Posts Tagged key drivers

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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Just Sayin’ Blog – Hopes for the New Year (Summer Update)

Image courtesy of Digital Cosmonaut

Is your glass half empty or half full in 2012? It depends upon your point of view.

Last January I wrote a blog titled ‘Hopes for the New Year’ and in March I updated the blog with how events were influencing that blog posting. In the original blog I offered the hope 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)”.

I’ve talked to a number of people across the country and, by virtually every measurement, the first two quarters of 2012 certainly have not been seen as very favorable to the AGRR industry, especially when compared to 2011. So far this year it has been a bust for the vast majority for most in the industry.

There are a few exceptions of course. With one of the warmest winters on record, 2012 has started out with little help from one of the three key driver’s effects the AGRR industry – weather. During the second quarter a few markets have had some favorable bad weather. If you happen to have a store(s) in markets that have had hail storms this year such as the greater Dallas metropolitan area that was battered by big storms earlier this month business has probably been GREAT. The storms in Dallas could cost insurers up to $ 2 billion in automotive body and glass damage as suggested by the Southwestern Insurance Information Service and reported by www.propertycasualty360.com. Those hail storms in Dallas, along with large storms in the greater Saint Louis, Louisville, Denver and Indianapolis metropolitan areas, as well as those in a few other marketplaces scattered across the United States have certainly provided a welcome benefit for some in the industry.

The second key driver for the AGRR industry is the economy and by most reports that’s not working to our advantage either. A number of United States economic metrics as reported by CNNMoney shows that:

  1. consumer confidence is at a five month low
  2. home prices are at the lowest level since 2002
  3. the annual Gross Domestic Product in the first quarter of 2012 is down versus the fourth quarter of 2011
  4. in May the U.S. manufacturing growth has slowed, the May jobs report shows that hiring has slowed and unemployment rose for the month
  5. after taking out the lowering cost of gasoline, retail sales grew by 0.1% overall in May and
  6. inflation was down .3% in May, but after taking out the impact of gasoline and food inflation was up .2% for the month trending at an annual rate of 2.3% year-on-year.

None of these economic metrics provide very much good news for how the rest of 2012 will fare.

Additionally, as reported by Bloomberg.com the Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke announced last Wednesday that if the job outlook didn’t improve in the near term that the Federal Reserve would move to further stimulate the U.S. economy and then last Thursday the U.S. Labor department announced that unemployment claims were trending up over the past four weeks versus falling during last fall and winter. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reports that the United States could slide back into a recession based on economic performance. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia announced last Thursday that “manufacturing conditions, the diffusion index of current activity, fell from a reading of -5.8% in May to -16.6% (in June), its second consecutive negative reading”. None of these reports point to an overabundance of positivity looking forward for the U.S. economy.

The U.S. isn’t alone in the world as the difficulties that we face on the economic front pale to the issues faced in Europe and if they don’t resolve their problems they could ultimately affect our economy. The European powerhouse Germany reported that manufacturing output was at its lowest level in three years, certainly not a good sign for the rest of Europe and anyone in the AGRR industry that compete in the European markets (i.e. Belron). And to add to the economic woes of the world, in June China hit a seven month low in manufacturing activity as reported by HSBC Group.

One key driver – miles driven – has been showing improvement. Earlier this year the price of gasoline was predicted to hit $ 5 per gallon with the rising price of oil, but with oil prices continuing to drop due to the poor world economy the national average price of a gallon of regular gasoline on June 18, 2012 was $ 3.533 as reported by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Reports shows the national average price of a gallon of regular gasoline at $ 3.411), consumers have been given welcome relieve. There was more good news for continued increases in miles driven as reported in an article titled ‘Gas prices could hit $ 3 a gallon by autumn’ that was published last Friday in USAToday. In a blog post in mid-March I included the picture below left of a sign at a service station at the corner of LaSalle and Ontario in downtown Chicago, Illinois. The picture below right was taken yesterday at the same station and as you can see the price is well above the nation average.

March 19, 2012                                                                                                                   June 25, 2012

The U.S. Department of Transportation – Federal Highway Administration had reported that the cumulative miles driven year-on-year through March 2012 are up 1.4% or 9.7 billion more miles driven. The graph below shows how miles driven historically have grown since 1987 until the downward trend that started in early 2006.

Increased miles driven obviously turn into more opportunities for auto glass to be repaired or replaced, but only if the “do nothings” actually do something. Sadly, figures on miles driven out yesterday for April 2012 versus April 2011 point to a reversal in the trend that we had been seeing in miles driven with the month of April being down .4% year-on-year. Not a good sign.

While taking with someone in the industry recently I suggested that you could add another key driver that affects the AGRR industry besides weather, the economy and miles driven. That fourth driver would be Safelite Auto Glass. With Safelite’s capture of the second largest insurer earlier this year, the majority of the U.S. AGRR retailers found a dramatic fall-off in repair and replacement opportunities for Allstate Insurance Company insured’s.

