Posts Tagged U.S. Auto Glass

Just Sayin’ Blog – A Matter of Self-Interest or Consumer Choice

Dominos

 

Last June 3, 2013 Dannel Malloy, Governor of the State of Connecticut signed a bill that was passed by Connecticut’s House and Senate the previous month into law. This link to the summary of the act that was first introduced in the Insurance and Real Estate Committee of the Connecticut House states,

“The act requires that a glass claims representative for an insurance company or its third-party claims administrator, in the initial contact with an insured about automotive glass repair services or glass products, tell the insured something substantially similar to: “You have the right to choose a licensed glass shop where the damage to your motor vehicle will be repaired. If you have a preference, please let us know. ” By law, appraisals and estimates for physical damage claims written on behalf of insurers must have a written notice telling the insured that he or she has the right to choose the shop where the damage will be repaired (CGS § 38a-354).”

This law seems to be a reasonable approach to provide and ensure consumer choice to the residents of Connecticut.

As it appears on the State of Connecticut’s General Assembly bill tracking web site the law – Public Act Number 13-67 – states,

 “AN ACT CONCERNING AUTOMOTIVE GLASS WORK.

To require an insurance company doing business in this state, or agent, adjuster or third-party claims administrator for such company to provide additional disclosures to an insured regarding such insured’s right to choose a licensed repair shop or glass shop where such insured’s motor vehicle physical damage or automotive glass work will be performed.”

Again, this language also seems to be a reasonable expectation for residents of the state. Everyone believes that consumer choice is a good thing right?

The signing of the law was reported by number of industry publications (glassBYTEs.com, Autobody News, Automotive Fleet) due to the dramatic effect that it would have when fully enforced on insurance companies claims management programs, as well as automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry players (Harmon Solutions Group, NCS/Netcost Claim Services, TeleGlass/Strategic Claims Services, Gerber National Glass Services, PGW Lynx Services, Safelite Solutions)  that provide network and/or Third Party Administrator (TPA) services to the insurance industry. AGRR networks and/or TPA’s tend to steer business to either company owned stores and/or to affiliated network repair or glass shops that conform to the pricing or service requirements of the network and/or TPA. That has been a long standing business practice of networks and TPA’s and it’s not hard to understand the financial benefit to these companies to continue doing so. The passing and subsequent enforcement of this law requires a pivot away from the long-standing AGRR industry practice of placing the decision of which company provides the repair or replacement into the hands of the consumer needing service and out of the hands of a network and/or TPA that has always been heavily involved in the decision. This also seems to be a positive for consumer choice. Again, everyone believes that consumer choice is a good thing right?

In order to protect its network and TPA business Safelite Group, Inc. and Safelite Solutions LLC (the Plaintiffs-Appellants) have gone to court against GEORGE JEPSEN, in his official capacity as Attorney General for the State of Connecticut and THOMAS LEONARDI, in his official capacity as the Commissioner of the Connecticut Insurance Department (the Defendants-Apelles) in hopes of overturning the law. The law clearly prohibits the steering of Connecticut consumers to specific repair shops by TPA’s and/or auto damage appraisers so one can understand the self-interest involved. Connecticut’s “Department of Consumer Protection” web page states that:

“Ensuring a Fair Marketplace and Safe Products and Services for Consumers”

The purpose of this government department is pretty obvious by its title. Public Act Number 13-67 protects the interests of consumers in the state and their “right to choose”; and the State of Connecticut unquestionably is within its rights to enact such a law, right?

If the State of Connecticut prevails in its defense of the constitutionality of Public Act Number 13-67 through the appeal process, as Safelite continues to fight to overturn the law, the future landscape of networks and/or TPA’s that provide AGRR services to consumers in the state will forever be changed. And if this law stands it will have an effect on the landscape of the AGRR industry in the entire United States. You can be sure that similar consumer protection bills will be introduced in state assembly’s’ across the country. Is that why Safelite is so strongly fighting this law duly enacted by the State of Connecticut?

If you visit the Safelite web site you will find that the company describes Safelite Solutions LLC as providing:

“….complete claims management solutions for the nation’s leading fleet and insurance companies.

The company currently serves as a third-party administrator of auto glass claims for more than 175 insurance and fleet companies, including 19 of the top 30 property and casualty insurance companies. Safelite® Solutions manages a network of approximately 9,000 affiliate providers and operates two national contact centers in Columbus, Ohio and one in Chandler, Arizona.”

The Connecticut law could serve to undermine a business practice that has existed in the AGRR industry since the late 1970’s. The genesis of call centers (a.k.a. a network or TPA) was when Joe Kellman, former owner of Globe Glass & Mirror, visited an auto glass call center facility in Bedford, England operated by Belron’s Autoglass and brought the idea back to the United States starting the U.S. Auto Glass Network. Since then, the impact, influence and control of consumer auto glass losses by networks and/or TPA’s operating in the AGRR industry has continued to grow each and every day. The networks and/or TPA’s obviously work hard to control and steer auto glass repairs and replacements to either company owned stores or to glass companies that agree to join and follow pricing arrangements that benefit the goals of the network and/or TPA. A business practice worth fighting for right?

