Posts Tagged safelite auto glass

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 – Auto Glass Repair & Replacement Industry Legislation in South Carolina ***UPDATED***

 

I have been following with great interest the legislative initiative that has been taking place over the last two years in South Carolina. HB 4042 is attempting to lay out the rules of engagement for all stakeholders (consumers, auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) companies, third-party administrators (TPA) and insurers) of the AGRR industry in the state. Since HB 4042 was first introduced on April 6, 2011 in the South Carolina House and in the South Carolina Senate on May 24, 2011 the bill has gone through several versions. Now that the bill was passed in its final form by the General Assembly on June 6, 2012, it awaits Governor Nikki Haley’s signature to become law. If the governor signs the bill it will take effect on January 1, 2013.[1]  ***UPDATE*** On June 20, 2012 Governor Nikki Haley signed the bill into law.

The bill as passed is meant to:

TO AMEND THE CODE OF LAWS OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1976, BY ADDING SECTION 39-5-31 SO AS TO MAKE IT AN UNFAIR TRADE PRACTICE FOR A MOTOR VEHICLE GLASS REPAIR BUSINESS THAT ADMINISTERS INSURANCE CLAIMS FOR MOTOR VEHICLE GLASS REPAIRS TO HAVE AN INSURED’S GLASS REPAIR BUSINESS REFERRED TO ITSELF OR TO USE INFORMATION TO SOLICIT BUSINESS.

Legislation typically requires compromise to reach agreement for passage and to be signed into law. The final version of the bill that was passed by the House and Senate chambers of South Carolina last week does just that. When stakeholders attempt to “improve” and influence legislation to provide their constituents their desired goals that they hope the legislation will achieve, legislation is generally weakened from the original version that was presented. That too happened. Is this bill a win win for everyone?

When you read through the bill and try to determine the sum of the parts, it appears that everyone got a little something. If you were a consumer you probably didn’t take any notice of the fight over this bill, but consumers did receive rights and protections to choose the provider they want to use if they file an auto glass loss with their insurance company. When a loss occurs many insured’s are looking for a recommendation as to what AGRR company they should use when they need a glass repair or replacement. If you’re a consumer insured by a direct writer (an insurance company that solicits and services business directly with the public through its own employees rather than through local agents[2]) and you have a glass loss you’re probably going to be directed to the AGRR company recommended by the TPA, even if it results in the TPA’s related AGRR company doing the work. Another positive section of HB 4042 is that when an insured makes a call to their insurance company claims department 1-800 number to report an auto glass loss; and the phone is answered by a TPA, the TPA that answers that call on behalf of the insurer must immediately tell the insured that the TPA is acting on behalf of the insurance company.

If you’re an AGRR company operating in South Carolina you certainly did receive some relief in the bill as there are restrictions on a TPA’s ability to attempt to steer your customer on a 3-way conference call. The bill does come with some reasonable restrictions as to the business practices that AGRR companies must follow when a consumer files a glass damage claim when insured in South Carolina. The bill has a number of important sections that restrict how an AGRR company markets to consumers who have insurance coverage for an AGRR loss. Some of the restrictions will place limits on the sales and marketing methods used by some AGRR companies who compete in South Carolina.

In the bill insurers received new mechanisms to protect its insured’s from those who attempt to improperly influence claims and the bill imposes penalties for those that are found using improper methods as defined by the bill. There is also language in the bill giving insurers the ability to pay only what is “fair and reasonable” for an AGRR claim and insurance companies may inform its insured that the insured could be responsible for paying any cost of an AGRR loss over what the insurer feels is a “fair and reasonable” price. There are additional provisions in the bill that would appear to benefit insurers regarding how auto glass losses are billed in South Carolina. I’ve detailed all of the provisions at the bottom of this blog post. Time will tell whether the insurers are happy with the final version of the bill.

