is on finding the right appointment to fit the customer needs. Our automated system generates a selection of appointments for the customer to choose from and once selected the appointment is guaranteed. We spend a lot of time training our contact centre agents in both call handling and technical skills.

Auto Windscreens has the only accredited training centre in the UK. Our facility not only provides an excellent workshop environment for new starters but on-going training, development and advancement to higher qualification.

All our technicians are kept fully up to date with the latest information. All work is processed on Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) which have a detailed Technical and Training programme on them to support the technician. In addition our Training department supports the technicians with a team of field based trainers and a 24 hour support line.

DR: How have the partnerships Auto Windscreens has made with insurance and fleet customers improved your customer service?

CT: Both insurers and fleets have recognized the quality Auto Windscreens have brought to the industry. We demonstrate this through leading Management Information and more critically through Customer Satisfaction Surveys and Net Promoter Score.

Our surveys are both offered by Auto Windscreens and through an independent survey analyst which creates total transparency for our clients. In turn they have total confidence in Auto Windscreens in our service delivery.

DR: Can you provide an understanding how your value proposition is resonating with your customers? How does your relationship with your customers differ from what other competitors offer?

CT: In 2011 we noticed that customers were regularly getting in touch with us to thank us for the quality of the work they had received. This told us we were doing something right.

From this we created the Praise Log, an internal document sent to everyone in the business each month showing where customers had called to say “Thank You”. And our people love to see their names on there.

This has expanded as customers write about their experiences on review sites such as reviewcentre.com. This is totally independent and Auto Windscreens have a 96% recommendation rate. It is the consumer trust in our brand that is making the difference.

DR: Your company focuses a great deal on providing management information systems to customers to help them find ways to reduce costs and operate more efficiently; how do you feel that helping them understand their windscreen losses is a winning strategy for Auto Windscreens?

CT: Management Information is critical in every business and we support our clients by providing them with the information they need to enhance customer experience and in doing so boosting customer retention.

The information also helps reduce wastage and controls cost but our clients are now being driven by quality rather than cost alone.

DR: How does Auto Windscreens use social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, etc.) to interact with its customers? Do you feel it is time well spent for anyone operating in the retail automotive after-market?

CT: The world of communications has changed significantly in the last decade and like many businesses we have had to adapt. Our marketing department manages our social media accounts not only promoting our business but monitoring and responding to any questions.

It is very worthwhile as it brings us closer to our customers and helps identify trends before our competitors

DR: How many fitting centres, mobile service units and employees does the company currently have?

CT: We have over 40 branches covering the UK (it’s a lot smaller than the USA) more than 350 mobile service units and over 500 staff in total

DR: Do you see further growth for Auto Windscreens in the United Kingdom? With the success you’re enjoying, are there any thoughts of growth outside of the United Kingdom?

CT: Our focus in firmly on the UK for the foreseeable future. It offers great opportunities for us as we expand. We will not get distracted by expansion alone, the key is to continue delivering the best service in the industry.

DR: With the great success Auto Windscreens has found in recent years while facing a large competitor, can you offer some advice to those who also find themselves competing against companies bigger than they are in a market or country?

CT: I believe you need to set your stall out and get your team on board in delivering this. Our message has been Total Customer Satisfaction from our beginnings which meant everybody has to play their part.

DR: Do you use radio or television to reach customers?

CT: We have in the past but not currently. 

DR: What is the most effect way to reach targeted customers?

CT: If you win the corporate accounts then the volume will come. If those clients will support you as the only option for replacement glass and repairs then the business is as good as guaranteed.

DR: Auto Windscreens was a winner in the 2006 Commercial Fleet World Honours – The Environment Award. I know that you and your company have a strong commitment to green initiatives by recycling 100% of the windscreens that you replace. When did this initiative begin and what has been the response from Auto Windscreens’ customers?

CT: 2006! That was a few years back but we are as proud of our environmental credentials now as we were then. We are in a world where recycling is promoted greatly and we have always led in our industry with green policies. Our customers have always been supportive of this approach which started more than 20 years ago. Our resources are finite so we must use them wisely

DR: I read on your web site that 40 replaced windscreens that you recycle fit on a skid, while the materials required for 40 repairs can fit in the palm of a hand. By your commitment to repairing windscreens Auto Windscreens is providing great value to its customers while also fulfilling your green initiative strategy to help reduce the effect replacements have to the environment. That is a strong endorsement for repairing over replacing. How do your customers view your commitment to repair? Can you give us a range of repair rates you see in the United Kingdom?

CT: The repair rates vary by customer type but can be up to 50% of our work. Our customer base encourages repair over replacement and so wherever we can safely make a repair we will.

DR: During my career I spent a fair amount of time in the United Kingdom and I greatly value all that I learned from those I worked with while in country. There is one service component that is offered by your company (and other windscreen companies in the United Kingdom) that hasn’t caught on in the North America and that is 24/7/365 service* with mobile units. Your web site touts that, “Our fitting centres are open from 8:30am till 5:30pm Monday to Friday and on Saturdays from 8:30am to 12:30pm. Outside these hours, work is carried out by our team of mobile technicians who are on call 24 hours a day every day of the year.” Can you provide the reason why this type of service is offered in the United Kingdom and what percentage of work is done outside of the normal fitting centre operating hours?

* Since 1981 windscreens in the U.K. have been laminated. Prior to that date tempered glass was used for some windscreens.

CT: It has been customer led and is for “emergency” work such as broken rear and side glass. We cannot allow customers to be left stranded in a vehicle that cannot be driven or is insecure. Such urgent requests may be low in volume but very high in importance.

DR: What do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of Auto Windscreens and what are you doing to take advantage or fix them?

