Posts Tagged consumer affairs

Just Sayin’ Blog – March Madness (and the AGRR Industry)

It’s my favorite time of year for sports!!

March Madness!!!

The 2012 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Men’s Basketball Tournament known as ‘The Big Dance’ offers 68 Division 1 basketball teams (27 teams are automatic qualifiers for the tournament by winning their individual conference tournaments and an additional 37 teams that are selected by getting the nod of the tournament ‘Selection Committee’ based on the teams “body of work” during the 2011 – 2012 basketball season), along with 4 additional teams that get a chance to play enduring an elimination round at the University of Dayton Arena the opportunity to lift the Championship Trophy and be crowned the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champion. To become the Championship team, they will have to win all 6 games they play in the tournament. The teams that will be playing this year will be announced beginning at 6 p.m. Eastern on CBS television this Sunday, March 11, 2012.

March Madness takes us to and from various arenas around the country ending up in New Orleans from March 30th-April 1st for the Final Four. The teams are ‘seeded’ ranked from 1st to 68th in 4 regional brackets with 16 teams in each bracket (1 plays 16, 2 plays 15, 3 plays 14,…….8 plays 9, I think you get the idea), along with the 4 play-in teams.

 It’s a fairly complicated process that pits the best teams in Men’s NCAA Division 1 Basketball against each other in competition for the title of National Champion. If you’re not fully engrossed in March Madness you can follow this link to learn more (2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Principles and Procedures).

‘The Big Dance’ is the culmination of an endurance test that starts in the fall of each year.  NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball is composed of 346 teams in 32 conferences plus 4 independent schools all starting the season working to get there’. The chances of reaching the tournament are 1 in 5. Those really don’t sound like bad odds. What makes March Madness a great sports event is the opportunity for an ‘underdog’ to reach the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, The Final Four or even make it to the Championship Game Final.

 It happens. In 1983 the North Carolina State (NC State) Wolfpack, coached by the legendary Jimmy Valvano (nicknamed Jimmy V), won what is considered to be one of the best Championship Final Games in the history of the sport on a last second tip-in by Lorenzo Charles after a miss by Derrick Whittenburg beating the favored University of Houston Cougars. NC State’s team was a ‘Cinderella Story’.

Last year the number 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Rams made it into the Final Four by beating the number 1 seed Kansas in an Elite Eight game. The Butler University Bulldogs, a number 8 seed, made it into the Championship Game (two years in a row – in 2010 they were a number 5 seed) where the team played the number 3 seed University of Connecticut (UConn) Huskies. UConn was the highest seed making it to the Final Four. What happened to all the number 1 and 2 seeds? They were all obviously beaten by lower seeded teams. UConn ended up beating Butler in the Championship Game 53 – 41.

I think that there are similarities between the March Madness process and the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry. Perhaps a stretch to compare the two, but it’s my blog so here it goes…..

Imagine if the AGRR industry had a Division 1 Tournament (there are 3 NCAA men’s basketball divisions, but Division 1 is made up of the top colleges). Would the company that you work for be invited to the tournament based on how you rank in the market or markets you serve? If your answer to that question is yes, then what ‘seed’ do you think your company would receive giving you a chance to get to the Championship Game? Does the level of work and the service you provide match up to those you compete with in your markets? Yes? Great! You’re invited to ‘The Big Dance’!!

Another prerequisite for participating in the tournament is one that the NCAA tournament has too. You can only play one team from your company. If you happen to be one of those companies that operate under multiple company names in the same market you can’t expect to get them all into the AGRR tournament as that wouldn’t really be fair, so pick the one that you think can take you all the way to the end and quit trying to manipulate your odds.

Now that you’ve done all that work to make it into the big dance, is your company a highly seeded contender or are you a lowly seeded ‘underdog’? In ‘The Big Dance’ the underdog has a fighting chance. Not a great chance, but look at how the Butler Bulldogs and VCU Rams did in last year’s tournament. It happens.