TPA’s may refer an insured with a glass loss to any company that is a member of the TPA’s approved shops (including its own AGRR company) if the insured does not have a provider of choice at the time they file the claim. The TPA can require an inspection of damaged glass prior to replacement, but the inspector cannot refer or attempt to influence who the insured chooses to use for the repair or replacement during the inspection. If the insurer or TPA does not own a ten percent or greater ownership interest in an AGRR company the provisions of the bill do not apply. As with the insurers, TPA’s have a number of new rules that they must follow in the handling of auto glass claims for insured’s in South Carolina. Some TPA’s will have issues with this bill while others may not. A June 4, 2012 article in glassBYTE’s quotes a senior corporate counsel for Safelite as saying,

“We are very pleased with the compromise reached in the South Carolina Senate on HB 4042. We are hopeful that the House will concur and that it will be signed by Governor Haley,” says Brian DiMasi, senior corporate counsel for the company. “In the end, all parties came to the table and worked very hard to address their respective concerns. Safelite has always honored customer choice, and this compromise not only preserves that choice, but protects consumers by addressing the rampant fraud in the vehicle glass industry in South Carolina.”    

While many may have an opposing view to Mr. DiMasi’s comment regarding Safelite having “always honored customer choice”, I was surprised by what he said at the end of his comment where he stated that the bill “protects consumers by addressing the rampant fraud in the vehicle glass industry in South Carolina.” Rampant? Really? The bill certainly offers fraud protection for South Carolinians, but when you look up rampant in the dictionary you’ll find definitions such as “profusely widespread”, an “absence of restraint” and “growing wildly: growing strongly and to a very large size, or spreading uncontrollably”.

Does fraud exist in the AGRR industry? Does fraud exist in South Carolina? Certainly instances of fraud are committed by some in the AGRR industry, but rampant? I think that Mr. DiMasi’s statement is a grossly unfair characterization of the vast majority of AGRR companies that attempt to fairly compete in South Carolina by providing consumers who need auto glass repairs or replacements with excellent AGRR services at “fair and reasonable” prices.

I’m sure that one or more stakeholders see something in South Carolina HB 4042 that turns the advantage their way. With the passing of this bill in South Carolina the battle lines are drawn and there is a panoply of those interested in what’s next. Next year could bring another attempt in South Carolina to gain further advantage for one or more of the stakeholders, but the success that some see with the passing of this bill will help embolden legislative efforts to curb the activities of one or another stakeholder in other states.

Depending upon which side of this debate you support, all should give thoughtful consideration what it is you want. As the saying goes, “Be careful what you ask for,..” as to be sure there are always winners and losers in legislation passed into law and it’s possible that “…you might just get it”, but then again you might not get the outcome you were looking for.

Just sayin’……

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Additional information on HB 4042:

In its final version the legislation provides little wins for all stakeholders.

1.    Consumers get in the bill (or law if and/or when its signed):

a.    When filing an AGRR claim through their insurance policy the opportunity to choose who they want to do their AGRR claim and they can’t be required to use a particular provider. Both the insurance company and the TPA are covered under this provision.[3]

b.    Insured’s must be informed by the TPA that it is acting on behalf of the insurer and that the insured is not taking directly to their insurance company.[4]

c.    Once the insurer or TPA verifies coverage, both must find out if the insured has a preferred provider of choice for their AGRR claim.[5]

d.   If the insured’s provider of choice IS an approved vendor for the insurance company or TPA, the insurer or TPA must assign the claim and provide a claim number or reference number to the insured’s provider of choice.[6]

e.    If the insured’s provider of choice IS NOT an approved vendor for the insurance company or TPA, the insurer or TPA must confirm that the insured’s provider of choice will perform the required work at the insured’s rate of reimbursement for the work which is “fair and reasonable”. If the provider refuses the “fair and reasonable” reimbursement the insured may be told by the insurer or TPA that the insured is responsible for any amount over the reimbursement rate. The insured must be informed that they can use the provider of choice. The insured must not make statements about the warranty of provider of choice and refer any questions the insured may have regarding any warranty to the insured’s provider of choice.[7]

 

