One War at a Time
A Savvy Plan Has Made Glasspro the Toast of Charleston
by Leslie Shaver
The first thing you notice when you enter Paul Heinauer’s office is the picture. It is not quite what you would expect to see on the office walls of the owner of the biggest glass chain in Charleston, S.C.—a city that was not only where the Confederacy struck its first blow for independence, but also a place that still clings to its Southern history.
Yet there the picture of Abraham Lincoln hangs, providing Heinauer with perspective when the glass business becomes a bit too hectic.
“I often think about one comment Lincoln made,” Heinauer said. “It was when the Union Army caught British ships carrying Southern goods. When faced with what to do, Lincoln let them pass through the blockade and said, ‘One war at a time.’ With so many things going on, like billing through networks and keeping safety at the forefront, I think it has a lot of applications in the glass industry today.”
Heinauer, a fast-talking Yankee from Pennsylvania, relies on the words and thoughts of great men, such as Lincoln and Robert E. Lee (along with a master’s degree in business and 23 years of experience at the manufacturer and wholesale level) to help him navigate the turbulent waters that compose today’s auto glass industry.
By most accounts he has been successful steering his ship. In seven years, Heinauer has built the company from two tiny stores in the Charleston area to a 40-employee, seven-shop chain that covers the whole Charleston area and Myrtle Beach, S.C. The shop has 21 technicians and 60 percent of its work is mobile.
And if this is not enough, it was recently awarded small business of the year in 2002 by the Charleston Chamber of Commerce.
The Origins of Success
Heinauer found the glass business shortly after wrapping up his graduate studies at Miami University of Ohio. He first joined PPG’s sales, marketing and management training program in Cincinnati. Upon completion, the company sent him to Charlotte, N.C., where he sold truckloads of auto glass and flat glass, along with architectural glass and metal. He then moved further south to Greenville, S.C., where he served as branch manager of a PPG distribution center.
Though he “really liked PPG,” Heinauer decided to move on in 1986 after one-and-a-half years in Greenville.
“I saw an opportunity to open up a glass-distribution business in Charleston,” he said.
With that decision, Heinauer started Coastal Glass Distributors in 1994. The company sold wholesale, auto and flat glass, while also manufacturing insulating glass units. Childhood friend Jack Hoey joined Heinauer in 1995 as general manager.
Though Coastal was successful, the duo noticed trouble on the horizon in the early 1990s.
“The big chains were buying our customers,” Heinauer said.
Heinauer and Hoey figured the best way to guarantee they had a customer base was to start their own retail auto glass business. In 1995 Heinauer sold Coastal Glass to Hoey. This is how Glasspro began.
In 1995, Heinauer bought two small, local shops—Auto Glass Company Charleston and U.S. Auto Glass. But the decisions he made in 1995 set the foundation for later success. In a business where a lot of people slap a name on the door and start pulling out windshields, the duo spent a lot of time and money to make sure their new business would hit the ground running.
“We spent a fair amount of money to come up with a good name,” Heinauer said. “We eventually came up with ‘Glasspro’ and the phrase ‘Guaranteed Auto Glass Replacement and Repair’ as part of our byline.”
The effort did not stop with the name, though. The company also developed a complete signature including a black and white tile floor and a red counter for all stores.
“We have tried to create a brand,” Heinauer said.
Once Heinauer had his brand, it was time to court the public and the insurance industry.
“No one owned the Charleston market,” he said. “We tried to establish top-of-mind awareness throughout the community.”
To do this he relied on a healthy dose of newspaper, radio and television advertising along with a strong community presence in the Charleston area.
As he did with the floor and counters in his shops, Heinauer also developed a signature for his advertising.
“All of our print ads have a checkered border,” he said. “The only thing that changes is the wording.”
The television and radio ads also have a common thread due to a catchy tune. Heinauer developed this with the help of an advertising agency and recording studio.
The slogan, “It’s Your Choice, Insist on Glasspro,” and Heinauer himself appear in all of the company’s ads.
“People know the slogan. Sometimes they will even come up to me and start singing it,” he said.
The slogan, which touches on the consumer’s right to choose, and the ad content are intended to educate the customer about the issues in auto glass as well promote Glasspro. Among the issues Heinauer has covered in his television spots are the importance of safe installations and glass to the vehicle’s structural integrity, having certified technicians and using OEM glass.
“This is a sensitive thing to communicate,” he said. “There is no consumer education and you are starting from scratch, but you can’t scare them. If you tell them they could fly out of the windshield, they may not want to get their glass replaced when it should be replaced.”
