Posts Tagged miles driven

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 – 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 – 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 – 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.

ch

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 – 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 (Fall Update)

We are now in the last quarter of the year; so how has 2012 been for you so far? In the first month of this year I posted a blog titled ‘Hopes for the New Year’ and then wrote a spring and summer update to that posting. When you take a look back over the past 9 months pretty much all the hopes for 2012 I had have fallen short.

The first hope was that:

“Our industry is affected by three key business drivers:  weather, the economy and miles driven. Sadly we have no control or influence over any of these so I’m hoping for some luck for 2012.”

The weather this year hasn’t been very cooperative for the automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry. We started with a snowless winter in most of the northern states and as reported by HailReporter.com we’ve experienced about 2/3 of the hail storms that we had in 2011. You know that snow, ice and hail all are big influencers to auto glass breakage and all were busts (pun intended) this year.

Early in the year many experts forecasted the economy would be anemic. Most of those forecasts were accurate. Kiplinger.com provides a variety of information on financial advice and business forecasts via its Economic Outlook section of the website which they regularly update with current outlooks. As of September 27, 2012 Kiplinger reported that:

“The stubbornly tepid economy will persist for the rest of this year and next.”

“It’s clear now that job creation will continue at a sluggish pace in the second half of 2012.”

“The U.S. is likely to add fewer jobs this year than last — about 1.6 million, compared with 1.8 million in 2011.”

“Instead of lending, banks remain wary.”

“Higher gasoline prices pushed inflation in August to an annualized rate of over 7%.”

“Business managers will remain very cautious about expansion at least into the early half of 2013.”

Expect the recent roller coaster in oil prices to keep on going a while longer.”

“Rising prices of fuel and other goods pose a risk to the increased growth rate, even as consumers shrug off anemic job growth and continue to spend.

Not very positive views from Kiplinger’s relating to another key influencer – the economy – to the AGRR industry.

Miles driven had been trending upward this year, but with rising gasoline prices the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Commission reports that as of July 2012 miles driven starting heading lower again. Earlier this year many forecasted that 2012 would not be a good year for gasoline prices and it appears that the forecasts were fairly accurate. This is the time of year when historically prices decline, but even though the price of oil has moderated; issues with a number of gasoline refineries across the country has caused prices to go higher as reported by a GasBuddy.com blog. The AGRR industry would like to see miles driven go back to the peak levels of seen in 2007 – 2008 for this key influencer.

The second hope was that someone becomes a market leader for the AGRR industry. I’m not holding my breath, but I’m still hoping for that one. My third hope was for fewer imported (non OEM) auto glass parts in 2012 so that prices might be able to stabilize. There may be fewer imports this year, but that’s only because the overall market size is down. The fourth hope was that every windshield be installed according to the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standard – AGRSS®. It’s the right thing to do for your customers.

 

The fifth and final hope was that somebody would step up and compete against Safelite® at the both the retail and network level. It was a tall order considering the extremely envious dominant position that it enjoys with its strong retail and network. It’s not as though there aren’t individuals or companies at all levels of the AGRR industry with the unrelenting goal (and hope) of providing consumers with an alternative. At some point you have to believe that insurers and fleets might become wary of the tremendous influence the market leader has achieved with its dominant market position. It’s hard for me to see how Safelite® could maintain its market position or really grow its market share larger long-term. Unless they are willing to restart its acquisition program or maintain the onslaught of media advertising over the long-haul it’s going to be tough for Safelite® to move its sales upward in a meaningful way. Time is running out this year, but who knows what the New Year will bring.

 

Here’s hoping that in the last three months of 2012 you’re seeing positive signs pointing to improvement in your business or at the place that you’re working.

Just sayin’……….

 

 

Cartoon courtesy of Tom Fishburne

 

 

 

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Inconvenient Truth(s)

An inconvenient truth is a truth that no one likes to admit, but it is the truth nonetheless. A number of these inconvenient truths exist in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry and everyone in the industry deals with them every day.