2.    AGRR companies get in the bill (or law if and/or when its signed):

The right to have an insured use them without interference if the customer chooses them as the provider of choice and they follow the rules laid out in the bill. The rules are:

a.    The AGRR company or anyone remotely associated with them must not:

                                          i.    Threaten, coerce or intimidate the insured into filing a claim;

                                        ii.    Engage in unfair or deceptive practices;

                                       iii.   Induce an insured to file a claim if the damage is insufficient to warrant a repair or replacement;

                                       iv.    Perform a repair or replacement for an insured without the approval of the insurance company;

                             v.   Suggest or represent that the windshield replacement could be free under the insured’s insurance policy or

                   vi. Market or advertise to consumers that could be insured’s who have an AGRR loss in virtually any way that their replacement could possibly be free under their insurance policy. [8]

b.    File a claim on behalf of an insured for a repair or replacement.[9]

c.    The insurer or TPA can require an inspection of the loss if they want by the representative of the TPA the representative cannot offer to repair or make suggestions as to who could do repairs during the inspection.[10]

d.    Violations of this section are subject to the provisions of the South Carolina Insurance Unfair Claim Practices Act.”[11]

e.    Notwithstanding the provisions of this chapter, the insurer has the right to inform the insured that the insurer will not guarantee the work performed by a provider that is not in the network of the insurer or third party administrator.”[12]

 

3.    Insurers and TPA’s get in the bill (or law if and/or when its signed):

a.  When an insured does not request to have covered glass repair work performed by a specific provider of choice, the insurer or third party administrator may refer the repair to a vehicle glass repairer who is a member of the insurer’s or third party administrator’s preferred network of providers.”[13]

b.   Strictly limits who can file an insurance claim for an AGRR loss.[14]

c.   The insurer or TPA can require an inspection of the loss if they want by the representative of the TPA the representative cannot offer to repair or make suggestions as to who could do repairs during the inspection.[15]

d.    The provisions of this section do not apply to insurers or third party administrators who do not have a ten percent or greater ownership interest in a vehicle glass repair business.”[16]

e.   Violations of this section are subject to the provisions of the South Carolina Insurance Unfair Claim Practices Act.”[17]

f.    Notwithstanding the provisions of this chapter, the insurer has the right to inform the insured that the insurer will not guarantee the work performed by a provider that is not in the network of the insurer or third party administrator.”[18]

g.     It is an unlawful practice for anyone that sells, repairs or replaces vehicle glass to:[19]

                                          i.    submit a claim to either an insurer or a TPA if the glass was not damaged prior to the claim being submitted;

                                              ii.    if the services were not provide;

                                          iii.    use a location to bill for the repair or replacement other than the one that the repair or replacement was actually performed in an attempt to charge a higher price,

                                             iv.    have authorization from the insured to do the repair or replacement;

                                              v.    show any date other than the actual date of the repair or replacement or

                                            vi.    make any material misrepresentations related to the repair or replacement.

h.  An AGRR company cannot advise a policyholder to falsely the date of the damage done to a vehicle that needs a repair or replacement.[20]

i.  An AGRR company cannot falsely sign on behalf of the policyholder any document regarding the repair or replacement.[21]

j.  An AGRR company cannot intentionally misrepresent the cost to the policyholder for a repair or replacement or tell the policyholder that the insurance company or TPA has authorized a repair or replacement.[22]

k.   An AGRR company cannot represent to an insured that the repair or replacement will be paid entirely by the insured’s insurance company.[23]

l.     An AGRR company cannot do further damage to the glass that is to be repaired or replaced in order to increase the scope of the repair or replacement or encourage others to do further damage.[24]

m.  An AGRR company must repair or replace the damaged glass back to the pre-loss damage and use approved and customary AGRR techniques.[25]

n.    An AGRR company cannot offer rebates or something of value to the insured who files a glass claim.[26]

o.    An AGRR company cannot misrepresent their relationship with the insured’s insurance company.[27]