CT: Some of our IT infrastructure was getting old so we have created a data centre, 24 hour IT monitoring team and issued new PDAs to all technicians. This significant investment will cover our requirements for the next 10 years.

Our strengths are many. Our independence allows us to develop the business as we need without interference from head offices, shareholders or partners. Our clear leadership in high quality service provision is proving very difficult for our competitors to get close to and as we further develop this, the gap will increase.

And as technology becomes more prevalent in windscreens, companies who cannot demonstrate and prove that they have the proper training processes in place will fall away.  

DR: I know that you focus a great deal of time and effort on training Technicians. You obviously feel that you’re reaping dividends on these initiatives. Can you give us a brief overview of your company’s approach to training?

CT: By having highly skilled technicians we have created a team that is prepared to go that extra mile and takes pride in its work. The training starts from the moment a technician, either skilled or a new recruit, joins the business and that training never ends.

It may take place at our Technical Training Centre or through field accompaniments. All technicians are assessed annually to ensure they continue to work to the standards expected of them whether a repair technician , replacement technician  or a master technician.   

AW technician 1

DR: You have an amazing Net Promoter Score (NPS) that is off the charts in the mid 90’s. That is the highest number I’ve ever seen in our industry. As a company how have you been able to achieve that result?

CT: We are very proud of Net Promoter Score and Customer Satisfaction results. It has not been easy but by creating a customer centric culture as mentioned previously we have all staff aligned in delivering an outstanding service

DR: With that high level of NPS you’ve been earning a great deal of new business and contracts with fleets and insurers alike. How was Auto Windscreens able to garner this new business from the incumbents?

CT: That’s a question our customers would have to answer but I would say it’s down to the breadth of service we can offer at a rate which works for everyone. As a progressive business with a clear vision we will attract like minded businesses.

DR: I have been very impressed with what you and your team(s) have accomplished at Auto Windscreens. I firmly believe that that some of the strategies and tactics that Auto Windscreens has been employing can be exported to other countries and used by those who are interested in growing and/or making a difference with their company. I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me. I wish you and Auto Windscreens continued great success.

CT: It’s been a pleasure David.

 

Auto Windscreens is a great case study in how to turn a company around and make it into a world class service provider. It takes great leaderships and dedicated teams throughout the business, but I believe that Auto Windscreens has shown how to take on competition (big or small) and consistently win against them by focusing on the needs of each and every customer. I applaud Chris and all at Auto Windscreens for all they’ve accomplished.

Just sayin’.

 

 

Auto Windscreen Training

GQA Qualifications Limited

(Auto Windscreens only offers GQA qualifications to their employees)

GQA Level 2 NVQ Certificate in Windscreen Repair (QCF) (GQA Qualifications Limited)

GQA Level 2 NVQ Certificate in the Principle of Windscreen Repair (QCF) (GQA Qualifications Limited)

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Interview with Dave Taylor and Cindy Rowe-Taylor

Two of the most respected people in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry are Dave Taylor and Cindy Rowe-Taylor who together built Cindy Rowe Auto Glass into the dominant AGRR company in much of Pennsylvania and Maryland. They retired to Florida a few years ago and spend much of their time cycling the world and enjoying their lives.

blogdavecindy

At Auto Glass Week™ 2013 that was held in Tampa, Florida last month Rich Campfield, president of the National Windshield Repair Association (NWRA), presented Dave Taylor with a new industry award named in his honor. As a founding member of the NWRA, Dave was a force in helping to mold the organization. Cindy was in the audience during the opening ceremony where Dave was presented with the inaugural award.

While at the Auto Glass Week™ Conference I had the chance to talk with both Dave and Cindy and they agreed to an interview. 

DR      First, thanks to you Cindy and Dave for taking the time to talk with me today. Special congratulations to you Dave for receiving the NWRA award that was named in your honor. I can’t think of anyone more deserving to be recognized for the work you have done to bring windshield repairs to consumers.

My first question is how do you both like retirement versus the daily challenge of being in the AGRR business?

DT      Retirement is terrific. As many folks know, we are avid bicyclists and living in The Villages in Florida is a bicyclists dream come true. We would have retired sooner if we had known had much fun and satisfaction retirement life had to offer.

CR-T  Retirement has been an easy transition and so enjoyable.  It is not sitting on the couch eating bon-bons, but having a very busy schedule and having such fun being busy.

DR      It sounds like you’re both making the most out of retirement. Cindy, what year was it and what was it that drew you to the AGRR industry that caused you to open the first Cindy Rowe Auto Glass store?

CR-T  I was a registered nurse for 13 years and decided I wanted to be my own boss.  That was when I became aware of the windshield repair (WSR) possibility in my area. In 1979 I started out with my repair kit in the trunk of my Vega, seeing dealers and fleets, where the volume was.  No sales experience ever.  I loved it from the start. I am the WSR pioneer in the Harrisburg, PA, and surrounding areas.  Dave joined me in 1986, working mobile WSR for one year; it was after that year that we bought our first glass shop.  We kept on both technicians and learned about replacement.

DR      Dave, what was it that you found attractive (besides Cindy) to the industry?          

DT      Self employment is the short answer.  After a 25 year career in department store retailing I wanted to be independent of the corporate world. Joining Cindy’s business was the logical next step. Being able to work together added icing to the cake.

DR      What was it Dave that made you such an early and strong supporter of repairs versus replacements?

DT      Cindy founded the business as a windshield repair-only business before we had even met. Eventually we expanded from repair to full service.  Unfortunately for the consumer, and perhaps fortunately for us, 25 years ago most glass companies were focused on replacement. They probably felt it was best for their glass company.  Solid business management practices made repair profitable for us and a well executed repair program gave us a significant and profitable competitive advantage. Providing customers with their best solution to an auto glass problem, be it repair or replacement, was our primary business strategy.