 

 

Over the years it has become more and more difficult to find success in the AGRR industry. Once upon a time, anyone could own a retail auto glass company and survive, but I think that has changed. One inconvenient truth is that some in our industry aren’t going to survive. As an owner you’ve got to master many new tasks that didn’t even exist 10+ years ago and some owners just aren’t capable of doing so. As a business owner you’ve got to figure out how to attract customers, especially in a time when the weather, the economy and miles driven are working against your business.

As we entered the new millennium, who in our industry really would have seen the need to understand the concept of search engine optimization (SEO) for a “website”? Who would see social media sites such as Facebook™, Twitter™, Craigslist, etc. becoming such an important way to market and communicate with customers; or that the Yellow Page Book™ that we once relied on would become a relic of the past?

Who, other than Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple®, would have thought that you could ask someone called Siri, the lady that lives inside my iPhone to list the “closest auto glass shops” near where I live in Chicago. Siri told me “Careful with the broken glass, David,” and then she gave me a listing of fifteen AGRR shops with two names (Safelite® Auto Glass and Gerber Collision & Glass) you’d easily recognize in the market because both are big advertisers in the local media. I also told Siri I was looking for “auto glass in Chicago” and she told me “I found fifteen glass repair shops in Chicago:” followed by a slightly different list of companies, but including the same two names aforementioned. Somebody is paying attention to their internet strategy aren’t they? Are you?

How convenient you make it for your customers to interact with you online will contribute to your future success. If you’re not willing to embrace innovative ways to grow your business in the ever changing marketplace you compete, you will not attract the customers willing to pay you the best price for the products and services that you provide. The truth is that if you’re going to survive and thrive as an AGRR retailer or as a network, you have to know that no one is going to turn the clock back to make it easier for you to be successful in your business. You have to compete in the marketplace with the hand that is dealt to you each day and if for some reason the way business is done changes tomorrow, you’ve got to figure out how to deal with it.

 

Another inconvenient truth is that AGRR networks provide great value to the clients that utilize the various services offered. As much as those who don’t participate in networks complain about the existence of them; clients vote with their feet and they obviously perceive value in the bundled services that networks provide. Can, or will, that change? Certainly it can change, but in the absence of a client deciding to take back direct responsibility for managing its AGRR losses (or a new platform that could take the place of the current networks that operate in the AGRR industry) it’s unlikely. We could certainly see movement of clients from one network to another network in the coming year(s) of course; and depending upon the relationship that your company has with the network that “wins” a new client you can hope that more profitable jobs come your way. But if that hope is what you need to make your business successful you might look for another source of jobs that you have more control over.

 

And staying on the topic of networks; I don’t think that a network that utilizes a “buy/sell” or “spread” (when the network “buys” the glass repair or replacement from an AGRR retailer providing the repair or replacement and then “sells” the repair or replacement to its client at a higher price) pricing model for its clients can continue to exist long-term in the marketplace. Relying on the AGRR retailers who actually do the repairs and replacements to accept lower and lower prices, while continuing to provide high quality repairs and replacements has to someday hit a wall. At some point AGRR retailers will push back and the networker that only makes profit on the “spread”  is going to have difficulty providing its clients with the same levels of service other competitors can provide in the marketplace. Those networkers must know this.

 

You can’t really find the greatest success in your business without surrounding yourself with the best people you can find. Basketball legend John Wooden was quoted as saying,

Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.” 

Sound advice from a true winner.

If you’ve been in the AGRR industry for a while you’ll remember one of the true gentlemen that help build it –Larry Anderson, President of Harmon Auto Glass back when it was a part of Apogee Enterprises, Inc. On his office desk in Minneapolis there was a small sign that read “Delegate Authority. Ruthlessly.” Larry surrounded himself with many of the best in the industry. There are some owners in the AGRR industry who don’t value the people that work for them. You can’t be successful if you don’t take care of those who work for you and let them have a voice.