[1] SECTION 3. Section 1Chapter 5, Title 39 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding: “Section 39‑5‑170. (E)”

[2] As defined by Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary

[3] SECTION 1.  Chapter 57, Title 38 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding “Section 38‑57‑75.(A)”

[4] SECTION 1. Chapter 57, Title 38 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding “Section 38‑57‑75.(B)”

[5] SECTION 1. Chapter 57, Title 38 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding “Section 38‑57‑75.(C)”

[6] SECTION 1. Chapter 57, Title 38 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding “Section 38‑57‑75.(D)”

[7] SECTION 1. Chapter 57, Title 38 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding “Section 38‑57‑75.(E)”

[8] SECTION 1. Chapter 57, Title 38 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding “Section 38‑57‑75.(G)”

[9] SECTION 1. Chapter 57, Title 38 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding “Section 38‑57‑75.(H)”

[10] SECTION 1. Chapter 57, Title 38 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding “Section 38‑57‑75.(I)”

[11] SECTION 1. Chapter 57, Title 38 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding “Section 38‑57‑75.(L)”

[12] SECTION 1. Chapter 57, Title 38 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding “Section 38‑57‑75.(M)”

[13] SECTION 1. Chapter 57, Title 38 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding “Section 38‑57‑75.(F)”

[14] SECTION 1. Chapter 57, Title 38 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding “Section 38‑57‑75.(H)”

[15] SECTION 1. Chapter 57, Title 38 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding “Section 38‑57‑75.(I)”

[16] SECTION 1. Chapter 57, Title 38 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding “Section 38‑57‑75.(K)”

[17] SECTION 1. Chapter 57, Title 38 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding “Section 38‑57‑75.(L)”

[18] SECTION 1. Chapter 57, Title 38 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding “Section 38‑57‑75.(M)”

[19] SECTION 2. Chapter 5, Title 39 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding: “Section 39‑5‑170. (A)”

[20] SECTION 2. Chapter 5, Title 39 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding: “Section 39‑5‑170. (B)”

[21] SECTION 2. Chapter 5, Title 39 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding: “Section 39‑5‑170. (C)”

[22] SECTION 2. Chapter 5, Title 39 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding: “Section 39‑5‑170. (D)”

[23] SECTION 2. Chapter 5, Title 39 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding: “Section 39‑5‑170. (E)”

[24] SECTION 2. Chapter 5, Title 39 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding: “Section 39‑5‑170. (F)”

[25] SECTION 2. Chapter 5, Title 39 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding: “Section 39‑5‑170. (G)”

[26] SECTION 2. Chapter 5, Title 39 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding: “Section 39‑5‑170. (H)”

[27] SECTION 2. Chapter 5, Title 39 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding: “Section 39‑5‑170. (I)”

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

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

March Madness!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of President Ronald Reagan’s favorite jokes was,

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

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

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

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

Just sayin’.

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Decisions

A couple of weeks ago my mother experienced shortness of breath along with chest pains. Two hours later she called her sister who lives close by and told my aunt she was thinking that she should go to the emergency room. They could’ve called 9-1-1, but instead together they made the decision to have my aunt drive my mother to the closest emergency room in a hospital about 30 miles away.

My aunt is 91 and my mother is 90……

They made it to the E.R. and after a few days in hospital my mother was released and is doing fine. I talked with them about whether they thought they really made the best decisions to drive down themselves based on the symptom’s my mom was experiencing, the fact that ambulance service was readily available and that it was snowing that day. I hesitated to mention their age to them.

They both are very independent women who have great genes. I’m very happy that they both are very independent and it’s great that they rely on each other, but they reluctantly agreed that they probably made a bad decision even though it turned out okay so it wasn’t that bad of a decision. I suggested that perhaps they should’ve called 9-1-1 and they said that next time they would. I’m not so sure they will though.

If you look up the definition of decision in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary you will find:

“a determination arrived at after consideration”.