DR      This question is for both of you. What can you tell the readers of this blog made the biggest difference in the growth and sustainability of Cindy Rowe Auto Glass over the years?

CR-T  Staying ahead of the industry with their many changes, starting with the early 90’s and on.  Customer service was not to be compromised and keeping valued employees.  Early on, Dave and I decided that advertising heavily and educating the public would do well.

DT      Consistently providing the best quality service to customers and aggressive brand building through media and public relations.

DR      I know that in my own career finding the right mix of people made all the difference in my finding success that I’ve enjoyed. At Cindy Rowe how were you both able to always ensure that you surrounded yourself with the best people, that you got the best from them and what advice can you offer those in business today as to that importance?

DT      Choose wisely, treat kindly.

CR-T  Fairly early on, we decided to hire people “green” and train them, offer good benefits, keep them abreast of the industry and give some autonomy.

DR      At Cindy Rowe you provided consumers in the Pennsylvania and Maryland markets you served with AGRR services, but you also offered paint-less dent repair. Would you suggest paint-less dent repair (PDR) as an additional product line that for those in business looking for additional revenue streams? And if not paint-less dent repair are there other products you think work well in today’s AGRR business?

DT      PDR is a profitable but technically challenging service. While it worked for us, it has proved difficult for many AGR companies to integrate into their businesses. I like what I saw during Auto Glass Week’s joint event with the window film industry.  We would have given window film a thorough evaluation.

DR      Something that some may not have known about you Cindy is that you are a registered nurse and that you’ve donated your time and expertise to those in need while in business at Cindy Rowe Auto Glass and still to this day being retired in Florida. Were you a registered nurse when you first started Cindy Rowe Auto Glass?

CR-T  Yes, for 13 years.  In 2002 I took the “Refresher Course” for RN’s and have been volunteering since in an area where uninsured patients are treated.  It is gratifying to be able to give back in some capacity.

DR      What traits or experiences in your background Cindy gave you the ability to find such success in business?

CR-T  I would guess perseverance, honesty, not afraid of working extra (lots of that for years), organization and time management skills.

DR      Here is a question for you both. Using radio and/or television advertising was a way that you got your name out into the marketplace and helped establish and differentiate Cindy Rowe Auto Glass. It is expensive to advertise on radio and television. When you look back at the genesis of Cindy Rowe through the day you departed the business, what was it that caused you to make that decision to spend money on that form of advertising?

DT      When we expanded from being a car dealer driven windshield repair only business to full service auto glass, we were the new kids on an already crowded block. Capturing the customer through the traditional referral routes would have taken a decade or more. So we went directly to the customer with Radio/TV and created an awareness and demand for our brand. When TPA’s began to capture significant market share, our brand building paid off handsomely. We were the only AGR company anyone in our markets had ever heard of and they asked for us. We never anticipated TPA’s when we began our brand building but brand building saved our skin when TPA’s took over most of the insurance business.

           Radio/TV and now internet are the effective media tools to build your brand with the general public. To influence “choice” at TPAs we wanted to be top-of-the-mind before the customer calls the TPA. Branding is a prerequisite to being “chosen”.  While media is expensive, aggressive purchasing strategies can help control the costs.

DR      Here’s a non-industry question. You mentioned that you are avid cyclers. Can you tell me what countries you’ve cycled and as a follow-up what you’ve learned about yourselves in your cycling adventures?

CR-T Cycling helps keep one in good physical condition and it really is a focus issue while on the bike – lots of issues to watch out; cannot daydream.

DT      United States, Canada, Bermuda, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Hungary, Lichtenstein, South Africa and Switzerland.

DR      One thing I’ve noticed is that you both smile quite a bit. Can you say you’re both happier now that you’ve left the industry? What is it you miss being in business?

DT      Happier? YES! What I miss about the business is the daily challenge to effectively manage the unending stream of issues. In retirement I can choose easier and less stressful challenges.

CR-T  I look at it as another chapter in life. I have always loved my work, but times change and I am now thoroughly enjoying retirement with Dave. One of the things I missed when we first left was seeing the people in the office. My people spoiled me and it did not go unnoticed by me!

DR      My thanks to you both for taking the time to answer my all of my questions.

For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to meet Dave and Cindy I can tell you from personal experience with them that they are good people. Truly fine people; who have effected and changed the lives of those that have come into contact with them over the years. Whether that interaction was in the business they operated together, the AGRR industry they both left their mark on or in their active community service over the years, both Cindy and Dave have given their time to those who sought them out or they felt needed their help.

The industry has been made better by their being a part of it and I hope that they continue to be active in helping to improve it in the future.

Just sayin’.

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Interview with FDNY Chief Richard “Pitch” Picciotto

Each of us knows exactly where we were and what we were doing on September 11, 2001 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 World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. 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.

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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 (FDNY) 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 February 26, 1993, 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 “Last Man Down: A Firefighter’s Story of Survival and Escape from the World Trade Center”. 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

5.    Prayer

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.

Just sayin’.

  

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Interview with Paul Heinauer – Glasspro

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Paul, you have a wealth of experience and knowledge in the automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry. I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me today.

I know that you got your start in the industry in 1979 by joining PPG Industries as a management trainee and over the course of your time there you became a branch manager for them in Greenville, South Carolina. What sparked your initial interest in the AGRR industry?

PH:

I liked the idea. Everyone who owned a car was a potential customer. I also liked working directly with customers. It was a good fit with my personality.

 

You left PPG in 1986 to open Coastal Glass Distributors in Charleston, South Carolina. Do you mind sharing the reason why you left PPG?

PH:

I loved working with PPG and they taught me so much, but I saw an opportunity to open a glass distribution business in Charleston. The market seemed underserved to me.