 

Yet another inconvenient truth is that just because you have money, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to find success in the AGRR industry. History has proven that businesses owned and managed by those who have direct experience in the industry find the greatest success. Sadly, those that don’t have the experience, regardless of the size of their checkbooks, historically have tended to not be successful.

 

In writing my blog posts over the past year I’ve tried to raise issues about which I think those in the AGRR industry (or are associated with it) should give thought. I know that there are more inconvenient truths regarding the industry that no one likes to admit that I’ve not touched on, so please let me know what yours are.

Just sayin’……

 

  

 

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Just Sayin’ Blog – “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”


In the current presidential election season I’ve been seeing several news outlets play clips of Ronald Reagan in 1980 during the presidential election when at the end of a debate with then President Jimmy Carter he asked a question to the viewing audience,

“Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

The question Reagan asked was a seminal moment during that year’s presidential campaign with the majority of voters answering with a strong “NO” catapulting Reagan into the Presidency.

 

It made me think about how those who compete in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry are doing this year compared to the past one, two, three or more years. Are you, your family or the company you work for better off this year than the past few years?

 

This past week I attended Auto Glass Week 2012 (AGW) in Louisville, Kentucky and while there I talked with a number of attendees who all work in the AGRR industry. I spoke with retailers, wholesalers, distributors, suppliers and networkers; and I didn’t get very many positive answers to the question “are you better off?”..… That’s not to say there weren’t those in attendance who felt that their company was doing better this year than over past years, but since I asked the question at an industry conference even people who aren’t doing better may be trying to put a more positive spin on their own story.

 

While at AGW I had several retailers tell me that they’ve been looking closely at what they’re currently allowed to charge to insurers for replacements versus their costs to acquire the part to be replaced, cost of labor and benefits, the cost of urethane (and primer cost if needed), fuel costs for mobile vans, insurance costs, etc. Each of them told a story that they had seen profit margins shrink over the last year or years. One retailer told me about a customer for whom he had replaced a windshield for a few years ago and again replaced the windshield in the same car. The customer happened to be insured with the same insurance company and they still had the invoice from the first replacement in the cars glove box. When the retailer looked at that prior invoice and then looked at the current invoice, with the pricing that he’s allowed to charge under the insurance pricing guidelines, he saw that he was getting less money today for the same replacement. More than a little surprised when he got back to his store he went back to look up what he had paid for the part and urethane from a few years ago versus his current costs and found out that he actually paid more for the part and urethane this time around too. So he got less for the sales invoice and paid more for the part and required supplies to install it; and that doesn’t even take into consideration the increase in all his other costs.

He started to question why he’s agreed to the pricing guidelines and was also giving consideration about whether he should pull out of or stay in the pricing/billing mechanism required to bill for work he does for the network that the insurance company uses to manage its auto glass losses. He asked me what I thought about that. His idea which might be beneficial to some, could also be a very risky strategy for others. Still it is an interesting question to ponder don’t you think?

 

While talking with another retailer he was lamenting the fact that gasoline prices are killing margins. That’s understandable since the price of gasoline has gone up over the past year and depending where you live regular gasoline is up $ 2.00 a gallon since 2009.

The average price of regular gasoline on January 29, 2009 was $ 1.84 a gallon as per a ConsumerReports.org.

As per the American Automobile Association Daily Fuel Gauge Report the average price of regular gasoline today is $ 3.81.

By the way, in 1980 the average price of regular gasoline as per the website 1980sflashback.com was $ 1.25.

The retailer said that the price he’s paying at the pump to fill up mobile vans, along with the delivery surcharge he’s being charged by his auto glass supplier due to the rising cost of gasoline is a killer; with no opportunity to pass those costs along to insurance customers.

 

One supplier complained about competition from foreign suppliers in the market with goods of “lesser quality and price” putting even further pressure on wholesale prices.

Another supplier talked about the market size shrinking and suggesting that surely some weaker competitors will drop out of the market this year which could certainly benefit the stronger competitors.

