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November/December 2002

 

When Bad Things Happen to Good Shops
    Coming Back From Controversy
by Leslie Shaver

As a glass shop owner you know you are conscientious. You preach safety to your employees, you have an army of well-trained technicians, you use only the best materials and you serve in state glass associations and auto glass safety committees. You are proud of your contribution to your industry. And when it comes to safe auto glass installations, you are part of the solution— not the problem.

But then it happens. You get the phone call that you never expected. On the other end is a pesky reporter and he wants answers. Your heart sinks as he tells you one of your technicians has been videotaped performing an unsafe and potentially dangerous installation. 

Don't think this can happen? Is it too far-fetched? If you think the answer to either one of these questions is yes, you are wrong. It can happen and it did to Ed Beatrice. 

Beatrice is owner of Executive Auto Glass headquartered in Stoneham, Mass., and one of his technicians was recently “busted" by the Boston Fox News station (Channel 25) and “industry watchdog" Vincent Salluzzo for performing an unsafe auto glass installation. 

During the past 15 years, Beatrice has built Executive from a tiny one-man operation to a local chain with seven locations and 65 employees. He is a member of the National Glass Association's auto glass committee, a former president of the Massachusetts Glass Dealers Association and a former member of the board of directors for the Independent Glass Association. 

In other words, he takes great pride in his business and the industry itself. When he got the news that his technician was caught on tape doing an improper installation, he was crushed.

“I consider myself a good advocate for this industry, which is what makes this so difficult," he said. “When it was just me and my truck, it was easier to ensure that the job was being conducted with safety top-of-mind. I take great pride in the work we do. That commitment remains today."

But, as Beatrice learned, one lazy technician can help to undo a great reputation. Beatrice's technician was performing a mobile installation in temperatures of less than 40 degrees with the wrong adhesive. He also did not remove the cowl. After finishing the job, the installer allegedly said the car would be safe to drive in one hour.

Salluzzo took the installation to task on tape.

“It is inconceivable to even describe it as safe," he told Fox. “This car will not be safe to drive in probably a week, ten days, two weeks or who knows when."

Beatrice wanted to comment on the record for Fox, but was advised not to. He eventually sent the station a fax saying the technician did not follow proper procedures and had been terminated.

“He had the proper adhesives, but did not use them," Beatrice said. “He had the gun, but did not use it."

So far it is hard for Beatrice to determine how much of an effect this installer's very public mistake has had on his business. His customers have had some questions about the company's procedures and his sales representatives have had to re-educate insurance agents about the company's standards.

“I cannot put a dollar figure on what we lost," he said. “We had a mild winter so business was off some. Adding that on top of the Fox News story makes it a little tough to judge the effects."

Not The Only One
Beatrice is not the only glass shop owner in Massachusetts learning how negative publicity can affect a business. Two other shops, Giant Glass of Lawrence, Mass., and Settles Glass of Quincy, Mass., were also featured in the segment.

The Fox cameras caught an auto glass technician from Giant allegedly using the wrong kind of adhesive in 35-degree weather and not removing the cowl. This meant he had to “jam the windshield inside," according to the Fox commentator.

After the installation, the installer told the commentator that the windshield would be safe after the installation was completed, as long as he did not go through a car wash in the next two days. 
Salluzzo disagreed with this prognosis. “In a rollover, there is no question the roof would have crushed. Had the airbag gone off, it would have gone across the street," he told Fox.

The general manager of Giant Glass told Fox in a written statement that the company had never had a liability problem with its installations and that high-quality glass and urethane were used in the installation. The company also re-doubled its training efforts to make sure its employees were committed to doing quality work. (Representatives from Giant Glass would not return numerous phone calls for this story.)

The Settles installer was more conscientious, yet he still made a mistake: he advised the driver not to use the car for an hour and 15 minutes, Salluzzo said. He says proper drive-away time for that particular urethane is two hours. 

Richard Settles, owner of the company, would only comment briefly on the story because the “issue was not dead."

“We do not believe we did anything wrong," he said. “There was no scientific testing done by the investigator."

20/20 Vision
While these three auto glass companies are the most recent victims of the media glare, they certainly aren't the first ones.

Patrick McKernan's company, American Mobile Glass of Newfoundland, N.J., was one of three profiled on a 20/20 segment three years ago. Unlike the other two companies—Diamond-Triumph Auto Glass of Kingston, Pa., and Safelite Glass Corp. of Columbus, Ohio—American Mobile was the only one identified on the show.

20/20 cameras caught two American Mobile Glass installers failing to use a “secondary" primer and gloves when they set the windshield. The installers explained the mistake with primer by saying they were used to working as a one-person team, meaning that they each thought the other one had applied the primer. As for not wearing gloves, one of the technicians said he had never had a problem with “oil on glass."

Shortly after this segment aired, McKernan spent a good portion of his time on the phone with insurance companies and body shops and allayed their fears.

“The insurance companies were the big problem," he said. “One insurance company took me off [its] list, but [it] did not remove Diamond-Triumph or Safelite. It took me three months to deal with the insurance companies because they were the ones that were most concerned." 
This is not to say that regular consumers did not have questions.