We make countless decisions every day just like my mom and aunt did. There are good decisions and bad ones, and all are based on a myriad of bits and pieces of information that we take into consideration. Most decisions we make are uneventful, but some carry great consequence for those who can be affected by them. Consequential decisions are often forks in the road and generally require more information and greater evaluation of the right or wrong road to follow. Those consequential decisions will most likely be based on the values or principals you hold. They therefore provide a clear view of who you are and what is truly important in your personal and business life.

You can be decisive in your decision making or you can hesitate and be indecisive.  Indecision makes all decisions more difficult because when you’re uncertain, unsure of your decision, it will often lead to less-than-positive results. Even after giving great thought and consideration to a decision it can turn out badly, but with careful consideration and a look at all the information available, those difficult decisions you make tend ultimately to be the right ones.

If you’re an auto glass shop owner or manager you make decisions relating to whom you hire to work for your company. You decide what kind of on-going training you provide to your employees. You decide the quality of the auto glass you buy for them to install and you make a really big decision on the urethane adhesives that you buy for your auto glass technician (AGT) to use when they install windshields for your customers.

Does the urethane you buy cure in 1 to 4 hours and provide a safe drive away time for your customers and their passengers? Do you tell your customers when their vehicle is safe to drive? Is it really safe for them to drive? As the shop owner it’s your decision. You make a decision on whether your company will join the Auto Glass Safety Council and follow the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standard – AGRSS® as a registered company or not. If you become an AGRSS Registered Company you open your doors to an independent 3rd party validation process proving that you adhere to AGRSS®. That decision is important to all consumers who expect that their auto glass replacement is installed safely. I strongly feel that supporting the Auto Glass Safety Council is an easy decision for anyone who provides auto glass replacements to consumers. What do you think?

Your AGTs are responsible for making decisions when they are installing auto glass too. An AGT could make the decision to take a short-cut during the installation, or he could go forward and complete an installation of a windshield where a rust issue exists which could cause an adhesion problem effecting the safe installation of the glass. Or he could contaminate the surface of the pinch-weld or glass, he could use an outdated urethane which could affect the adhesion of the glass installed, etc. Whether your company is a small one or the largest, you have AGTs making decisions that affect safety with each install. Are they making the right decisions for your customers?

When an insurance company makes decisions regarding which company it chooses to replace auto glass for policyholders, what information do you think it uses to make those decisions?  What information do you think is important for agents or brokers who are in a position to recommend auto glass service providers to policyholders? 

What are the key drivers for these decisions?  Quality should certainly be the key driver. Price is also certainly a factor as is the importance of an efficient claim handling process for the insurance company, agent and/or broker.  The service and convenience provided to the policyholder should also be a factor in the decision making of those who are in a position of influencing where a policyholder has their glass replaced. Neither the steering of a customer to a particular AGRR company that also happens to be answering the call for the insurance company nor the practice of handing a gratuity to the agent/broker should be a part of the decision-making process. Sadly it is. What do you think the key factors for those making these important decisions should include?

We all have had to make many consequential personal and/or business decisions over the years. When we make those consequential decisions they often affect not only you and your family, but they also often have an unintended effect on others too. They aren’t easy, but they say a lot about your character.

The last stanza of the poem “The Road Not Taken”, penned by the great America poet Robert Frost says:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Just sayin’…….

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Just Sayin Blog – Be Smart In 2012

There have certainly been a number of events happening since the first of the year that are effecting or may affect the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry in 2012. Where to start? Well let’s see:

 

1.    First the earth shook on January 2, 2012, when Safelite® Solutions officially took over the responsibilities for administrating Allstate® Insurance auto glass claims from PGW Lynxservices®. By all accounts Safelite® Solutions must be doing a masterful job in this new role administering claims for Allstate® as I’ve heard from a number of you that your auto glass claims from the second largest insurer in the United States are dramatically lower since the administrator change took place. Mild weather could also be a contributing factor. Adding to the pain of lost units, the pricing for those Allstate® replacements are also lower.

