January/April 2001

Time for a Change
How Smooth is the Transition from Repair to Replacement?
by Penny Beverage

Auto glass installers often begin their businesses offering repairs only.When the clock struck midnight in January and we entered 2001, people across the world wondered what the new year might hold, what changes might lie ahead and what choices they would have to face in the coming 12 months. Many looked forward to them; many dreaded them. But, almost all realized a simple fact: change is a part of life.

Just as change so often strikes our personal lives, it can do the same with our professional worlds. Many windshield repair technicians are facing that change all the time, realizing that they need, or merely desire, to make the move into the complicated arena of auto glass replacement. Although some made the transition years ago and some have always done both, it is a significant choice to be given much thought. First, there’s the motivation: is there a good reason to enter the auto glass replacement market? And, then, there’s the weight issue: even if there is a good reason, is it worth the typical transition struggles?

Why Take a Chance?
Those who have made this decision have found a number of reasons to enter the auto glass replacement business. But, at the top of that list lies one word: profit.
Bob Brendel, co-owner of Novus Auto Glass Repair & Replacement in St. Louis, made the transition three-and-one-half years ago. Now a purveyor of auto glass replacement services, Brendel says for the most part, he is glad he made the switch, thanks to the profits it has provided for his business, which he and his wife, Brenda, own and manage.
“It’s definitely brought a whole lot more profit,” Brendel said.

Wayne Turner, owner of Glass Technology Auto Glass Specialists of Many, La., had similar motivation for making the switch, but with a different spin. In his rural town of approximately 4,000 residents, Turner was continually receiving requests from insurance agents to replace windshields. At the time, his shop had been a body shop that added on windshield repair to the business. Turner himself had replaced windshields as a hobby since he was 13 years old, but had never done it professionally.

Finally, though, in 1987, he gave in when insurance agents he knew were struggling with windshield replacements. The agents kept receiving complaints from policyholders, who claimed that their replaced windshields allowed rain to enter their vehicles. So, they turned to Turner, who was still running his collision and windshield repair shop. 

“The insurance agents were tired of customers complaining to them, so they asked us to get back into it,” Turner explained.

Frank Aiello, a repair and replacement technician at Windshield Repair Center in Philadelphia, was receiving similar questions, but from his own customers.

“What happens is you go to do a repair and find a chip beyond repairs and you tell the customer that. They say ‘well how much is a new windshield then?,’ and you’re stuck. You end up losing jobs if you don’t do replacement,” he said. “I had to, whether I liked it or not, I had to. You can’t go out there on stone chips and not replace when people are asking you to.”

The Road to Replacement
Once they decide to make the big move, auto glass repair technicians must figure out how to get into the business. And, before they make another move, they must learn one necessary task—how to replace windshields.

Although there are several schools across the United States technicians can attend to learn the intricacies of auto glass replacement, such as the Performance Achievement Group TechTraining in Madison, Wis., and Carlite Auto Glass Technician School in Allen Park, Mich., many teach themselves, or look to an employee with installation experience for training. 

Since Turner himself had replaced windshields for years informally, he had no problem adding installation on to his business. He taught his own employees and was soon on the road to a new, revolutionized business. 

However, even after replacing windshields for more than 40 years, he continues to try to update his and his employees’ knowledge bases.

“I don’t think I can get enough training,” he warned. “There are so many people in the industry that don’t have any at all.”

Similarly, one of Brendel’s employees had been installing auto glass for about 15 years so he taught Brendel how to replace windshields.

Fortunately, Aiello had already received replacement training when he learned the skill of windshield repairs. He and his wife, Michelle Rantuccio-Aiello, had not decided to add it on to their business when they opened seven years ago. A year later, though, they chose to make the move and added it to their list of available services.

What Ye Reap
Soon, most companies add more employees to their ranks to assist with the increased business. Turner began doing repairs with a very small staff: him and his wife, Linda. Now, 13 years later, they are up to 11 employees. Although their increases have been modest, Brendel and his wife have also had to hire a part-time customer service representative to handle the overflow of business they now receive.

