Archive for category USP

Just Sayin’ Blog – Rube Goldberg Machines and Business

I was recently sitting in an airport waiting for a flight and for 30 minutes I stood mesmerized watching an amazing sculpture designed by George Rhodes known as a ball machine. This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen one of these ball machine sculptures. The first one of Rhodes designs I saw was in the late 1980’s while walking through a terminal at Boston Logan Airport. I remember almost missing my flight watching and listening to the sculpture. This Rhodes sculpture at another airport attracted young and old alike. The sculpture really doesn’t serve any practical purpose, but is an intriguing piece of kinetic art. It’s hard to pull yourself away from watching all that is going on – a sculpture that often uses a combination of drums, cymbals, gongs and depending on your point of view makes either a virtual cacophony or euphony of sounds.

In a way these sculptures remind me of a Rube Goldberg machine. Wikipedia defines a Rube Goldberg machine as follows:

“A Rube Goldberg machine is a contraption, invention, device or apparatus that is deliberately over-engineered or overdone to perform a very simple task in a very complicated fashion, usually including a chain reaction. The expression is named after American cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg (1883–1970).”

An Example:

Rube Goldberg Guinness World Record by Purdue Society of Professional Engineers

________

Rube Goldberg and Business

While watching the steel balls that roll endlessly though the intricate Rhodes sculpture I started thinking about examples of how some businesses work effortlessly and continuously in a similar endless fashion. Businesses that provide the same exacting levels of customer service and delivery of a product (or products) over and over again that are a key to success. Some businesses have developed very simple processes to find success while other companies tend to overcomplicate processes in an attempt to achieve success.

While at the sculpture I was holding a Starbucks coffee and that company certainly comes to mind as a business that invariably delivers both simple and very complicated orders efficiently and effectively. This Seattle based company that got its start almost 40 years ago has today become the largest coffeehouse with over 23,000 locations in 64+ countries. I just order a Venti black coffee when standing in line at Starbucks. I can never tell if the barista is happy or somehow saddened by my straightforward order. A Huffington Post blog titled “The Most Obnoxious Starbucks Drink Orders“ details some of the complicated orders at Starbucks such as a ‘Venti Iced Skinny Hazelnut Macchiato, Sugar-Free Syrup, Extra Shot, Light Ice, No Whip’. Now that order would be a challenge to any barista fulfilling Starbucks “delicious, handcrafted beverages” mantra. It makes me smile when I hear someone standing in line ordering a similar concoction. It really doesn’t matter where in the United States or the world you place your order; Starbucks seems to always deliver the same level of consistent service regardless of the local. The company has obviously spent a great deal of time and effort in perfecting the delivery of consistent levels of service, but it all seems pretty simple to the casual observer ordering coffee. Everyone knows that you’re going to have to wait a bit when ordering one of the “delicious, handcrafted beverages” mentioned earlier versus my Venti black coffee order, but those who order the complicated drinks don’t mind. They know they are going to be rewarded with a delicious drink made to order by a barista that has perfected his or her craft. In plain sight the platform seems pretty simple. Do you think that behind the curtain there resides a Rube Goldberg machine? Doubtful.

Can you think of other businesses which deliver products consistently in a simple straightforward manner? Maybe FedEx, Amazon.com or even MacDonald’s could come to mind. Fortune Magazine lists 50 of the “World’s Most Admired Companies” and the top 5 are:

  1. Apple
  2. Amazon.com
  3. Google
  4. Berkshire Hathaway
  5. Starbucks

I’m sure you’d agree that each of these companies is the polar opposite of a Rube Goldberg.

I’ve worked in a business or two that have taken great steps to simplify business processes through employee training and the use of technology in an effort to reduce back office costs that keep company investments focusing on people and growing the platform. And I’ve worked in a business or two that seems compelled to use a Rube Goldberg machine mentality. I think that those who insist on making simple processes overly complicated could find greater success by streamlining operating procedures, but as long as shareholders are pleased with the return on investment, changes in operating styles aren’t likely to happen. In a highly competitive industry companies that are overcomplicated ultimately could be disadvantaged versus others in the same industry that have found ways to reduce the Rube Goldberg machine mentality.