 

Have you seen your auto glass claims with Allstate decline since January 2, 2012?

 

2.    On January 6, 2012, glassBYTEs.com™ reported that Grey Mountain Partners Acquires Binswanger. Binswanger is a truly amazing full-service glass company with its roots going back to 1872 with its first location in Richmond, Virginia. It is certainly great news to hear for all of the Binswanger employees that they have a new owner who is interested in working with them to help build the company. I think that a strong Binswanger is healthy for the glass industry in the United States.

 

How about you?

 

3.    Neil Duffy recently announced in his very well written blog View From The Trenches that he’s considering a new career by starting a ‘new third-party glass claims administrator’. It sounds as though he’s thought it out pretty thoroughly by looking at all the pros of this new venture and I for one think he should go for it. I don’t see any cons.

 

What do you think?

 

4.    Then there is that anonymous letter from a ‘Concerned Citizen’ that surfaced yet again last week titled “New Anti-Trust Concerns”. This letter had a postmark from Bloomington, Illinois, and its resurfacing at this time might have some relationship to #1 above.

 

It does seem pretty obvious that the letter was written by someone in the auto glass industry as no one else would really care about the issue. The letter does raise a number of interesting points, but the conclusion of the ‘Concerned Citizen’ is that:

 

‘While the relationship between a TPA and its insurance company clients may not be illegal, the abuse of that position could be unfairly excluding independent competitors.’

 

There are a number AGRR initiatives taking place in various states where attempts are being made to try to restrict the big guy from taking your lunch money day in and day out. If one of them was successful it would certainly be good for independents in the industry.

 

Are there any legislative initiatives happening in your state that will be of any help to you in your business?

 

5.    For those of you who happen to follow @Safelite on Twitter you may have seen them sending out ‘Tweets’ asking for your input. One ‘Tweet’ poses a question to its followers and directs you to a web page survey question asking ‘How likely are you to recommend Safelite?’ Safelite® gives you the opportunity to answer with a ‘Not Likely’ – 0 score to an ‘Extremely Likely’ – 10 score.

 

I’m not sure to whom exactly Safelite® is targeting the question, but you’ve got to provide an email address in order to answer the question which is somewhat problematical. If you’d like to offer your view anonymously I guess you could use a fake email address.

 

I know what my number is in answer to the question. What number would you mark as your answer?

 

6.    And finally there was an article in the Chicago Tribune on January 18, 2012, reporting that the average age of vehicles in the United States has climbed to 10.8 years. The article stated that in 2010 the average age of vehicles was 10.6 years with the average age of vehicles having climbed steadily since 1995 when it was at 8.5 years. Over the past several years low new vehicle sales has certainly been a major factor in the increase in the average age, but with new car sales picking up new car manufacturers are expecting a great year in 2012. That will help to slow the growth in average age and hopefully bring it down. What does average age have to do with the AGRR industry?

 

One byproduct of an aging vehicle fleet is that you see an increasing number of the ‘do nothings’ (consumers that delay replacements) when auto glass breaks. Consumers obviously will be more accepting of a repair over replacement if the vehicle is older. New vehicles typically provide a higher average invoice value since the only replacement glass initially available to consumers will be auto glass manufactured for the vehicle by the Original Equipment Manufactured (OEM) glass company (i.e. Pilkington-NSG, PGW, Saint-Gobain Sekurit, etc.). The cost for non-OEM manufactures to reverse-engineer a replacement part for new vehicles is initially too expensive due to the low volume of parts needed in the aftermarket. The older the age of the vehicle fleet the more opportunities for non-OEM suppliers to sell reverse engineered replacement parts that are typically cheaper than the OEM’s. Ultimately that can mean less profit for the AGRR industry as a whole. New vehicle sales should mean more profit opportunities for those in the AGRR industry.

 

What do you think?