 

So you saw a great opportunity to open a wholesale business to fill a need in the marketplace and Coastal Glass proved to be a success. That’s great, but what caused you to decide to exit a successful wholesale business that had grown quickly in the market and move into retail?

PH:

The auto glass business was changing and a number of our retail customers were being purchased by large retailers.

I realized that you couldn’t serve two masters.

 

So after starting Glasspro in 1995 and turning your focus solely on the retail side of the AGRR industry what did you learn about the differences between the wholesale and retail business and especially when it came to serving the needs of your customers?

PH:

The insurance industry paid better than contractors did. But more importantly, I felt insurance customers valued service and quality more than a lot of glazing contractors did.

 

So how long did it take you to open additional stores in the South Carolina market?

PH:

We opened our second location in 1995.

 

Knowing you and understanding that ensuring that each and every customer you do work has the absolute best experience and is “delighted” with that experience, as I’ve heard you say, and service they receive from Glasspro, what suggestions or ideas can you offer to the readers of this blog on how to achieve that with their customers?

PH:

It is a total commitment from all of our people to recognize that it is a one job at a time business.

 

What were some of the challenges you faced in finding and then keeping the best people to make sure your customers are always delighted with Glasspro?

PH:

We hire “nice,” and we use a personality profile assessment on every potential new hire. We want to make sure it is a good fit for all parties concerned.

 

Is it difficult in a market like South Carolina to sell people on windshield repairs?

PH:

We spend a lot of time, energy and training on explaining the benefits of a repair.


Do you provide any non AGRR services for customers at Glasspro?

PH:

No, auto glass is all that we do.

 

You and Glasspro are and have been leaders in the AGRR industry for quite some time. In the past 8 years you’ve had 4 of your auto glass technicians win the Auto Glass Olympics in the United States and 1 who won the world title. That is truly an amazing feat for one AGRR company to have achieved and I’m sure you’re quite proud of those who have competed in and those who have won these events. What drives your auto glass technicians to not only excel in what they do for your customers in South Carolina, but to work so hard to become Auto Glass Olympic winners?

PH:

We have been fortunate again in hiring the right people who are committed to striving for excellence, each and every day.

For other companies in the AGRR industry that would like to compete and have the success that you’re auto  glass technicians have had in excelling in these events, what advice do you offer them?

PH: 

Train to the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standard® (AGRSS®)  and then install with it on each and every windshield.

 

As a strong supporter of the AGRSS® standard and the goals of the Auto Glass Safety Council, Inc. what advice would you offer to other AGRR companies about joining the safety organization, following the ANSI standard and opening the doors of Glasspro to third party auditors to validate to your customers that you provide the safest installations possible?

PH: 

I believe it is good for your customers and sends a message to your employees that providing safety is the most important thing that we do.


What advice can you offer on how you successfully compete against a national player in the market place?

PH:

We respect all of our competitors, but we also take great pride in striving to deliver excellence and value to our customers.

 

I know that you may be uncomfortable about talking about some of the things you and Glasspro do to help those in need in your markets, but you’re a big supporter of your community and I commend you for your the efforts. You have developed a program called “3 Degree Guarantee” to help many in your community and the coastal area of South Carolina with special needs. Could you tell us a little about what you and your company accomplishes with “3 Degree Guarantee”?


PH:

It helps us bring awareness to many non profits as well as give them funds. This allows them to serve our local community.

 

I’m very proud that Glasspro is one of the co-branded partners of Windshield Centers. As a locally owned and operated AGRR business that has found great success in the markets you serve, what attracted you to becoming a part of Windshield Centers?

PH:

Windshield Centers is customer focused and committed to delivering excellence just like Glasspro strives to be. There were many things that I found attractive about Windshield Centers, but two in particular stood out. First, Windshield Centers is using advanced technology which provides a quick response to customers’ needs in a way that really keeps a customer in the loop. Secondly, they have created a Windshield Centers “Centers of Excellence”, which focuses on an environment that fosters continuous improvement for its members. These two advancements are just a few of the things which I believe help us bring value to our insurance partners.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to talk about with the readers of this blog?

PH:

I believe we are entering a special time in our industry and I am confident the future is bright for the committed independent auto glass company.

 

Well thank you very much Paul for taking the time to talk with me about Glasspro and the success that you’ve achieved and also passing along how positive you are for the future opportunities that exist in the AGRR industry. I’ve had the fortune to spend time with you and your team and it is quite obvious why you and your company have enjoyed such great success. There are always opportunities in the market place for those who desire excellence for their company and the people that work with them to achieve that success. I wish you and your organization the best in 2013 and the years to come.

Just sayin’.

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Just Sayin’ Blog – 10 Big Rules from T. Boone Pickens

A couple of months ago I was looking at a web site TED.com. TED.com is operated by a non-profit group dedicated to bringing together leaders from technology, entertainment and design who are given the challenge to give “the talks of their lives” in 18 minutes or less at TED Conferences. If you visit the web site you’ll find a number of very interesting people talking about a wide variety of topics and most of them are passionate discussions of topics that are very important to each speaker. The organization also has events called TED(the x means an independently organized TED event) which brings the lofty goals of the international organization to locales across the United States and world to stimulate discussion on topics that have special meaning to the community. Through this site I found a T. Boone Pickens talk which he gave at his alma mater Oklahoma State University on December 3, 2012. The topic was what he called The Leadership Plan. In a 16 minute talk that was both humorous and serious, he laid out what he called his 10 Big Rules which really resonated with me. To me, these rules seem more like principles, but Mr. Pickens rules are pretty straightforward and are ones that anyone can and should follow. His 10 Big Rules:

