Posts Tagged michigan

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.

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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 – Interview with Marc Talbert – Guardian Auto Glass

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

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

MT:  Thank you for the opportunity to participate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sayin’….

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Interview with David Carnahan from Mainstreet Computers


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

DR:  How do those differ from your competitors? 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Just sayin’.

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