One supplier mentioned that this coming winter was going to be a good one (of course meaning a bad one) since acorns are abundant and that woolly worms are darker this year and not as light as last year….  I said, “What?” He went on to explain what he read in the Farmers’ Almanac. I went online and looked up both of these legendary prognosticators of a bad winter and he was right! The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that when woolly bear worms are darker in color it signifies a bad winter coming. I found in the Farmers’ Almanac a story on when there are more acorns than normal it can predict a rough winter as well. I’m not sure about either as true predictors of this coming winter’s weather, but maybe if we all also cross our fingers; find a four-leaf clover or a penny face up; knock on wood; see a rainbow; rub a rabbits foot and don’t step on a crack, break a mirror or open an umbrella indoors………  I think you get the idea.

 

Certainly other costs of doing business have gone up over the past year or more which most AGRR businesses are bearing with little opportunity for upside revenue to cover them. Many of us have lived through lean years and bountiful years in this industry. It’s always been that way hasn’t it? Hopefully the pendulum will swing back to an improved time for the AGRR industry in 2013.

 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities 1859

 

The reality is that the current marketplace demands that everyone in the AGRR industry find ways to deliver or provide a superior product and/or service offering via a low cost model to combat those who are willing to deliver or provide a poor product and/or service via an even lower cost model, if you want to survive.

 

So if you’re asked the question,

“Are you better off than you were four (or one or two or more) years ago?”

what would your answer be? Obviously you are the only one that can answer that question, but here’s hoping that you’re surviving all the turmoil that’s been experienced by many in the industry over the past few years. And that the upcoming year will have a definite swing to the better for you, your family and your business. Wouldn’t that be a welcomed change? You bet!

Just sayin’.

 

Cartoon courtesy of weblogcartoons.com

 

 

 

 

 

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Just Sayin’ Blog – A Lesson in Perseverance

(Autographed Pin Flag from Ernie Els last major win in 2002 at The Open Championship held in Scotland)

Perseverance is a key trait to achieving success in any undertaking. It doesn’t matter if it’s a personal one or one that you have in your business life. It doesn’t matter whether the undertaking is a big or small one. The ability to maintain an unrelenting focus on any goal that you are pursuing requires you to work through the difficulties and obstacles that confront you.

This past Sunday you saw that trait in the 2012 Champion Golfer of the Year – Ernie Els – by his winning The Open Championship that was played this past week at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club in Lancanshire, England. The Open is the 3rd of the four majors (The Masters, The U.S. Open, The Open Championship, and The PGA Championship) which are held each year and where winning one of them defines a PGA Tour player’s career.

Sunday’s final round was a test for the 83 tour players who had made the cut after the end of the second round on Friday. Only Ernie and 8 other players were able to shoot under par on Sunday with Ernie carding a 2 under par. After 72 holes were played during The Open Championship this year only 18 golfers scored level par or better. Ernie was able to put pressure on Adam Scott who had started the final round in the lead at 11 under par and who led the tournament through 16 holes. Ernie made a crucial birdie putt on the final hole of his round that placed added pressure on Adam Scott who ended up bogeying the final 4 holes on Sunday and saw his goal of winning his first major championship slip away.

Ernie Els is a storied professional golfer who has certainly had great successes in his 22 year career, but at 42 years of age he hadn’t had a win on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour since 2010 (the Arnold Palmer Invitational) and earlier this year he was questioning whether he would ever be able to find a way to win again, let alone win a coveted major. With all the success Ernie had achieved in his career he seemed to have lost many of the considerable natural talents, along with ones he had developed over years of practice that together made him a successful PGA Tour Pro. Over the past several years he changed a number of people he surrounded himself with who he felt could help him find the right mix of ingredients that would allow him the opportunity to win again. As he focused on 2012 he had a number of heartbreaking near misses at winning tournaments which would have allowed him to gain an invitation to The 2012 Masters Tournament, a tournament which he had played for 19 consecutive years. Having suffered that professional setback to his career Ernie continued to work on his game, despite many opining that his career was over or certainly had to degrade to a level where he would be unable to again regain the level of play he had achieved.