The State of Connecticut is interested in protecting consumers in the state, who are in need of auto glass repairs or replacements, from being steered by a network and/or TPA. This law seems like a reasonable next step action in a state where those that are engaged in the AGRR industry are required to be licensed by the state (in my last blog I wrote about “Is it Time for Licensing?” in the AGRR industry). The Department of Consumer Protection oversees the licensing flat glass and automotive glass work.

We will have to wait for the appeal process to work its way through the courts to find out if this law stands, is amended or falls. But whether you believe that the law is a positive development for Connecticut consumers or you believe that the law violates free speech in commerce, the fight will continue as the stakes are too high. If the law passes through the appeal process and stands, it could be the tipping of the first domino and could be the beginning of big changes for the AGRR industry.

So where do you stand on Public Act Number 13-67? Are you on the side of consumer choice or on the side of the networks and/or TPA’s? Perhaps it depends on your own self interest.

Just sayin’.

 

Dominos

 

 

Associated Articles and Reference Material:

Zauderer’s Scope (page 589) https://www.law.upenn.edu/live/files/1566-keighley15upajconstl5392012pdf

http://www.autobodynews.com/news/regional-news/northeastern-news/item/7277-connecticut-governor-signs-anti-steering-bill-into-law.html

http://www.nldhlaw.com/content/uploads/2013/07/UpToSpeed_July2013A.pdf

http://www.glassbytes.com/2014/04/connecticut-officials-file-brief-in-support-of-anti-steering-law-in-appellate-court/

http://www.glassbytes.com/newsConnAutoGlassBillGoestoGov20130523

http://www.glassbytes.com/newsConnecticutSteeringPasses20130606

http://www.glassbytes.com/documents/03192014SafeliteSecondCircuitBrief.pdf

http://www.glassbytes.com/documents/04232014SupplementalIndex.pdf

http://www.glassbytes.com/documents/04232014JepsenBrief.pdf

http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/cgabillstatus/cgabillstatus.asp?selBillType=Bill&bill_num=5072&which_year=2013

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Interview with Eric Asbery, President/CEO www.Equalizer.com

Today I’m talking with Eric Asbery, President of   Equalizer Industries, Inc., an undisputed premier provider of innovative tools and products for the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry in the world. The company was founded by Eric’s father Ray Asbery in 1987. Ray unexpectedly passed away last September 27th at the age of 67.

Over the years Equalizer has received many awards, including several “Best of Show” awards. Company executives have also received a variety of industry awards including Eric’s being recognized in 2007 by the National Glass Association (NGA) with its prestigious NGA “10 Under 40” award; in 2005, Equalizer Vice President of Sales, Gilbert Gutierrez was awarded the prestigious Len Stolk Award” and Ray was honored by being awarded in 2004 the “Carl Joliff Award” by the Independent Glass Organization, in 1994 the NGA’s “Professional of the Year” and in 1992 Inc. Magazine’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award. In fact, Auto Glass Week 2012 will be dedicated to Ray’s legacy.

Equalizer is headquartered in Round Rock, Texas which is about 15 miles north of the Texas state capitol of Austin.

 

DR:  Thank you very much for taking the time to answer some questions Eric. I’m a big fan of Equalizer and I only wished that the tools that your company has developed and brought to the market over the past 25 years would have been available when I first started as an auto glass installer 40 years ago.

Eric Asbery:  I hear that very often. As I was growing up, my Dad was transitioning from being an auto glass technician to a manager over several locations. I can remember him always talking about how there were no specific tools that technicians could use and that the taking glass out of automobiles was getting harder.

 

DR:  I know that your father got his start in the AGRR industry with U.S. Auto Glass. How did long did he work for Joe Kellman and what were his responsibilities while at U.S. Auto Glass?

Eric Asbery:  Actually, Dad got his start in AGRR as an installer in Louisville, Kentucky in the early 1960’s. He was hired in 1985 by Joe Kellman to manage the Austin, Texas market for U.S. Auto Glass. He worked there until late 1987.

 

DR:  What was the impetus for Ray to start the company and how was he able to envision the tools he developed over the years?

Eric Asbery:  Early in 1987, Dad and his technicians encountered the problematic 1986 Ford Taurus. It was a radical new design and the lower part of the windshield was attached by a thick, heavy bead of urethane that was nearly impossible to use conventional tools to remove it without breaking the windshield further. Many technicians were so frustrated by it that they resorted to just breaking it out with a hammer. One Saturday morning, after several of these tough jobs had come through his shop, Dad woke up with the design for the original Equalizer tool in his head. He went to work that Monday with the first Equalizer after building it over the weekend in our garage.