Do you know of businesses in your industry which operate more like a Rube Goldberg machine (deliberately over-engineered or overdone to perform a very simple task)? I’m sure that you do. Noted management doyen Peter Drucker is quoted as saying:

“Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”

It has to be frustrating for people who work for companies that use complicated procedures or policies in an industry where other companies have found a simpler way of delivering the same service. I’m sure you can come up with some examples in your industry.

So, what’s it like at the company you’re working? Does your company operate more like an Apple, Amazon.com, Google, Berkshire Hathaway and Starbucks; or does it operate more like a Rube Goldberg? Imagine the potential for those companies that operate using a Rube Goldberg machine mentality that pivot to find a better way to provide the services or products they offer. If you look at your company and think you see an area of the business that might resemble a Rube Goldberg machine, perhaps you should seek ways to make it a little less complicated. Isn’t that what leadership is all about?

Just sayin’.

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Road Trip

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

Road_Signs2

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

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

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

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

Just sayin’.

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Disruption Innovation in Business

 

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

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

Image

Courtesy of TomFishburne.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is another definition of disruption innovation:

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

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

Just sayin’.

 

 

 

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

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

 

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Wind at Our Backs? – Part III

Last September and December I wrote blogs titled “Wind at Our Backs?” and “Winds at Our Backs? Part II” writing that “it appears that we may have some wind at our back” when looking at the key drivers (the weather, the economy and miles driven) of the automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry. If you focus mainly on the weather as a key driver and look at what we’ve experienced in the United States this past winter, many would describe it as harsh or brutal in much of the country. Based on the weather over the past week, even though the vernal equinox or the first day of spring arrived on March 20, 2014, our winter really hasn’t seemed to have ended yet. I live in Chicago and this past winter was the coldest (December – March) ever on record and snowiest (9.7 inches from snowiest on record – 1978-79 as reported by the WGN-TV Weather Blog) I’ve ever experienced anywhere, except maybe for one when I lived in Montreal.

Chicago Lakefront 2014x

Chicago/Lake Michigan February 2014

The Old Farmer’s Almanac forecasted that the 2013 – 2014 winter season would bring us colder weather and heavier snowfall in many sections of the country and for those who were hoping that the forecast would come true they weren’t disappointed. Stretching from the Rockies to the East Coast the weather has been a big boon to the industry with extreme or unseasonably cold weather that included snow and ice storms. I’ve talked with a number of retailers and suppliers who had a great first quarter of 2014 which followed a rather lackluster 2013. One supplier told me, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, that on a trailing twelve months he looked like a genius since all the strategies that his company had used in the past year to increase business had really paid off.

Starting in 2011 The Weather Channel started naming winter storms that are strong enough that meet the criteria set by the prognosticators. For the winter of 2013 – 2014 The Weather Channel’s list of 26 alphabetical names were developed with the help of a Bozeman, Montana high school Latin Class. The potential storms this winter began with the name Atlas and will end with Zephyr. Through today there have been 24 named storms with the current storm that hit the Upper Midwest with up to 18” of snow before heading off to Canada. Since it is now the first week of April and a couple of weeks since the first day of spring winter storm Xenia is dumping snow in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa. Enough already. Although this winter may have been good for some in the AGRR industry I’m thinking of it more like a Dr. Seuss book I read countless times to my sons when they were growing up – “Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!

 

When you look back at this past winter named storms starting out with Atlas in early October that delivered feet of snow from the Rockies to the Upper Plains winter storms kept hitting almost every week including some areas that haven’t seen much in the way of winter weather for a few years. In early February starting out in Georgia and hitting especially the Atlanta metroplex were a couple of storms that CNBC described as a catastrophic ice storm that effectively shut down Atlanta for several days before continuing on up the east coast wreaking havoc along the way. In early March the greater Dallas-Fort Worth and North Texas area got hit with an ice storm that crippled the metroplex. The Carolinas got hit by a couple of storms in February and March with the last one being Ulysses hitting around March 10th. If you live in the North you expect to get snow and you’ve learned how to deal with it, but it’s not quite the same below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Every year there is a contest that awards a trophy called The Golden Snowglobe that recognizes the snowiest city with a population of 100,000+. The trophy typically goes to Syracuse, Rochester or Buffalo, New York each year, but as of today it appears that for the winter of 2013 – 2014 the winner for The Golden Snowglobe will be Erie, Pennsylvania with 137.2” of snowfall.