Now that these technicians have been in the replacement business for several years, they’ve certainly reaped the benefits, they say.

“It’s been a tremendous increase on a yearly basis,” Turner stressed.

Brendel agreed. Since learning to replace windshields and adding it to his business, he and his wife have opened a permanent shop; previously, they only worked on a purely mobile basis. Now, they do both.

“The good thing is that now we have a fixed location, so even if it’s raining, we’re open,” he marveled.

Balancing the Challenge
In addition to profits, most find that the replacement aspect keeps them busy. Although 80 percent of Brendel’s business is still comprised of repair, he’s added a great deal of replacement, making up 20 percent of his current workload.

Turner has found similar results. Although he’s gained a great deal of business from doing both, by choice he still does more repair than replacement.

“[By doing more repair than replacement], we save our customers money and hold our insurance premiums down,” he added.

In addition, Turner said good, careful auto glass installers also gain a sense of accomplishment when they make the move into the business from repair-only.

“[Auto glass replacement] is one of those things I just enjoy,” he said. “It’s a challenge to me to replace a windshield that nobody, including the guy that might replace it next time, ever knows that it was replaced—so that it looks just like it originally did.”

However, despite these pluses—increased business and profits—most admit that there are definite downfalls to the replacement side of the auto glass business. The main culprits on which to blame that downside are insurance companies and the networks they sustain, along with their continual hold on the prices for auto glass replacement, according to Brendel.

“We have problems with the networks and insurance companies lowering their prices,” lamented Brendel. “We have the same problems everyone else has.”

In addition, he cited troubles with competition, usually incurred by the insurance companies’ suggested prices.

“Pricing is the biggest problem,” he said. “You have to be competitive and still make a 
dollar.”

Although Turner agreed that the competition is high in the replacement business, he considers the shoddy, cheap work that comes from that level of competition the main downside to the business.

“Don’t try to beat the guy on price, just do a good job,” he warned. “You’re cheap or you’re good, but you can’t be both.”

The only problem Aiello has found is where to purchase his glass for the best price; but, he said, after doing some research he located some good, affordable, reliable sources.

Heading in Another Direction
Although the majority of technicians who do both repair and replacement begin with repair, a few make the transition in another direction. Ben Tapia, owner of Pete’s Auto Glass in Whittier, Calif., added auto glass repair to his replacement business several years ago. And, like others whose businesses have evolved similarly, only in the other direction, he’s found the move profitable.

“It just broadened the business—just another service we can offer our customers,” Tapia said.

Since adding replacement, his business has increased about 35 percent. He now does approximately 75 percent replacement, 25 percent repair, on average.

Despite his move in the opposite direction, he endured similar trials on the road to repairs, including more training. Tapia himself took a course on auto glass repair, then taught his employees the skills he learned there.

But, he said even the additional training did not make him regret the move. “There are more pros than cons, really,” he said. “The biggest thing is to make customers more aware of the product. Most customers aren’t aware that repairs are possible.”

No Looking Back 
Whether adding repair or replacement on to an auto glass business, most are in agreement about one thing: they would not return to offering just the one service.

“It’s been extremely good to us,” raved Turner about the transition.

Brendel agreed. “I’d do it again if I had to choose, to be honest,” he said. However, he added that the networks’ prices have opted him to consider returning to repair-only, but at this point, he plans to stick with it.

Most also would recommend that other repair technicians consider adding replacement on to their businesses, as long as they are careful about how they go about it.

“I would just advise anyone to know what they’re getting into,” warned Brendel.

On the same note, Turner added that repair technicians should not make the transition haphazardly and should acquire the additional training necessary to complete jobs successfully.

“I think the people that make the change need to be good. They need to be trained,” he said. “There are people [making the move] now because they’re being asked the same questions I was asked years ago.”

“And, always shoot for quality,” Turner warned. 


Penny Beverage is an assistant editor for AGRR magazine.

AGRR

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