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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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Interview with David Carnahan from Mainstreet Computers


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

DR:  How do those differ from your competitors? 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Just sayin’.

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