For this blog I’m not going to address the economy or the miles driven. Neither of those has really changed all that much since my December blog. Regardless whether you feel the wind is at your back or not, you and your employees are the key driver(s) in your business. How you’re dealing with the various opportunities and obstacles that you face each day in your business determines the success you achieve. All that really matters is what is going on in the market or markets you operate and I hope that you’re achieving success in the markets you compete.

As good a predictor that The Old Farmer’s Almanac was for this past winter, the prediction for the 2014 – 2015 winter season from this long-time source hasn’t been published yet, but I recently saw a very detailed prediction made by The Weather Centre for next winter. Please take the time to read and interpret all of the information and let me know what you think what the upcoming winter will be like.

Since weather is so important to the AGRR industry, in the coming months I’m hoping that you get some hail in the markets you compete. I know a couple of suppliers that think that could be their winning strategy for 2014.

Just sayin’.

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Just Sayin’ Blog – The American Dream and Garages

Have you seen the General Motors (GM) commercial selling the new electric 2014 Cadillac ELR? Interestingly you actually don’t know what the commercial is selling until the very end. When I started to watch it (click on this link to view) I recognized the voice of FX television show Justified bad guy Robert Quarles played by Neal McDonough. McDonough also appeared in the great film “Band of Brothers” portraying 1st Lieutenant Lynn “Buck” Compton who passed away in 2012. The commercial begins with our seeing from behind Mr. McDonough standing facing a swimming pool dressed in shorts and short-sleeved shirt in what could be a Southern California back yard. The actor starts out asking:

“Why do we work so hard? For what? For this? For stuff? Other countries that work stroll home; stop by the café and take August off. Off! Why aren’t you like that? Why aren’t we like that?“

Six quick questions and two statements set up the commercial. McDonough is then shown walking through his home pointing to his two daughters; then high-fiving one of the girls:

“Because we’re crazy hard working believers that’s why.”

“Those other countries think we’re nuts. Whatever…”

Next he’s seen walking down a hallway heading to the kitchen where he passes a newspaper off to his wife and continues his trek through his nice home.

“Were the Wright Brothers insane? Bill Gates? Les Paul? Ali? Were we nuts when we pointed to the moon? That’s right. We went up there and you know what we got? Bored. So we left. Got a car up there and left the keys in it. Do you know why? Because we’re the only ones going back up there that’s why.”

Mr. McDonough walks into an opening and then re-emerges dressed in a business suit and walks out of the house to his Cadillac ELR. He then delivers the overriding message, besides selling the ELR of course:

“But I digress. It’s pretty simple. You work hard, create your own luck and you gotta believe anything is possible.”

As for all the stuff. That’s the upside to only taking just two weeks off in August.”

“N’est pas?” (The French expression impossible n’est pas français is actually a proverb, equivalent to “there’s no such thing as can’t” or simply “nothing is impossible.”)

One heck of a great commercial in my opinion delivering the message of the American Dream being available to anyone and more importantly owning a Cadillac ELR of course. Wikipedia defines the American Dream as, “a national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work.” Sounds right.

The commercial clearly points out that you’ve got to work hard to get all the “stuff” you see from the beginning to the end of the commercial. No one is going to give it to you. Pointing out in a very quintessential American way the commercial finishes with “N’est pas?” – a French proverb meaning “there is no such thing as can’t”. Words to live by. The owner of Cadillac is GM and as everyone remembers the company went into and out of bankruptcy protection during the summer of 2009. In a way the commercial was an analogy of all that GM and countless thousands of dedicated employees accomplished – “You work hard, create your own luck and you gotta believe anything is possible.” Granted they also did it with the help of $ 50.1 billion from U.S. taxpayers….

The commercial hasn’t necessarily been greeted all that well by the some in the media as they view it as American being arrogant, but the very simple message in the ad is that if you want you can own a Cadillac as long as you work hard and do what you do well. Simple message.

This commercial follows one aired earlier this year from Cadillac called “American Garages” (click here to view). The commercial is pointing out the value of Motor Trend’s Car of the Year – the 2014 Cadillac CTS. Mr. McDonough does the voiceover for this commercial telling us:

“The Wright Brothers started in a garage. Amazon started in a garage. Hewlett-Packard and Disney both started out in garages. Mattel started in a garage. The Ramones’s started in a garage. My point? Some of the most innovating things in the world come out of American garages.”