Ernie’s ability to utilize all of his talents to emerge as The Open Champion this year is a testament to his perseverance. After winning he thanked his wife Leizl, along with his daughter Samantha and his son Ben for all the support they give him. Ernie also thanked a number of others who stood by him as he worked his way through the many issues that he faced in his journey to again win. And winning a major; a feat he felt he may have never achieve again, but did with hard work, dedication and perseverance.

If you operate a business in the retail or wholesale automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry; or if your business sells products to those in the industry, 2012 has probably been a year full of difficulties and obstacles requiring you to show perseverance. As I mentioned in a recent blog titled “Hopes for the New Year (Summer Update)”, the key drivers – the weather, the economy and miles driven – have not been trending positively this year and have been affecting many (6 out of every 7 of you in a recent survey question I asked) in the industry. Without those key drivers being a help to many in the industry, business owners and those who lead organizations are required to find solutions which will allow them to survive the negative environment we find ourselves. How you persevere and deal with the issues your business faces today will have a long-lasting effect on your business and for all the people who work for you. The various steps that you’re taking now will unquestionably determine whether your company will be able to take advantage of opportunities that will certainly exist in your market when the key drivers turn positive and business improves. What steps are you focusing on in your business to ensure that you’re in position to take advantage of your competition when the current environment begins to improve?

Ernie Els didn’t lose sight of what was most important for him to focus on during Sunday’s final round at The Open and that was his own game. He could only do his best, making the best decisions in ensuring that he played at the highest level he could which would allow him to post the lowest score possible and put him in a position to win. Ernie was able to accomplish that by changing his strategy on how he was going to play those final 9 holes. He knew he was lagging behind and that Adam Scott was leading by 4 strokes with just a few holes to play. Ernie decided that he would become aggressive in how he played those final holes. At age 42 he never lost hope that he could play with against the best golfers in the World and find a way to win. By utilizing skills he had accumulated over his lifetime; and with the help of those he surrounded himself and trusted most he once again found the path to success and to win and win a major.

It certainly isn’t easy to make the hard choices that business owners or business managers must make in order to be fully prepared for when business does improve, but those who just sit by and watch their market share dwindle as they hope for better days aren’t going to be in a position to take advantage of opportunities when they do appear. You have to be able to take an honest look at your business and assess the value proposition that your business brings to customers in your market, you have to evaluate the capabilities of your competitors and take all of the appropriate steps that you can to ensure that you are positioned correctly, which will allow you to take advantage when things do improve in your market.

Ask those people closest to you that you trust and respect for their opinions; solicit their honest views of the pros and cons of your abilities, of your company in the marketplace, ask them about their views of your fellow workers. Are you marketing your company properly? Are you just copying what your competitors are doing or are you trying new things to improve how your business operates? You can’t just sit back and hope for the key drivers to improve because they might not improve fast enough, you certainly can’t just sit back hoping that a competitor or two in your market will falter or that something else will somehow happen to improve your business prospects. You have to focus on what can you do to improve your business; without worrying what others are doing around you. What steps can you take to ensure that you’re ready when things turn positive for you in your market?

You will find that by your continually working hard to find ways to improve how you market or position your business to your customers, making sure that you have the right mix of talented people to work with you in your business and then ensuring that your business is operating as a “low cost” provider in your market that you will be prepared to find new success and to win in your marketplace when the key drivers begin to improve. Work through difficulties and obstacles that you face so that you can persevere.

Admittedly, sometimes even by working hard and being dedicated to your business things may not work out for you, but you can’t stop trying. Ernie Els never gave up on his goal. He believed that if he worked hard and continued to tweak his game; he’d find a way to beat his fellow competitors and win again.

So can 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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