 

 

I hesitate to mention other things going on so far this year that may have an effect on your business like the lack of a severe winter in the East, the predictions for much higher gasoline prices later this year, a sputtering economy, the price changes that have taken place in the State Farm® Insurance Company auto glass program and various people coming and going from here to there. How you’re dealing with the variety of issues that you’ll face in 2012 will determine how you survive the year. Someone I’ve known for a long time in the industry commented to me last week that, ‘2012 is shaping up to be a watershed year for many in the industry. Survive this year and hope that next year will be a better one.’ That outlook makes sense to me. We’ll see if he’s right.

 

In closing, a former Princeton University men’s basketball coach by the name of Pete Carril wrote a book titled “The Smart Take from the Strong”. It’s a great book. Pete Carril was 5’6” tall, he was an All-State Pennsylvania high school basketball player, an Associated Press Little All-American in college and he coached at Princeton for 29 years before going on to the NBA to become an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings. Coach Carril is also a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. When he was young man his father told him:

 

            ‘The strong take from the weak, but the smart take from the strong.’

 

So be smart in 2012!

 

Just sayin’…….

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Hopes for the New Year

I’m hoping 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. In my opinion there are few key things that need to happen (and perhaps more than a few) for 2012 to be a great year. I’ve listed some of my hopes for 2012. Perhaps some are on your list as well.

  1.  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.

Weather – I’m hoping to see “good” weather this year. I think you know what the definition of “good” means. For the most part 2011 was a “good” weather year.

In many markets, the AGRR industry and all those affected by it rises or falls depending upon the severity of the winter season which means snow. A severe winter brings increased breakage while a mild winter has the opposite effect. Annual demand obviously can vary considerably based on those weather fluctuations. I have many friends that compete in the snow-belt and at this time of the year they are looking at weather reports day-in and day-out to see when and where that next big snow will be. That snow, of course, has to come in the right amount and at the right time of day for maximum effect and that would be during rush hour. It would be great to see snow come in every other week so that after that big snow there would be sunny weather that follows allowing all those new repairs and replacements to be completed.  If there is no snow, owners/managers are forced to make tough decisions they’d prefer not to make relating to cutting expenses, so please let it snow. Snow brings out plows and salt trucks. If the area you live in still uses gravel or coal or sand, even better. 

Then there is ice. Ice can be even better than snow for the AGRR industry. Then there are cold snaps that can cause star breaks to run out when drivers go out and clean frost off windshields on cold mornings with scrapers or   even better – hot water. And when drivers turn on the defrosters to get rid of frost and warm air hits cold windshields. 

Hail is nice too. Of course not too small that won’t break the glass, but not too big either.  Just the right size will do. Rain isn’t ever really that good for our industry, but if it does rain please let it rain at night.

The Economy – My hope for 2012 is that in the United States and everywhere else in the world the economy becomes robust.  Since 2007 -2008 the economy in the United States obviously has not been robust.  During economic downturns many who experience auto glass breakage – the “do nothings” – delay repairs and/or replacements.  Everyone in the industry hopes that as the economy improves those “do nothings” will replace that broken auto glass.

A fully-employed workforce in the United States would be great. My hope for a robust economy includes the wish that everyone has a great job and that its a great paying one. All those fully employed people should have a car too — actually several cars would be even better. It would be great if all those cars would be fully insured with a zero dollar comprehensive insurance deductible. And, since these are my hopes for 2012, I hope that all those cars are fully insured with an insurance company that doesn’t use Safelite® Solutions as its auto claims administrator (I’m guessing most of you’d agree with me on that one). I hope everyone is going on vacations this year and preferably driving to all the beautiful places there are to visit and see in our great country.

A bad economy requires those competing in the AGRR industry to take an introspective look at their businesses.  That introspective look should include “SWOT” – your strengths and weaknesses versus the opportunities and threats you face. How you deal with SWOT generally determines how successful you’ll be.

Miles Driven – Miles driven are key to auto glass breakage and my hope is that for 2012 gasoline prices remain “low” which will equate to more miles driven by putting more people in their cars and on the road providing more opportunities for drivers to break auto glass.