That is not to say all of his marketing is serious. Heinauer once made a bet with his daughter’s high-school volleyball team that if it won the state championship he would put the team in an ad. Shortly after the team won the South Carolina state volleyball championships, a Glasspro ad appeared with a chorus of girls from the Bishop England High School volleyball team yelling, “It’s Your Choice, Insist on Glasspro.”
When Heinauer is not marketing to customers, he is courting insurance agents.
“We wanted to go after the insurance market in the beginning,” he said. “Since the insurance companies set the price [and shops do not compete on the basis of price], it seemed that the company that did the best job replacing glass would do well.”
One of the key components of this are his customer response cards. His technicians give each customer a card after a job has been completed. The customer then rates the company in a number of categories (including the performance of Glasspro’s customer service representatives and technicians) on a scale of one to five. The customer then returns each card—which has the work order number stamped on it—to Glasspro.
Once the cards make it back to the company, Heinauer says he reviews each one and matches them to the customer or insurance company for which the job was done.
“We then give the agents all of our cards,” he said (emphasizing that all of the cards do make it to agents—not just the ones with positive comments). “The cards have become a big part of our
In 2000, the company found yet another way to reach agents. It teaches continuing education courses for them at local restaurants. While both Heinauer and general manager Doug Clarke insist that they do not push Glasspro’s services during these sessions, they do focus on the importance of using OEM glass and the proper urethanes, having certified installers and adhering to safe drive-away times. When the agents ask if Glasspro follows these safety standards, the answer is always yes.
Heinauer says the company is also very cognizant of its relationships with insurers. While he says his company has been a victim of steering, he will not attack the insurance industry.
“We have tried to walk the line of not alienating the insurance industry,” he said. “We have so many agents that are loyal to us; we are not ready to take the gloves off yet.”
For instance, Heinauer has not run any negative ads warning customers about steering in the insurance industry.
“If the advertising gets negative, we can come off bad,” he said. “The customers begin to have questions and wonder why the insurance company would not want us on [its] list.”
Instead, Heinauer shares his warnings with agents.
“We do try to share with agents how important it is to send customers directly to us instead of letting them get into a rotation,” he said.
Heinauer’s effort to court the insurance industry has even affected the mix of work he does. Because insurance companies prefer windshield repair versus replacement, he pushes repair and even says that Glasspro is the only glass company in the area to have one technician who focuses solely on repair.
As with any company that goes through expansion, there can be growing pains. While customers and those on the outside have no concept of the these hiccups, Heinauer and Clarke are keenly aware of them.
“You know there are important responsibilities that are left undone,” Clarke said. “But these are managerial responsibilities that won’t affect our customers on a day-to-day basis. You are still installing the windshield, making the agents happy and getting paid. The customers trust us, but we see where we are falling down.”
Many problems the company runs into are a result of what it says are inconsistent customer expectations. To set correct expectations, Heinauer and Clarke must get everyone on the same page.
“We want to do more scripting, so as we grow, everyone is on the same page,” Heinauer said. “For instance, some of our bad marks are because our customers have been unhappy with the quality of their repairs. We needed to communicate that the repair is not cosmetic. It is structural. We wanted to make sure the customer understands that they will see something.”
This issue touches on a bigger problem, though—one of communication.
“Communicating to employees is challenging,” Heinauer said. “It took a long time for people to understand the importance of vacuuming a car. It took a while to get these issues settled.”
Yet, they would still like to go further.
“We want our folks to tell the customer they will help them out whether their problem is our fault or not,” Clarke said.
In some cases, Clarke thinks technicians can become defensive when a customer makes an accusation. While many times it may not be the installer’s fault, Heinauer and Clarke want them to focus on fixing the problem and not arguing over blame.
“Our folks know we will never fight anyone,” Heinauer said. “We get taken advantage of, but we know there is value down the road if they refer just one customer to us. It is sometimes hard for our employees to understand that.”
Clarke echoed these thoughts.
“Our technicians are often thinking we are blaming them when we fix something that is not our fault, but we need to make them realize we are not,” he said. “The manager’s responsibility is trying to get our people to understand where we are coming from.”
When you hear Heinauer talk, it does not take long to realize that he is a true salesperson. It’s common for him to be halfway through a sentence about something like Glasspro’s decision to use only OEM glass, when he abruptly shifts gears and talks about how nice his employees are.
But this is not all talk. It is apparent that Heinauer loves his company and genuinely cares about his customers and employees. To him, the saying about the customer always being right is something more than a tired cliché. It is a dogma.
And, if the results so far are any indication, this Pennsylvania native may indeed have the right formula for his market in South Carolina.
Leslie Shaver is a contributing editor for AGRR magazine.
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