Oh yeah….I forgot to also mention that the big difference with games played during March Madness versus the regular season is the tournament rule that there is never any home court advantage. Home teams often get more fouls called against the visiting teams by officials who have a tendency to do so to keep the hometown fans off their backs. All games are held on neutral courts so there is no home team advantage. Sadly that rule is suspended in the AGRR tournament to give one team an advantage. Safelite® Auto Glass gets to play all its games on a home court.

When you look at the 4 different brackets of my imaginary AGRR tournament who do you think will be the number 1 seeded company? How will it do versus the number 68 team do you think? Obviously the number 1 seed in the AGRR tourney is Safelite® Auto Glass. One of their star players is a gentleman named Ryan. You see him on television all the time (someone told me that they were going to cut those TV ads way back starting January 2nd…..guess not).

A potential problem for all of you who’ve made it into the AGRR tournament is that Safelite® Auto Glass decided to take the number 1 seed in all four brackets. Remember I mentioned earlier that no company could play under different names, but I didn’t say that there weren’t advantages to being the big guy and they have so many players that they get into all 4 brackets as the number 1 seed. And Safelite® owns most of the basketball courts (markets) and it has cornered the basketball market (insurers, fleets and cash customers, even suppliers) so they get to make most of the rules in the tournament. Now who do you think has better odds to win? The chances for a ‘Cinderella Team’ getting into the Final Four are tough as the odds are Safelite® is going to make it in with all 4 of its teams. You can imagine the odds for my hopeful Cinderella making it into the Championship Game. Sadly non-existent.

It seems to me that it’s a foregone conclusion that Safelite® has achieved the ‘dynasty’ status that the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Bruins achieved from 1964-1975 (except for 1966 when the University of Texas, El Paso – UTEP Miners won and 1974 when the NC State Wolfpack won). The Bruins were coached by the legendary Coach John Wooden. But I’m still holding out hopes that someone, somewhere will be up to the challenge of taking on Safelite®. After all, since that 17-year run where the Bruins won 15 NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championships….they’ve only won one Championship Game since and that was in 1995.

One of President Ronald Reagan’s favorite jokes was,

Worried that their son was too optimistic, the parents of a little boy took him to a psychiatrist. Trying to dampen the boy’s spirits, the psychiatrist showed him into a room piled high with nothing but horse manure. Yet instead of displaying distaste, the little boy clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to all fours, and began digging.

“What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked.

“With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere.”

So I am optimistic that something will happen to level the playing field and give others a fair chance to realize their dreams of winning an AGRR Championship Game.

Just sayin’.

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ZIP Code based pricing

About a month ago on November 14, 2011, Nydia Han (link), a television news reporter for the local ABC Channel 6 Television affiliate WPVI in Philadelphia, reported on that station’s nightly news program about the auto glass replacement pricing by zip code strategy that, according to the station, Safelite® Auto Glass was utilizing in the local market.  It was certainly interesting and entertaining to watch the 4+ minute “Action News Investigation” segment that Ms. Han presented on the television stations ABC News Channel 6 “Special Report” (link).  During the segment she asked this question:

“Is it fair for a company to charge you more for its services based on where you live?” 

ABC Channel 6 visited a Safelite® store location in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, asking about replacing a windshield and reported that they were told – “So book it online” – by the store.  She did just that by getting on a computer and going to the Safelite® “Get a quote” web page. It was there that she found that she first had to put in a zip code as required by Safelite® in addition to other required fields detailing the make, model and year of the car; along with the piece of glass she wanted quoted.  Based on her report she then started to put in a number of different zip codes in the area serviced by Safelite®.  Ms. Han reported that what she found was that “for the SAME windshield replacement on the SAME car at the SAME Safelite® shop” she got a number of different prices, depending upon the zip code used for the quote.  She reported that the prices varied about $ 80 for the same windshield replacement on the same car and the question she asked was does that pricing strategy model seem fair to consumers?

Based on the television stations investigation and report, the director of Philadelphia’s Consumer Affairs Lance Haver believes that it is not.  As Mr. Haver said in the report:

“It’s just wrong.  There is no two ways about it.  This is just wrong.  It should be one price for everyone; it shouldn’t depend upon where you live and how much they can gouge out of you.”