1.    Have a good work ethic

2.    Make a plan

3.    Look for big things

4.    Take advice from smart people

5.    Make your case in 3 minutes or less

6.    Don’t be afraid to make a decision

7.    Embrace change

8.    Don’t cheat

9.    Have patience

10.  Be generous

In the case of T. Boone Pickens these were the rules that he started following while attending Oklahoma State University after a little prodding from his father. The fact that he figured out these rules at such a young age brought him the opportunity to have a wealth of experiences and at a young age monetary wealth as well. His first rule is that, regardless of your position in life, having a good work ethic is a key to having success. No one can disagree with that one. Mr. Pickens second rule is to make a plan. If you make a plan it will provide you a clear direction to head in achieving the goals you set for yourself. This rule should also give you a way to clearly measure how you’re working toward achieving your plan. When you look for big things you find will find ways to differentiate yourself from others and this should help you in finding success in anything you pursue.

Mr. Pickens fourth rule certainly has meaning to me – take advice from smart people. You can’t know everything so finding people who can help you achieve your plan is critical to finding success. I’ve always tried to surround myself with smart people who bring knowledge and experiences I don’t have. The next rule is that you need to be able to make your case in 3 minutes or less.  This really speaks to having a clear understanding of your goals along with the key ingredients that will provide you with a recipe for success that you can easily communicate. Why is this important? In order to get those you want to join you in pursuit of your plan, you need to be able to persuade or influence them so being able to make your case will be critical to your success. Once you’ve got your team on board with your plan you also need to be able to clearly communicate to those who will be buying the product or service you’re offering. Rule five make your case in 3 minutes or less makes a lot of sense.

As a leader don’t be afraid to make a decision. You can get bogged down in the decision making process, but don’t. You obviously always try to make the best decisions you possibly can by analyzing all pertinent information and determining the best course of action. Then ou then deal with the consequences of the action that you take. Be fearless.

You also have to be able to embrace change. With Mr. Pickens’ rule number seven he’s telling us that everything around us is in constant change and you must  willing to accept change if you want to find success in business. If you’re not open to trying new ways of doing things you are not going to be successful. You can’t fear change and you have to surround yourself with people who embrace change just as much as you do. Mr. Pickens says be a change advocate and that’s truly great advice.

His eighth rule – don’t cheat – doesn’t really need any explanation, but no success can truly be enjoyed if you cheat to achieve it. I’m sure you know people or companies who you feel have cheated and achieved success by doing so. It is certainly frustrating to watch others cheat and get away with it, but if you really want to be a leader Mr. Pickens advice is just don’t do it.

The ninth big rule is one of the most important rules. As a leader you have to have patience. You need to show patience with the people that work for you and you have to be patient as you put your plan into action. If you have faith in the direction you’re going you have to give your plan time to work. Mr. Pickens tells a story of a friend who told him, “Don’t rush the monkey and you’ll get a better show.” Be patient.

T. Boone Pickens tenth big rule of leadership is that you should always be generous with your time and treasure. His grandmother told him, “Don’t forget where you came from.”

The 10 Big Rules that Mr. Pickens detailed in his 16 minute talk are really great rules for anyone to follow in life or business.  As I mentioned earlier, when I watched his talk at the Oklahoma State University Mr. Pickens 10 Big Rules really resonated with me. I’d like to think that I have followed his rules in my business career, but the only way to know for sure would be to ask those with whom I have had the privilege to have worked.

What do you think people would say about you if asked?

Just sayin’.

 

 

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Interview with Marc Talbert – Guardian Auto Glass

Today I’m talking with Marc Talbert, Vice President and Managing Partner with Guardian Auto Glass, LLC.   Marc was formerly the president of PGW Auto Glass Wholesale, LLC until he left the auto glass manufacturer and wholesaler in late 2009. In the Fall of 2010 Marc, along with Jim Latch (a former executive with PGW Auto Glass and PPG Industries, Inc.); and Jerry Ray and Neil Smith (who passed away on June 17, 2011) who together were founders involved with Glass Pro and Elite Auto Glass formed a partnership titled LRST LLC. The four equal partners joined with Guardian Industries and LRST was given the management responsibilities of Guardian Auto Glass, LLC. This unique partnership was formed to grow the number of stores under the Guardian Auto Glass banner. The goal is for Guardian Auto Glass to provide automobile glass repair and replacement (AGRR) services using a local ownership/management model. The model looks very similar to the one that Wes Topping and his partners (including Jerry Ray and Neil Smith) used to rapidly grow Elite Auto Glass across the western United States before selling to Belron in 2005. Guardian Industries Corp. had owned the platform for years.  At this time Guardian Auto Glass operates over 90 stores in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

DR:  I know that you and your partners have been busy the past two years working on growing Guardian Auto Glass and I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today Marc.

MT:  Thank you for the opportunity to participate.

 DR:  What year did you get your start in the AGRR industry and what was your first position in the industry?

MT:  My ARG (automotive replacement glass) experience began in 1994 as manager of PPG’s branch distribution centers in Dallas/Ft Worth.  I started my career with PPG in 1980.

 DR:  What were the positions and responsibilities you’ve had since you first started in the industry in 1994?

MT:  I relocated to Southern California in 1995 as manager of PPG’s western distribution locations, then to Pittsburgh in 2003 with responsibility for PPG Auto Glass, LLC.

 DR:  Which of those jobs did you find most interesting and why? And which was the worst one and why?

MT:  Honestly all were equally interesting because they presented increasing challenges and responsibilities.  Working in the field for the first 23 years of my career I anticipated the move to PPG’s corporate office would be the most intimidating, but I was fortunate to work with some very good people who made the transition much easier, and even enjoyable.