Dad was always inventing. He was a working man that really enjoyed working with his hands. He was always trying to improve upon any working situation he encountered. He listened to those around him, when they encountered a problem with their daily work; he always tried to make their job easier. Whether it was a tool or technique, it was very enjoyable for him to make work more productive for everyone.

 

DR:  Equalizer is known for its products all over the world. How did that happen and what are you planning to maintain and grow that presence, especially beyond North America?

Eric Asbery:  In the early days of Equalizer, we received a lot of attention on a worldwide scale. Every trade show we exhibited at or magazine we advertised in, people who did auto glass anywhere in the world were drawn to us because we were producing tools that hadn’t existed before. The timing was right and we knew it. We were fulfilling a need, right when it was needed the most. We simply focused on providing great customer service and the world came to us.

We now have over 100 different distributors worldwide; we are constantly traveling, researching current automotive glass installation trends and training the appropriate people necessary to satisfy the needs of technicians everywhere. As the global economy allows, we are always in search of new areas to market and support our products.

 

DR:  Equalizer has always been known as the dominant company for auto glass replacement tools. Do you plan to do the same for repair?

Eric Asbery:  The auto glass repair market is something we have always invested in. There are several great repair systems out there and we have carried several of them over the past several years. If our coverage of this market is consistent, then there is a chance we can become the dominant supplier. However, our primary goal is to ensure that any product we offer gives the auto glass technician the best opportunity to do their job effectively and easily.

 

DR:  Many people are always looking forward to the new Equalizer catalog. In the last several years, you also established a great presence on the internet. Do your customers still like to look through a paper catalog or is there a shift to see the products through electronic media?

Eric Asbery:  We have found that even though there is an ever-growing part of the industry that is becoming electronically inclined, most people still like to “flip through pages” of our catalog and that will be the direction we will continue to go until we sense that a major shift to electronic media is on the horizon. We think our catalog will continue to stay in printed form for quite some time but we always alternately develop and make available electronic versions of our promotional or marketing materials.

DR:  When did you join Equalizer and what areas of the company were you responsible? How did your responsibilities grow over the years?

Eric Asbery:  I have been at Equalizer since day one. My role at Equalizer, until 2005, had been directly related to developing Equalizer’s brand, image and marketing presence. In 2005, Dad (then 61) and I began work on my transitioning to the daily management of Equalizer. We both considered that transition complete in late 2010. Although Dad had never had any definitive plans for retirement, we all figured he’d work at Equalizer into his 80‘s. In retrospect, I am very relieved we had this foresight.

 

DR:  I know that many of the tools that Equalizer has developed over the years have unquestionably helped reduce countless injuries of auto glass technicians. The number of cuts, lacerations, back and neck strains requiring visits to hospital emergency rooms has had to have gone down by those using your tools and products. I know many companies supply auto glass technicians with Equalizer tools just for that reason. Hopefully this question doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable, but do you hear from those who buy and use your tool thanking you for how Equalizer tools make it easier for them to do their jobs?  

Eric Asbery:  It is a very humbling experience to hear from someone who has benefited greatly from something you created for them. We receive feedback from hundreds of technicians each year thanking us for offering these products to them. My favorite memories from over the years have been when a technician has walked up to my Dad or any of us working at a trade show or open house and proceeded to tell a “before and after” story about our one of our tools and how it has greatly impacted their life in a positive way. It is truly the best part of my job.

 

DR:  When new car models come out each year they often have auto glass parts factory-installed in ways that many responsible for replacing those parts feel were designed by diabolical design engineers who seem to try to cause problems. How quickly do you start looking for replacement solutions for those parts that could cause difficulties?

Eric Asbery:  We have a network of “Equalizer Inventors” who are mostly auto glass technicians who have worked with us to design or create products over the years that we sell and/or produce for them. These technicians will encounter new design problems during their job on a daily basis and within a very short time they inform us of it. In many cases, they will offer a potential solution based on their experience and that’s what gets the ball rolling to create a product that will simplify the experience.

 

DR:  With the sudden great loss of your company’s leader, mentor, friend and your father, what plans do you have in the future to continue to grow the business and provide the AGRR industry with leading edge and innovative products in your leadership role?

Eric Asbery:  Since the beginning of our company, our focus has been to serve the needs of auto glass technicians everywhere. We developed relationships and processes to ensure we have been on the leading edge of technology for this industry. Nothing has changed or will change in this area. This is why Dad founded this company, this is our purpose.

We are always on the lookout for the next big thing, the next viable trend. Be it a tool, a process or just an idea or concept. We will travel, learn, adapt and teach. We will continue to gain from the experience of technicians in the smallest auto glass shop to the biggest national chain. We will always listen, respond and provide the best products available. This is what we do.

Thank you very much for spending the time to answer my questions Eric. You have a great company and I wish you continued great success.  You and your team have provided the AGRR industry with amazing products. I know that many join me in anticipation of the next great product that you develop to further improve the installation process as well as the safety of technicians around the world. Thank you for all you and your company do.

Just Sayin’

Equalizer Industries, Inc.

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