May/June  2001

NWRA Update
association viewpoint


Survivor Tips for
Bear
Country

by Dave Taylor

 

 As I write this column, the bears are driving the stock market down almost every day. An economic slowdown is likely underway. Reduced earnings and new layoffs are announced daily. Car sales are down and it is likely that our commercial business is about to become difficult. On top of that, many repairers have experienced the loss of much of their insurance business because of jobs moving away from repair-only companies. I think we are in Bear Country. 

“Can I make money in a bear economy?,” “How do I adjust to a bear market?” and “Can my business survive?” are among the many questions from repairers out there. My answer is: “Of course, we can!” 

Literally millions of businesses, large and small, have not only survived, but have prospered in Bear Country. But we must be prepared and have a plan. Just doing the same old thing and waiting for the winds of overall change to blow, is very risky. 

Often, I am asked, “I am already loosing jobs to network steering, will network assignment procedures change and when?” Although I am certain they will and possibly soon, I’m not certain that the change will be an improvement for us. 

Any change of assignment procedure at a leadership insurer will take years to work its way through the industry. It is unlikely that insurers/networks will turn the clock backwards. Rather, they will likely invent a new system based on what worked for the insurer in older assignment business models. There are also new alternatives to the current network models, like the Independent Glass Association’s e-direct bill, that should be considered and analyzed. 

In order to survive in Bear Country we must improve the efficiency of our businesses. We have to be certain our expenses and cash flow are in line with each other. If a network, a commercial account, a fleet operator and/or an insurer doesn’t support us, should we be supporting them by waiting for payment and chasing down short and non-payments? This is an efficiency issue. Billing and payment systems need to add efficiency to our businesses not subtract. If they increase your efficiency or reduce your costs, everything will be great. But if they don’t, consider your alternatives. For example, some repairers now require payment at time of service. 

With insurers steering insureds away from repairers and an economic slowdown at commercial accounts, repairers need to look at older business models, see what worked and adapt it to current conditions. 

To me, the most obvious opportunity is to capture the customer first. Before the customer calls the insurer, gets steered to a competitor, shops the yellow pages, asks their beautician and goes to your competitor, we must capture him or her. This is not a new concept and it is just as true for commercial customers and cash customers as it is for insurance customers. 
“But how do I get that to happen?,” people ask. 

There are a number of strategies to grab the customer. You can buy complete windshield repair marketing systems and network with other repairers through meetings held by the associations, suppliers, franchisers and licensors. You can read magazines like this one and others. You can pick up the phone and call an industry leader. You can advertise. You can telemarket. There are always new wrinkles at getting to the customer first. 
It is not wise of the repair community to wait for the winds of change to blow through our community. We shouldn’t wait for the economy to rebound, the market to go up or networks to change. We need to adapt and change now. Capture the customer first, keep costs in line and be efficient. That is how to survive in Bear Country. 

To paraphrase an old saying, “Repairers who change quickly prosper. Repairers who change slowly also prosper. Repairers who fail to change go broke.” 

wpe14.jpg (2104 bytes)Dave Taylor is president of the NWRA and secretary/treasurer of Cindy Rowe Auto Glass in Harrisburg, PA.

AGRR

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