 DR:  You left PGW Auto Glass in 2009 as a President and your responsibilities at PGW included wholesale sales and distribution for the company. What made you jump from the wholesale side of the AGRR industry to retail?

MT:  I had the opportunity to partner with Jim Latch who I had worked with at PPG and two of our long-time customers Jerry Ray and Neil Smith.   Jerry and Neil brought significant and successful retail experience along with a proven business model, and together we saw an opportunity to partner with a company like Guardian to expand their retail business.   There remains quite a gap between the largest US retail provider and the next largest and one of our goals is to try and reduce this gap.

DR:  About a year after you entered the LRST partnership Neil Smith sadly passed away. Did his passing change the plans you’d made in your goals at Guardian Auto Glass?

MT:  Neil’s passing was certainly a shock to us and we miss his experience and counsel every day, not to mention his humor.  Our plans to grow Guardian Auto Glass will be more difficult to achieve without Neil but we have not altered our plans.

DR:  What are your key responsibilities at Guardian Auto Glass?

MT:  Jerry and I share the responsibilities for new market growth and acquisitions, and Jim has responsibility for managing the legacy Guardian locations and our administrative support center in Worthington, Ohio.  We all share responsibility for the management of Guardian Auto Glass.

DR:  Did you find the retail side of the AGRR industry a little harder than you had expected it to be?

MT:  I think you ultimately have similar issues with retail and distribution, or any business for that matter.  As you effectively pointed out in a recent blog you try to attract the best people and provide enough support for them to succeed without bogging them down with non-value added work.  That is the focus of our business and the core of our local ownership model, and what we believe differentiates Guardian Auto Glass in each of our markets.  Having local owners with a stake in our collective success changes many aspects and costs of traditional corporate management, and we believe is the key to growing profitably. 

The primary difference we’ve learned in retail is the need in some cases and with certain third-party administrators to retain customers who have chosen a Guardian Auto Glass location to complete work we’ve already sold through our local marketing and customer relationships.   This is a dynamic we did not face in distribution and one we are increasingly concerned with.

DR:  How many brick and mortar locations did Guardian Auto Glass have before you partnered with Guardian on this new venture versus the number that the company has today? How are you doing on achieving the strategic goals that were set for the first two years of the venture?

MT:  We currently pay rent at over 90 locations and I believe Guardian had 25-30 locations when we started.    The economy and lack of weather is certainly not generating a tailwind for us this year but we have continued to expand as anticipated and build a competitive infrastructure.

DR:  Many in the industry are waiting for Guardian Auto Glass to do something with the call center/third party administration (TPA) that you operate, especially with Jim Latch participation in the partnership. Does Guardian Auto Glass have any plans to become a bigger factor in the call center or TPA side of the industry?

MT:  Guardian’s network is not part of Guardian Auto Glass and is not operated by LRST.   As you point out Jim’s experience in this area provides a unique opportunity for us and we anticipate working with Guardian’s network to help expand both businesses. 

 DR:  What advice can you offer other retailers on how to successfully compete against Safelite®?

MT:  I don’t think we are in a position to provide advice to anyone, but we are concerned as I’m sure many ARG retailers are with maintaining access to our customers who have chosen to have their vehicle glass serviced by one of our Guardian Auto Glass locations.   We will continue to direct our efforts and investments in building our local customer relationships, and retaining access to those customers will be an area of increased focus for us going forward.

 DR:  Where do you see Guardian Auto Glass in 5 years? What will make you and your partners feel that it will be a success?

MT: Our mission is to grow profitably through our local ownership model and to continue our expansion, so we will need to see how we measure up at the end of our 5th year.   We remain excited about the opportunities in the ARG retail market and will continue to seek strategic partners and existing businesses in all markets to help us reach our goals. 

 DR:  How’s your golf game coming along? I know that in some circles you’re considered to be a tough guy to beat in a game.

MT:  Must be very small circles, however I would welcome a rematch with you and others free from the constraints of customer golf.

DR:  Perhaps. I look forward to the opportunity to a rematch. Some of my team members I’m going to change out, as I would guess you will too. Loser pays?

Thank you again for taking the time to talk with me Marc. I know that many in the industry are looking for someone, some company to step up and take on Safelite. Perhaps Guardian Auto Glass can be one that does. Good luck in achieving the goals that you have for Guardian Auto Glass.

Just sayin’….

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Interview with Eric Asbery, President/CEO www.Equalizer.com

Today I’m talking with Eric Asbery, President of   Equalizer Industries, Inc., an undisputed premier provider of innovative tools and products for the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry in the world. The company was founded by Eric’s father Ray Asbery in 1987. Ray unexpectedly passed away last September 27th at the age of 67.

Over the years Equalizer has received many awards, including several “Best of Show” awards. Company executives have also received a variety of industry awards including Eric’s being recognized in 2007 by the National Glass Association (NGA) with its prestigious NGA “10 Under 40” award; in 2005, Equalizer Vice President of Sales, Gilbert Gutierrez was awarded the prestigious Len Stolk Award” and Ray was honored by being awarded in 2004 the “Carl Joliff Award” by the Independent Glass Organization, in 1994 the NGA’s “Professional of the Year” and in 1992 Inc. Magazine’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award. In fact, Auto Glass Week 2012 will be dedicated to Ray’s legacy.

Equalizer is headquartered in Round Rock, Texas which is about 15 miles north of the Texas state capitol of Austin.

 

DR:  Thank you very much for taking the time to answer some questions Eric. I’m a big fan of Equalizer and I only wished that the tools that your company has developed and brought to the market over the past 25 years would have been available when I first started as an auto glass installer 40 years ago.

Eric Asbery:  I hear that very often. As I was growing up, my Dad was transitioning from being an auto glass technician to a manager over several locations. I can remember him always talking about how there were no specific tools that technicians could use and that the taking glass out of automobiles was getting harder.