This commercial finishes with “Ain’t garages great!” Indeed they are. I know many auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) companies that started out in a single garage.

It has been a long time since I’ve owned a GM product (a 1985 Chevrolet Station-wagon) and I don’t have plans on buying one anytime soon, but these two commercials celebrate what America is all about and why people from across the globe continually come to our shores. The opportunity to try like hell to catch the American Dream by working hard and then anything is possible, especially owning a Cadillac. Plenty of people work hard and then haven’t accomplished what they most wanted as their own American Dream, but it’s all about the opportunity. Nothing is guaranteed.

Don’t let any company or anyone keep you from whatever may be your American Dream.

You work hard, create your own luck and you gotta believe anything is possible.”

Just sayin’.

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Just Sayin’ Blog – What’s Your Line-up? – “Updated”

A little over a year ago I wrote a blog asking the question “What’s Your Line-up?” The genesis of that blog was a question I had been asked about who was on my fantasy football team. The question I asked in this blog though actually referred to who did I want to work with.

At the end of the National Football League’s (NFL) recent regular season, 5 teams switched out head coaches in hopes of finding new direction and sought after success. This annual event is known as Black Monday. With the NFL football play-offs in full swing and the field narrowing, all the teams that didn’t make it into the postseason had players cleaning out lockers and heading home to think about next season. For a variety of reasons, some of those players won’t be returning to their lockers next summer, but some NFL General Managers are quickly locking up the talent they feel is needed to find success for owners dreaming of holding up the Vince Lombardi Trophy at the end of next season.

We’ve seen a similar pattern taking place in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry haven’t we? There have obviously been a number of companies changing ownership during the past several years. Whenever there is a change in ownership that change often comes with different values and vision, along with a whole new way of doing business.

As with professional teams, every glass company wants to “put together the best team possible to ensure success”. If you have the right mix of team members in your business, achieving goals and finding success is much easier when you’re working hard to find that “special sauce” or recipe for success against others in your market.

Getting back to the original question, “What’s your line-up?” The real question is, ”Who’s on your team?” People are what make a business successful or not. It doesn’t matter what it is you’re trying to accomplish, its people that make any endeavor a successful one. You’ve got to show differentiation in what it is you deliver of course by using superior products and services versus those you compete, but its people that ultimately separate you from the herd and consistently drive above market results for your business.

If you’re running the New England Patriots, the Denver Broncos, the San Francisco 49ers or the Seattle Seahawks; you’ve assembled a team that is comprised of the best you can find. The NFL team owners, general managers and coaches that put together that “special sauce” and get through the regular season and playoff games intact get the chance to get to Super Bowl XLVIII and hoist the Lombardi Trophy at MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014.

Those teams that didn’t get into the playoffs are working hard to find team members to add to their rosters during the NFL Draft May 8th – 10th 2014.

As I wrote in the original blog asking “What’s your line-up?”…as “an auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) store or company you had better make sure that your team is comprised of the best”. With all that’s happening in the AGRR industry perhaps there is someone you know that’s a perfect fit for your team.

royalty-free-teamwork-clipart-illustration-1050836

Every player in the NFL wants to go to the Super Bowl, but few really ever get the chance. The best teams with the most Lombardi Trophy’s over the years: The Pittsburgh Steelers hold the most Vince Lombardi Trophies, with six. The San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys are tied for second with five each. The Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants are in third with four; and the New England PatriotsWashington Redskins and the Oakland Raiders are all in fourth with three.The best in any industry want to be members of winning teams. You always try to associate yourself with the best. And you know when you’re not.

So I ask again the questions I asked in December 2012:

     What’s your line-up?

     Who’s on your team?

     Who can make a difference for your company?

     Who is it that can help you make your company better than anyone else in the market(s) you compete?

     Do you surround yourself with the best you can find?

Just sayin’……

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Wind at Our Backs? – Part II

As 2013 comes to a close I thought I’d take a quick look back at a blog I wrote in September titled Wind at Our Backs? I suggested that “it appears that we may have some wind at our back.” The wind was related to the three key drivers of the automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry: weather, the economy and miles driven.