The total monthly vehicle miles driven have been growing since the federal government started tracking the data. In September 2011 the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Commission released an in-depth Traffic Trend Report. If you follow this link to a graph on miles driven, after hitting a moving 12-month high of 3.039 billion, yes billion miles driven in the rolling 12-months ending in November 2007 the graph shows a down-tick in estimated vehicle miles driven that occurred in 2008 – 2009.  Thankfully the miles driven appear to have somewhat stabilized for now.

But the cost of gasoline is a major influencer relating to total miles driven. On December 18, 2011, a Chicago Sun Times (Chicago Sun Times article) article titled “At gas pump, 2011 was the year of the big squeeze” reported on the annual cost of gasoline for the average American family in 2011. The opening line of the article stated, “It’s been 30 years since gasoline took such a big bite out of the family budget.” The article goes on to report, “the typical American household will have spent $ 4,155 filling up this year, a record.  That is 8.4 percent of what the median family takes in, the highest share since 1981.”  This wasn’t good news for AGRR retailers in 2011. 

On January 6, 2012, a Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times article) article titled “Gasoline prices start the year at a high – and rising” reported on how gasoline prices are starting out this year. The article states, “but this also may be the year of the gas-pocalypse, analysts warn. That’s because gasoline prices are the highest ever for the start of the year, and they’re on the rise, supercharged by expensive oil and changes in refinery operations.” That’s certainly not good news for AGRR retailers looking for 2012 to be a better year than 2011.

The AGRR industry really needs to see lower gasoline prices that will cause a spike in miles driven for its business outlook to improve in 2012. Based on predictions made by Edward Morse, head of commodities research at Citigroup Global Markets, Inc., on December 22, 2011, on Bloomberg Television’s “Surveillance Midday” that doesn’t seem likely. If you follow this link Mr. Morse talks about factors affecting the crude oil market and the outlook for oil and gasoline prices. You’ll see that he holds out little hope for “low” gas prices in 2012.  Mr. Morse sees the floor for gasoline prices to be $ 4 by the end of May 2012. That’s certainly not good news for AGRR retailers in 2012.

My hope for 2012 is that gasoline prices are low and miles driven are high. Based on the realities of the marketplace and comments from experts you’d better cross your fingers and say a prayer for that one.

  1.  I’m hoping that in 2012 some entity – some organization or company in the AGRR industry steps up and becomes a leader for the industry. By the way, I’m certainly not suggesting that the “market leader” can assume that role.  I don’t think that’s possible. I am hoping that leadership is shown by someone who really cares about the AGRR industry and the issues that it faces, offering positive ideas for all to improve the valuable services that the industry provides to consumers.
  1. I hope to see fewer imports of auto glass manufactured overseas coming to the United States/North America and the imports that do come to our shores at least be from those companies that are major suppliers of Original Equipment Manufactured auto glass to car manufacturers and not those who primarily make after-market parts.
  1. I hope that every windshield that needs replacing in 2012 is replaced using the Auto Glass Safety Council’s auto glass replacement standard known as the AGRSS® Standard.  The standard is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards development organization.  The AGRSS® Standard (ANSI/AGRSS® 002-2002 Automotive Glass Replacement Standard) is North America’s only auto glass replacement standard and it addresses the proper procedures that must be used by auto glass technicians, along with other company employees who are also important to ensure the safe installation of auto glass.  No other company or organization maintains any standard remotely similar to AGRSS®.  I also hope that replacements are completed using a urethane that provides a 1 hour safe drive away time.  Your customers deserve nothing less.
  1. My final hope is that someone steps up and attempts to compete on a larger scale against the market leader. The industry really needs a strong competitor to Safelite®.  I really don’t care who that is, but come on already.  Somebody step up on the retail or third party administrator side and give them a go.

I hope everyone who competes in the AGRR industry the best of success and luck in 2012.

And finally I’m hoping for a great 2012 for myself.

Just sayin’……..

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ZIP Code based pricing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you thinking of filing an insurance claim?” 

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

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

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

Just sayin’………

 

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

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