 

DR:  I know that your father got his start in the AGRR industry with U.S. Auto Glass. How did long did he work for Joe Kellman and what were his responsibilities while at U.S. Auto Glass?

Eric Asbery:  Actually, Dad got his start in AGRR as an installer in Louisville, Kentucky in the early 1960’s. He was hired in 1985 by Joe Kellman to manage the Austin, Texas market for U.S. Auto Glass. He worked there until late 1987.

 

DR:  What was the impetus for Ray to start the company and how was he able to envision the tools he developed over the years?

Eric Asbery:  Early in 1987, Dad and his technicians encountered the problematic 1986 Ford Taurus. It was a radical new design and the lower part of the windshield was attached by a thick, heavy bead of urethane that was nearly impossible to use conventional tools to remove it without breaking the windshield further. Many technicians were so frustrated by it that they resorted to just breaking it out with a hammer. One Saturday morning, after several of these tough jobs had come through his shop, Dad woke up with the design for the original Equalizer tool in his head. He went to work that Monday with the first Equalizer after building it over the weekend in our garage.

Dad was always inventing. He was a working man that really enjoyed working with his hands. He was always trying to improve upon any working situation he encountered. He listened to those around him, when they encountered a problem with their daily work; he always tried to make their job easier. Whether it was a tool or technique, it was very enjoyable for him to make work more productive for everyone.

 

DR:  Equalizer is known for its products all over the world. How did that happen and what are you planning to maintain and grow that presence, especially beyond North America?

Eric Asbery:  In the early days of Equalizer, we received a lot of attention on a worldwide scale. Every trade show we exhibited at or magazine we advertised in, people who did auto glass anywhere in the world were drawn to us because we were producing tools that hadn’t existed before. The timing was right and we knew it. We were fulfilling a need, right when it was needed the most. We simply focused on providing great customer service and the world came to us.

We now have over 100 different distributors worldwide; we are constantly traveling, researching current automotive glass installation trends and training the appropriate people necessary to satisfy the needs of technicians everywhere. As the global economy allows, we are always in search of new areas to market and support our products.

 

DR:  Equalizer has always been known as the dominant company for auto glass replacement tools. Do you plan to do the same for repair?

Eric Asbery:  The auto glass repair market is something we have always invested in. There are several great repair systems out there and we have carried several of them over the past several years. If our coverage of this market is consistent, then there is a chance we can become the dominant supplier. However, our primary goal is to ensure that any product we offer gives the auto glass technician the best opportunity to do their job effectively and easily.

 

DR:  Many people are always looking forward to the new Equalizer catalog. In the last several years, you also established a great presence on the internet. Do your customers still like to look through a paper catalog or is there a shift to see the products through electronic media?

Eric Asbery:  We have found that even though there is an ever-growing part of the industry that is becoming electronically inclined, most people still like to “flip through pages” of our catalog and that will be the direction we will continue to go until we sense that a major shift to electronic media is on the horizon. We think our catalog will continue to stay in printed form for quite some time but we always alternately develop and make available electronic versions of our promotional or marketing materials.

DR:  When did you join Equalizer and what areas of the company were you responsible? How did your responsibilities grow over the years?

Eric Asbery:  I have been at Equalizer since day one. My role at Equalizer, until 2005, had been directly related to developing Equalizer’s brand, image and marketing presence. In 2005, Dad (then 61) and I began work on my transitioning to the daily management of Equalizer. We both considered that transition complete in late 2010. Although Dad had never had any definitive plans for retirement, we all figured he’d work at Equalizer into his 80‘s. In retrospect, I am very relieved we had this foresight.

 

DR:  I know that many of the tools that Equalizer has developed over the years have unquestionably helped reduce countless injuries of auto glass technicians. The number of cuts, lacerations, back and neck strains requiring visits to hospital emergency rooms has had to have gone down by those using your tools and products. I know many companies supply auto glass technicians with Equalizer tools just for that reason. Hopefully this question doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable, but do you hear from those who buy and use your tool thanking you for how Equalizer tools make it easier for them to do their jobs?  

Eric Asbery:  It is a very humbling experience to hear from someone who has benefited greatly from something you created for them. We receive feedback from hundreds of technicians each year thanking us for offering these products to them. My favorite memories from over the years have been when a technician has walked up to my Dad or any of us working at a trade show or open house and proceeded to tell a “before and after” story about our one of our tools and how it has greatly impacted their life in a positive way. It is truly the best part of my job.

 

DR:  When new car models come out each year they often have auto glass parts factory-installed in ways that many responsible for replacing those parts feel were designed by diabolical design engineers who seem to try to cause problems. How quickly do you start looking for replacement solutions for those parts that could cause difficulties?

Eric Asbery:  We have a network of “Equalizer Inventors” who are mostly auto glass technicians who have worked with us to design or create products over the years that we sell and/or produce for them. These technicians will encounter new design problems during their job on a daily basis and within a very short time they inform us of it. In many cases, they will offer a potential solution based on their experience and that’s what gets the ball rolling to create a product that will simplify the experience.

 

DR:  With the sudden great loss of your company’s leader, mentor, friend and your father, what plans do you have in the future to continue to grow the business and provide the AGRR industry with leading edge and innovative products in your leadership role?

Eric Asbery:  Since the beginning of our company, our focus has been to serve the needs of auto glass technicians everywhere. We developed relationships and processes to ensure we have been on the leading edge of technology for this industry. Nothing has changed or will change in this area. This is why Dad founded this company, this is our purpose.

We are always on the lookout for the next big thing, the next viable trend. Be it a tool, a process or just an idea or concept. We will travel, learn, adapt and teach. We will continue to gain from the experience of technicians in the smallest auto glass shop to the biggest national chain. We will always listen, respond and provide the best products available. This is what we do.