The Weather – I wrote that The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a pretty good record at forecasting winter weather. For the 2013 – 2014 winter season, the magazine forecasted that we would be experiencing colder weather and snowfall in many sections of the country. When you take a look at the past month the forecast seems to be a good one. I live in Chicago we’ve seen January and February cold in December already. And we’ve had snow too. If you believe that cold, ice and snow are good for the AGRR industry and you live in markets that experience them, the start of winter in many areas has been good. The map below shows the snow cover in the United States as of today.

us_snowcover_large_usen_600x405

Let’s keep hoping for cold, ice and snow for the rest of winter 2013-2014.

The Economy – Economic news continues to be positive with the United States Department of Labor – Employment Situation Summary reported that unemployment rate declined in November to 7.0% from October’s 7.3%. The major U.S. Indexes have soared to new highs the past month, but as someone I know always says “so far things are going well today, but it’s early”.

The Los Angeles Times reported in an article this week titled “U.S. economic recovery is expected to gain strength in 2014” stated, “The nation’s economic outlook has vastly improved in recent weeks with signs of stronger job growth, bigger gains in personal incomes and an improving housing market.” The article pointed out that the economic outlook for the country has improved sharply and that consumer buying is influencing businesses to hire which means that confidence in the both the long and short-term economy.

The positive economic outlook is reported at a national level but what really matters is how are things going in the market or markets you compete. I hope things are going well in the markets in which you compete.

Miles driven – On a trailing twelve months ending September 2013 the U.S. Department of Transportation–Federal Highway Administration (FHA) reports that travel overall was up 1.5% or 3.7 billion vehicle miles versus September 2012. For all of 2013 versus 2012 miles driven is up 0.4%. The only area of the country not reporting an increase year-on-year was the West with a 0.2% drop. The South-Atlantic and the South-Gulf regions both reported a 2.4% increase, along with a 2.0% increase in the North-Central and the North-East a 1.0% increase. Overall miles have increased 9.8 billion miles driven so far in 2013. The September 2013 Travel Monitoring and Traffic Volume report was good news for the AGRR industry.

An improving economy is helping to fuel this increase in miles driven, but so is the drop in the cost of oil. The graph below shows the rise and fall of gasoline prices during 2013 and as you can see prices are trending lower.

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Lower gasoline prices are obviously positive for your business and its helping to increase miles driven by consumers. Let’s hope that 2014 continues this trend.

As reported in an article titled “U.S. roads, bridges are decaying despite stimulus influx” that appeared in the USA Today earlier this year, “Indeed, just 38% of the pavement on roads stretching miles across the USA is in “good” condition…” Bad roads are good for the AGRR industry and as the article points out, “The cumulative cost of these tattered roads isn’t just about dollars and cents. Though poor pavement conditions do cost consumers billions annually in vehicle repair…” With government budgets tight both at a national and state level we’re probably not going to be seeing much money spent on fixing roads and the money that is spent will probably be short-term.

The three key drivers appear positive at the moment. You can probably argue that there are other key drivers in your business today such as the competitors you face in a market. As I’ve mentioned before I believe that you are the key driver in your business. You and the people you surround yourself. Taking advantage of opportunities in the marketplace the best you can as they come up will make the difference in how 2014 starts for you in your business. In talking with a number of people I know in the industry 2013 and the past few years have been tough.

With the three key drivers turning positive as we close 2013 and if you agree that the wind is at your back, what are you going to do in the next year to make your business stand out and drive success?

I hope that you have a Happy Holiday and that the New Year will most definitely be a very good year.

Just sayin’.

 

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Doing the Right Thing Isn’t Always Easy

Whether you are an auto glass shop owner or an auto glass technician working in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry, following the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standard® isn’t easy, nor should it be. The AGRSS® Standard has rules and best practices which requires a higher level of diligence and reporting to be adhered to on the part of both the auto glass company and its technicians. Deciding as a company to fully embrace the standard and fulfill all of its requirements separates your company and your auto glass technicians from other companies which you compete. As a company you make the decision to follow the AGRSS® Standard then take the additional step and join the Auto Glass Safety Council™ as a registered company. Being a registered company requires that you participate in the non-profit organization’s Validation Program. Understand that if you’re a registered company, following the standard tells your customers that you are willing to open yourself to a 3rd party validation and inspection to ensure that you indeed follow the rules of the standard.

For the purposes of full disclosure, I sit on the board of directors of the Auto Glass Safety Council™. The Auto Glass Safety Council™ consists of countless industry members who donate their time and efforts to maintain the standard. They and/or the companies they work for pay for the time and travel required to spend working on behalf of the AGRSS® Standard. No one is paid for the work that they do.