Safelite’s continued dominance in AGRR markets across the country and its constant advertising campaigns that are seen and heard via its television and radio commercials is proof that Safelite is working hard to continue to grow market share. Many AGRR retailers have been curtailing their own sales and marketing spend because of the slowdown in repairs and replacements. You can be sure that Safelite’s non-stop advertising during this slowdown will certainly pay big dividends when economic conditions do begin improve in the future.

I left Safelite in late 1989 and my boss at the time used to talk a lot about “the pendulum swing”. He was referring to a business adage – when sales are good the sales departments of a company rules and has the most influence so the pendulum swings to their side, but if sales are bad the accountants rule and the influence of sales departments wane. I’m not sure how that adage is playing out at Safelite today with my former boss at the helm of the company, but I’m pretty sure that accountants are certainly influencing the decisions being made in many companies today and that’s not good for the people who work at those companies or for the long-term success of those companies.

How’s business where you work? Are you seeing sales improving or are sales falling behind? How are sales affecting you?

In a previous post I wrote:

People are the ultimate key driver to any successful business. Companies that don’t recognize the incredible value that attracting and then keeping the most talented people undoubtedly will suffer when weather, the economy and miles driven have a negative impact on the business. Recognizing that employees are the key driver that helps every organization find ways to innovate, increase customer service levels and create value for all stakeholders will allow it to flourish and remain competitive in the marketplace.”

With all that’s happening and effecting in our industry today, “Be Smart in 2012” and take special care of the ultimate key driver in your business – your people……

Just sayin’……….

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Just Sayin’ Blog – It’s all a matter of perspective isn’t it?

Television station WAVE Channel 3 in Louisville, Kentucky, aired an investigative “Troubleshooter” news segment titled “Windshield fraud growing, costing drivers money” two weeks ago. The station reported on the sales tactics one company uses in the Louisville market (and other markets in the United States) to find customers who may be in need of auto glass replacements.

 In the segment, WAVE “troubleshooter” reporter Eric Flack spoke with a former auto glass technician from the company. The auto glass technician evidently had contacted the station with a number of accusations relating to his former employer. The story included interviews with a fraud investigator from Arizona, the director of the Kentucky Insurance Fraud Investigation Division and a gentleman that WAVE reported was a sales representative for the company that was the focus of the investigative report.

As someone who has spent the majority of my life in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry, the investigative report WAVE Channel 13 news aired made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Perhaps it did for you as well.

There are countless sales and marketing tactics that companies, large or small, use to market AGRR services to influence the decision maker(s) for the key customer groups – whether they are insurance, commercial or cash customers. The barriers that exist today for a small company attempting to access customers have never been higher. Many small companies find themselves in a position where it is very difficult, if not impossible, for them to compete for one or more of the key customer groups due to the changes that have taken place in how customers seek replacements or how insurance company glass losses are managed. Many companies are using more aggressive tactics to attract customers so that they can survive in the marketplace. I’m not suggesting that all of these various tactics are either right or wrong. You may hear the term “windshield bully’s” used to describe some of these tactics.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that an AGRR company would attempt any number of tactics to attract customers, especially when facing possible extinction. The weather, the economy and miles driven have been negatively influencing the market over the past several years. Everyone competing in the AGRR industry is scrambling to find the right recipe for survival in their market(s). I think that a fourth key market driver could be added into the equation and that additional driver is the dominant AGRR retailer, who also happens to be a leading insurance claims administrator, wholesaler and distributor as well.

The dominant retailer uses a number of its own sales and marketing tactics to ensure its position in the marketplace. Perhaps the key tactic is the ability for it to spend millions and millions of dollars on national television and radio advertising to attract current customers to its platform. This tactic also provides the opportunity for the dominant retailer to influence long-term customer choice as well. The attempt to influence customer choice long-term is very costly and not easy to achieve in the large diverse United States market, but it is a tactic that the retailer’s owner has used with great success across the globe.

Many in the industry view other tactics the largest retailer uses as being aggressive. One tactic competitors complain about is the attempt to steer an insurance customer that must file an auto glass loss claim through the retailers claims administration business to its own retail division; even though the customer has requested that another retailer do the work for them. How many of you have experienced that tactic when you are required to call the largest retailer’s claim administration division to file a claim with your customer on the line? I have heard many a customer service representative say to the retailer claims administrator while on a 3-way conference call with their customer on the line:

“You do know that I’m still on the line right?”

or

“I’m still on the call and you’re talking to my customer trying to take the job away.”

Has that happened to you and/or to your customers when they want to use your service for their glass needs? Is it possible that the largest retailer is the true “windshield bully”?

 

Whether you’re with the company that was highlighted by WAVE Channel 3 in Louisville or you’re the dominant retailer in the United States; many in the AGRR industry find some tactics cross the line of reasonableness, may go against the rules insurers have set for doing work for their insured’s or in some cases tactics may be against the law, but in the current environment companies may try things that they would have never have considered just a few years ago in order to survive.

It’s all a matter of perspective isn’t it? When looking through the eyes of two different competitors, one company sees the other company as being too aggressive or maybe a “windshield bully”, while the other is just doing what they believe they need to do just to survive when faced with the tactics used by others in the marketplace.

Just sayin’……..

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