Thank you very much for spending the time to answer my questions Eric. You have a great company and I wish you continued great success.  You and your team have provided the AGRR industry with amazing products. I know that many join me in anticipation of the next great product that you develop to further improve the installation process as well as the safety of technicians around the world. Thank you for all you and your company do.

Just Sayin’

Equalizer Industries, Inc.

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Interview with David Carnahan from Mainstreet Computers


Today I’m talking with David Carnahan, the owner of Mainstreet Computers, Inc. Mainstreet opened for business in May 1982.  Mainstreet is a leading provider of software solutions to the automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry. I’ve been fortunate to have utilized David’s software products to help manage AGRR businesses in the United States, as well as Canada. Over the years, I’ve found David as a businessman who has the highest of values, principles and ethics in operating Mainstreet. This April Mainstreet celebrates its 30th year in business.

DR:   Congratulations David! That is quite an accomplishment in the longevity of any business and one you and your employees should be most proud. How did you find yourself providing software solutions to the AGRR industry?

David Carnahan:  In those early days we sold to virtually any industry, but we concentrated on smaller businesses.  This was before the days of “off the shelf software”.  We wrote or modified our programs to suit each company we sold.  After selling to several glass shops we became more familiar with their needs and saw an opportunity to become a complete solution to glass shops across the country.  So beginning in the mid 1980’s we began focusing on glass and Glas-Avenue born.

 

DR:  What do you feel are the keys to your success in being able to build, sustain and grow Mainstreet Computers over the past 30 years?

David Carnahan:  Though there are many “keys to success”, I’d like to mention two …

1.     A mentor to Steve Jobs (the founder of Apple Computer) is quoted as saying that a company that lasts must be willing and able to reinvent itself.  I believe that is true and particularly true in the technology field.  When we started serving the glass industry back in the 1980’s we concentrated as much on selling hardware as we did on selling software but by the early 1990’s customers were better served buying hardware locally, so we changed our whole model and focused strictly on software and software solutions.  Then about seven years ago we extended that service into designing and developing websites which has proven to be a great “re-invention” as we have helped scores of glass (and other service industry) shops “re-invent” themselves and move from dying to thriving.

2.    A lasting company must have a long term mentality.  We have always hired people with the idea they would work here until they retire.  The cost in time and customer frustration of hiring and training new people is much greater that most people realize.  Most of our people have well in excess of 15 years with us.  When your people don’t expect to be around in a few years it affects every facet of the company from new product development to customer support.  It’s also makes the work environment more rewarding.

 David Carnahan (left) with Programmer Dave Daniels (right) who recently celebrated his 25th year with Mainstreet.

David Carnahan (left) with Programmer Dave Daniels (right)  who recently celebrated his 25th year with Mainstreet.

DR:  How would you describe your management style and who has been a great help to you in building your business?

David Carnahan:  I am a Christian and my faith impacts the way I lead the company.  I view Mainstreet as God’s company not my own, so I’m responsible to be a good steward of His company.  My philosophy is to find good people, treat them right and provide an environment where they can shine and excel in their strength areas.  I have a speech that I give prospective employees.  I tell them that I don’t believe in micromanaging, so … “if you’re the type of employee that only performs well with someone constantly looking over your shoulder to make sure you do your job, you won’t fit in here.”  Our people know their jobs and the mission of our company and they “just do it”.   I believe the longevity of our staff speaks for itself.

 

DR:  What lessons have you learned in growing your business that you think could be helpful to others seeking similar success?

David Carnahan:  Don’t give up.  Success is not an event, it’s a process.  I believe slow steady growth is much more stable than explosive growth. Never stop trying to improve and never take anything for granted – customers, sales or employees. 

 

DR:  What are the services that Mainstreet Computers provides to its customers and how have those changed over the past 30 years?

David Carnahan: We provide fully integrated Point Of Sale and accounting software to retail glass businesses – from small “mom and pop” shops to large multi-store chains.  We also offer website design and web hosting geared toward helping the glass shop market themselves and increase sales through the internet.  The biggest change in our strategy came 25 years ago when we began focusing primarily on the glass industry.  This strategic decision of ‘narrowing the focus to broaden the impact’ has enabled us to really gain an understanding of the needs of the glass industry.

 

DR:  How do those differ from your competitors? 

David Carnahan: Mainstreet is the first and only glass software provider to offer a fully integrated accounting system.  We wrote it ourselves and it’s specifically designed to work with our Point Of Sale program. Since we wrote it we fully support every part of it, so we’re the only contact a glass shop has to make for help with their software.  We are also the only glass software provider designing websites for the industry.

Beyond basic products, the other characteristic that sets Mainstreet apart is our level of support.  We have more people with more years of experience supporting our products than any other company.  We are relentless in our commitment to provide support that is unparalleled in the industry.

 

DR:  You’re an innovator in the industry. What were the main reasons you felt that strategy would work as successfully as it has?

David Carnahan:  The reason for our success is simple.  Mainstreet’s software and services meet a real need by enabling glass shop owners to benefit from technology without being or becoming technology experts.  We provide the technological expertise while they concentrate on running their glass business.

 

DR:  I very much appreciate your taking the time to talk with me today. In closing, is there anything further you’d like to share with the readers of this blog?

David Carnahan:  Thank you David for all you do for the glass industry.  You have a depth of knowledge and experience in this industry that is very rare.  I hope you continue to advocate for the independent glass shop owners.

Thank you David and thanks again for taking the time to talk. I know that you, your employees and company will continue to have great success in the years to come.

Just sayin’.

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Hopes for the New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sayin’……..

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