By following the AGRSS® Standard you set yourself apart from others in the industry that’ve chosen not to do so; whether for reasons of profit, lack of knowledge or perhaps that you just don’t care about the safety issues involved. I’m not sure what would cause a company to not follow AGRSS®, but it has to be for one of those reasons. There are 8 deliverables that an auto glass company must adhere to comply with the standard. They are:

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Adhering to the AGRSS® Standard requires that you follow all 8 of the above deliverables. Does your company follow the standard and the deliverables? How do your customers know that you do?

A number of networks and/or third party administrators (TPA) require that auto glass shops that do replacements on the behalf of network customers replace glass according to the AGRSS® Standard. How is it possible for those networks to know that each replacement is actually performed to the standard? The only way for a network to confirm that every glass replacement is completed according to the standard is to require membership of every glass shop that does work on its behalf. No network or TPA, to my knowledge, requires 100% of the glass companies that do its replacements be members of the Auto Glass Safety Council™ to validate that its members are indeed completing replacements according to the AGRSS® Standard.

There are insurance companies that require auto glass shops that do replacements for their policyholders to complete them according to the AGRSS® standard. But what, if anything, do those companies do to enforce their own requirement? I’m not sure the answer to that question, but I’m not aware of anything more than an auto glass company being required to just say that they do installations according to the AGRSS® standard.

Do insurance companies ask you to install used glass on older cars or on cars involved in collisions? That claim has been made recently and that request is not allowable under the AGRSS® Standard. If asked would you install a used part in a consumer’s car when you can’t determine how it may have originally been installed?

Here are a few questions that are important to ask if you say you follow the standard, but don’t use a 1 to 4 hour fast cure Safe Drive Away-Time (SDAT) urethane:

·         If you’re an auto glass shop that uses a urethane that requires 24 hours or more to provide a SDAT do you actually inform your customer that they can’t drive their car for 24 hours?

·         Do you really think that if your customer is told that the car isn’t safe to drive for 24 hours that they actually will follow your instructions?

·         What do you think happens when you do the installation at their place of work knowing that they will be driving at the end of the day?

If the urethane you’re using requires a specific humidity and/or temperature level to cure properly, do your auto glass technicians have equipment with them that tells them that they are in compliance with the urethane they’re using?

What do you do if you encounter rust when doing an installation? Do you do the repair required to ensure that you comply with the standard? Do you go ahead with a replacement when there is rust damage that must be repaired according to the standard without actually doing all that needs to be done to ensure compliance? Would you walk away from a job if the customer won’t do what is required to fix a rust issue? It’s not easy to follow the AGRSS® standard.

To be sure, to do all that is required to be done by an auto glass company, auto glass technicians that perform the replacements and those who are tasked to keep proper records to execute all of the deliverables of the AGRSS® Standard isn’t easy as I said, but it is certainly achievable by companies and auto glass technicians that care. Fully knowing that a company or network or TPA that professes it follows the standard can certainly be called into question. The only way to know if some company is truly conforming to the standard is to be validated it by an independent 3rd party company.

The standard is a challenge. It is made to be. Validations can only be confirmed by an independent 3rd party organization approved to complete the inspection of an auto glass shop that says it adheres to the standard. To proclaim that you follow the AGRSS® Standard and not also back it up with an independent 3rd party verification would be similar to saying that the Affordable Care Act and HealthCare.gov has been a rousing success from its rollout on October 1st. The Affordable Care Act and HealthCare.gov may indeed ultimately provide what some profess that it will provide, but just saying so doesn’t mean that it has or will.

By the way, just because you are a registered company with the Auto Glass Safety Council™ and follow the AGRSS® Standard doesn’t mean that insurance companies or consumers will beat a path to your door. Not yet anyway. Doing the right thing when it comes to ensuring your customers safety should be enough.

There will certainly be those who read this blog who will disagree with me as to the “how” we ensure that consumers are protected when it comes time to having their glass replaced, but ensuring that consumers receive adequate protection when having auto glass replaced should be a concern to us all. That is of course if you care about consumers and the AGRR industry you wish to participate.

Just sayin’.

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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.

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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 – Wind at Our Backs?