So why did Safelite® use zip code pricing?  Their spokesperson Melina Metzger was quoted in a glassBYTEs® article¹ as offering the following in response to WPVI’s investigative report saying:

“Pricing strategies are confidential.  This is a case of an investigative journalist attempting to create scandal where there is none.

Like all businesses, Safelite uses a dynamic consumer pricing model that fluctuates based on many variables, such as what other competitors the customer might choose to repair or replace your vehicle glass, the availability of a technician in [an] area, and the availability of the right part in [an] area. At Safelite, we believe our consumer pricing model to be fair and offer value.”

Okay, Safelite® certainly has the right to use any pricing model it would like to achieve its goals as does any other company.  It is an interesting model when someone on one side of a street who has the same car as someone on the other side of the street can be charged different amounts for the same item quoted and installed by the same store.  But in Safelite’s® defense, doesn’t every company have the right to price its products and services anyway it wants?  Even if the same store location actually does the work and/or those two different people in two different zip codes who might live across the street are sent the same installer to do the work on the same year, make and model of car?

I looked at a number of other auto glass repair and replacement retailers operating in a variety of markets as Safelite® and each of the retailer web sites I visited asked for a variety of customer information along with details of the car and what glass was needed to be replaced.  The web sites I looked at asked for zip codes only to determine what store was closest to the customer.  None offered quotes online.  Each of those web sites also said that a customer service representative would be in touch via email or the telephone to follow up on the quote request from the customer.

Then I visited a number of other web based auto glass replacement quoting sites.  Each of the web sites I visited requested zip code information (In all fairness to them it appeared that none of the ones I looked at actually operated auto glass shops themselves and were aggregators selling customer replacement opportunities to others who would do the replacements).  Those sites require the zip code in order to know where the customer asking for a quote for auto glass replacement service is located. This is so that the web site can make contact with the appropriate retailer(s) who will actually be doing the work for their price quote.

I’m not sure what other businesses use zip codes in pricing models, but since I had some spare time I did a little unscientific survey of local Chicago area businesses where I live by walking around to a number of Walgreens Drug Store locations in different zip codes in the downtown Chicago area where I did a store-by-store price comparison on a variety of non auto glass products.  For my very unscientific survey I chose three different products

  1. a 7.8 ounce tube of Crest® Pro Health Fluoride Toothpaste Clean Mint ($ 4.99),
  2. a 6 ounce box of my personal favorite GOOD & PLENTY® Licorice Candy ($ 1.59),
  3. and a 100 count bottle of Genuine Bayer® Aspirin 325 mg Pain Reliever ($ 6.79).

Granted those retail items aren’t even remotely close to windshields, but I did say my survey was unscientific so I took some latitude.  Anyway, I found that with all of the Walgreen stores that I visited in my survey area, the prices were actually the same for each of the products surveyed.  I also checked their online web site where I found prices were the same. 

I then extended my survey to a few other online web sites.  I visited two very popular retail web sites called Amazon® and the iTunes® Store.  Neither asked for my zip code to determine pricing for the products I checked.

One last observation I made when visiting the Safelite® “Get a quote” web page.  I found it interesting and wondered why they asked the question:

“Are you thinking of filing an insurance claim?” 

If you respond – yes – you’re then asked to provide the name of your auto insurance company from a long alphabetized drop down listing.  Under that drop-down box there is a statement:

Asking your insurance provider about your policy coverage and deductible is not considered filing a claim in most cases. We can help you with information regarding your insurance coverage. (You can always change your mind before your appointment.)”.

It was easy getting a quote when I didn’t say that it was an insurance claim.  It wasn’t as easy when I answered that I was filing an insurance claim.  Do you think that the price would be the same if you said it was for insurance versus if it wasn’t for insurance?  I was just wondering and I’m…..

Just sayin’………

 

1  Articles reporting on Ms. Han’s ABC Television affiliate WPVI in Philadelphia’s report that appeared in glassBYTEs® Auto Glass and Insurance Industry News on November 15, 2011, and on November 16, 2011.

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