Posts Tagged automotive industry

A Bump in the Road?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sayin’.

 

EPSON scanner image

Courtesy of http://www.TomFishburne.com

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Vehicle Miles Driven Improving?

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

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

Region

Total Travel

Percentage Change

North-East

38.3

0.0

South-Atlantic

55.4

2.4

North-Central

61.1

1.3

South-Gulf

53.4

2.2

West

58.6

1.3

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

 

Just sayin’.

 

complacent brands

Courtesy of TomFishburne.com


 

 

 

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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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