As we near the end of the first three quarters of 2013, it appears that we may have some wind at our back. There has been some slight improvement in a couple of the key drivers of the automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry. The key drivers of the AGRR industry are weather, the economy and miles driven.

 

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has been published since 1792 and is “North America’s most popular reference guide and oldest continuously published periodical”. Forecasting the weather is a specialty of the Almanac and the publication touts an 80% success rate at correctly forecasting winter weather. The Almanac recently published the weather maps for 2013 – 2014. The Almanac is forecasting the following weather for regions they report for this coming winter:

  • The Northeast a winter milder in the North and colder in the South with slightly above average snow in the region;
  • In the Atlantic Corridor a colder winter with snowfall above normal;
  • The Appalachians will see a colder winter with snowfall near normal;
  • The Southeastern United States will see colder weather and above normal snowfall;
  • In the Lower Lakes temperatures will be slightly milder with below normal snowfall;
  • In the Ohio Valley area winter will be colder, along with below normal snowfalls;
  • The Upper Mid-West will be a mixed bag with a warmer winter in the eastern part and below normal in the western part of the area. Snowfall will be above normal;
  • The Heartland will be colder than normal this winter and snowfall near normal;
  • The rest of the country is expected to be colder than normal with average to above average snowfall;

All-in-all a mixed bag with the weather and I hope that wherever your business is located you’re benefited by a colder and snowier winter.

The economy is also a bit of a mixed bag. Positive news came from new car sales which can be an important factor in an improving AGRR industry. J.D. Powers detailed year-on-year improvement in new-vehicle sales in the United States by reporting in their August 2013: Monthly Automotive Sales Forecast that “August new-vehicle sales reached the highest level in seven years.” The report went on to state, “New-vehicle retail sales in August 2013 are projected to come in at 1,270,400 units, 12 percent increase from 2012”. That’s great news for the AGRR industry. J.D. Powers is predicting growing new-vehicle sales for the remainder of 2013 and well into 2014. Really great news for the AGRR industry!

CNNMoney reported this past week in an article titled, “Jobless claims fall to 7-year low, but…” the rate of unemployment showed signs of dropping which is great news, but is tempered with the suggestion that it’s a result of people continuing to drop out of the work force. There are “11.3 million Americans who remain unemployed” the article reported with “three unemployed people for every job opening”. As with the weather, unemployment figures vary by region so its how your local economy is doing is what could affect how good your business will be in the next year.

The price of oil and how oil prices effect gasoline prices is another key part of the equation for the AGRR industry. As reported by the United States Energy Information Administration in the “Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update”, prices year-on-year through September 9, 2013 on regular gasoline show that prices are down $ 0.26. Lower gasoline prices are great for both the consumers we rely on for business and for all of those company vehicles providing mobile service. Hopefully the price of gasoline will stay low.

You can look at reports from the U.S. Department of Transportation – Federal Highway Administration (FHA) as positive or negative depending where you reside. The FHA showed in its June 2013 Travel Monitoring and Traffic Volume Report that year-on-year miles driven were relatively unchanged with a slight decline of 0.1% from June 2012. The news that miles driven is not showing growth wasn’t great news for the AGRR industry that thrives on vehicles out driving on roads, but staying level was better news than a drop.

So how are these three key drivers affecting your business and do you think the wind is at your back? Regardless of whether the wind is at your back or not, I think there is a fourth key driver to your business and it is the most important one for finding success in your business. That key driver is you. So how are you going to take advantage of the marketplace you compete? What is it you’re doing to make your business stand out among all those with whom you compete?

I’ve written in previous blogs “The Times They Are (Always) A-Changing” and “The Times They Are (Always) A-Changing – Part II” about the opportunities in the marketplace for AGRR companies. I strongly believe that there are opportunities for independents in our industry, but you’ve got to surround yourself with the best people and make sure that they are all committed to the goals and aspirations that you have for your business. If you haven’t got that you’re going to be struggling.

What else are you doing to separate yourself from your competitors? Look for ways to be successful and be relevant in your market so that you stand out. There is a recipe for success in your market and you’ve got to figure out what it’s going to take to make sure you find and keep being successful. It starts with you as you’re the key driver of your business.

If the three key drivers are beginning to turn to your favor and with the possibility of the wind at our backs, what is it you’re going to do in the next year to see that you not only survive, but thrive in the AGRR industry? It’s really up to you.

Just sayin’.

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