“Our customers were concerned," he said. “We just had to tell them that we use OEMs and tell them what we are about."

After the initial storm settled, McKernan's business continued to grow. He has added two new shops and eight more installers since the 20/20 piece.

“I thought it was great for my company," he said. “We fixed things. We put things in place to ensure that it does not happen again. It was hard for me at first, but I eventually regained our customers' trust."

The situation for Diamond-Triumph was a bit different because the company was not identified on camera. 20/20 cameras did not find anything wrong with the company's installation, but they did find fault with the installer's instructions after the installation was completed. 

Apparently, the installer did not tell industry expert Steve Coyle (a participant in the undercover report) that it was not safe to drive the car until the glue dried. When pressed, the installer said the car should sit “a couple of hours. "However, according to 20/20, the actual drive-away time should have been ten hours.

Diamond-Triumph disagreed with this assessment, saying that the transaction was interrupted and 20/20 did not know exactly what was said. Company chief executive officer Norm Harris said that the installer thought he was asked when he would be finished with the installation not when the car was ready to be driven away.

“Our view of 20/20 was that the employee did nothing wrong," Harris said recently. “We did not move against him." 

Since the company was not identified, consumers did not come in with many questions. And, according to Harris, the insurance industry was “no problem" for the company either.

An installer from the third featured company, Safelite, was caught carrying the windshield with his bare hands, wiping the glass with only a rag and not using cleaning fluid. Safelite took immediate action by firing the installer, sending out letters to insurance customers and upgrading its safety program.

Preventative Measures 
While each of these companies suffered a different fate after their 15 minutes of auto glass infamy, they have taken steps to prevent this from happening again.

Beatrice may have made some of the most bold moves after his installers were caught doing a faulty installation. His first attempts at spin control were something that would make any Capitol Hill staff member blush. He immediately sent out press releases saying that the employee caught on tape violated procedure and had been terminated. He then launched a new program that would not only put his employees under heavier scrutiny, but also reward those who performed well. Again, his fax machine was busy transmitting press releases about this.

The bonus program, which began prior to the incident, is a three-part evaluation—the most important of which consists of an extensive safety audit program. 

A second part of this initiative to ensure safety is something Beatrice calls the “Mystery Shopper Program." In this program, a random replacement is chosen by the company and the replacement is taped as it occurs. 

“I would rather us catch ourselves than someone else catch us," Beatrice said. “This can happen to anybody because you can't go on the road with each of your men."

While other companies have not gone to videotaping their installers, they have made changes. Diamond-Triumph and Safelite, two of the largest chains in the country, both made company-wide actions after 20/20.

“Media attention in the form of the 20/20 story was a call to all auto glass industry participants to take an already strong dedication to consumer safety to an even higher level and Safelite was no exception," said company spokesperson Dee Uttermohlen in a written statement. 

Uttermohlen cites the company's participation in the development of AGRSS standards, its high percentage of certified installers, its “zero-tolerance" policy that requires 100-percent adherence to its installation standards and commitment to developing high-tech materials that promote even greater auto glass safety as examples of its commitment to safe installations.

“We continue to work with multiple vendors to create new and improved products that provide safer working conditions for technicians and safer installations for consumers," she said.

Though Diamond-Triumph felt its employee did nothing wrong in the 20/20 piece, it also made tremendous changes.

“I would like to think we reacted significantly, though we were certainly concerned with safety beforehand," Harris said. “We looked at that and our own practices to see where we could improve. We did raise the focus on our installations."

One area the company saw for improvement was in the urethane it used and the relationship it had with its urethane supplier.

“We moved to a different urethane so we would not have to deal with uncertain cure times," Harris said. “We wanted a higher level of awareness and knowledge of how to use these systems. We are very stringent about enforcing the use of this high-performance urethane."

The company also took a harder look at its installers, requiring them to become certified and stay certified.

“We have become extraordinarily strict about ensuring that our employees are certified,” Harris said.

McKernan has taken such quality-control steps as sending survey cards out to customers who received replacements and changing the way he handles 
callbacks.

“I have put things in place so that this does not happen again,” McKernan said. “If any windshield we install leaks or has wind noise, we send one of our top installers out to check it.”

Maybe most important, though, is that McKernan does not let his employees forget what happened to their company or any of the others featured on Fox News or 20/20.

“I keep a tape of 20/20 and Fox News and I show them those tapes,” he said.

In The End
Whether it is a large company executive like Harris or a small-company owner like Beatrice, no one wants to see his organization portrayed negatively in a public light. Yet both of these men admitted that television exposès on the safety in the industry can be good if they are handled responsibly.

“I think they are very valuable to the extent of promoting safety," Beatrice said. “One thing for certain is that it helped our company." 

However, he did say that Fox News only showed one perspective and handled the story in what he thought was a negative fashion.

Harris expressed some of the same sentiment.

“It's not comfortable,” he said. “But I do think it has raised everyone's awareness. I think it is good for the industry and the public.” 

 


Leslie Shaver is a contributing editor for AGRR magazine.

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