Right On Target
Repair-Only Bullseye Inc. Endures 20 Years in Chapel Hill, N.C.
by Leslie Shaver
More than 20 years ago, Lawrence McAdams was leafing through a newspaper when he glanced across something that did not seem like much at the time. It was a small blurb advertising a business opportunity in the automotive
While the ad provided very sketchy details, McAdams, who was dissatisfied with his job at the time, could not get it out of his mind. He called longtime friend Ned Riggsbee and asked him if he would be interested in taking a five-hour drive from Chapel Hill, N.C., to Atlanta to see what was behind this ad.
“We were both looking for something new to get into,” McAdams said. “I called Ned and convinced him to ride down and see what they had. When we got there, we found out it was a windshield repair dealership.”
From the Beginning
The longtime friends were curious about this new industry.
“We did not know about repair, but we went down and checked it out and decided to give it a go,” Riggsbee said.
Twenty years later the pair is still plugging away in the repair business. And, for an industry where success is measured in modest amounts, the two have built what almost anyone familiar with the industry would say is a successful business. They say their company, Bullseye Inc., is the most well-established, repair-only company in the Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill area.
McAdams and Riggsbee began their friendship at the age of the 10. The two men grew up on the same block and went fishing and hunting together as teens. Even now, after 20 years of being business partners, they still vacation together. Their friendship goes so deep that their two sons are also close friends.
When McAdams first spotted the advertisement for the windshield repair business, both men were in careers they wanted to leave. McAdams was working in the medical research field, but without a college degree he saw very little chance for advancement. Riggsbee, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology (a skill he says comes in handy in the repair business), was working in real estate. But in the early 1980s, when interest rates were very high, Riggsbee was not having much success. With this as a backdrop, Riggsbee and McAdams were excited to jump into the repair field.
“We talked about starting the business during the whole trip back from Atlanta,” Riggsbee said. “Over that period of time, we settled on the name and designed the logo. We wanted something that was easy to remember.”
Both men retained their full-time jobs as they worked to educate insurance companies and fleets about repair. After a year, McAdams and Riggsbee saw enough potential to quit their regular jobs, despite warnings from those around them.
“It took us at least two years to educate the public, insurance companies and fleets about repair,” McAdams said. “Allstate [Insurance] tried windshield repair and it flopped pretty bad. It took us several years to get them interested. We had gotten Nationwide and State Farm on board before they would give it another try.”
While they worked on insurance customers, they found other sources of business.
“Most of what we did in the early-80s was car dealerships,” Riggsbee said. “We stayed busy making the rounds and talking to the dealerships. Then, over time, the insurance companies began to realize what was there.”
As the pair’s business expanded, they brought on more people to help. They began with a dispatcher; then, in the mid-1980s, they added a technician. A second one came later. One of their current technicians has been with the company for five and a half years and the other has been there for a year and a half. They provide vehicles, equipment, uniforms and a positive attitude for their employees.
“When we hire somebody, we tell them that we will be out there doing the same thing that [they] are,” McAdams said. “We are not at a desk yelling at [them.]”
While McAdams and Riggsbee have two full-time employees, they do not have a shop or specific base of operations. Instead, the company’s official “headquarters” is McAdams’s house. The operator for Bullseye works out of her home, where she receives calls and dispatches them to the four technicians out in the field through their pagers and cell phones.
Building A Brand
While McAdams and Riggsbee have been successful at building their company’s name in the Raleigh-Durham area, they readily admit marketing is not one of their strengths.
“The few times we have tried marketing, it has not lived up to our expectations,” Riggsbee said. “I would have to say that marketing is the weakest part of our business. We tried mailers and brochures, but those did not work. We did bigger ads in the yellow pages, but people did not know what repair was. We tried a dollar bill-sized ad in the Raleigh phone book. Even though it produced some customers, the money the ad generated was barely paying for itself. We were essentially working for the phone company.”
The pair did have some luck with radio ads, specifically ones done by a local radio personality upon whose car they worked.
“We did work on his car and we would request him to ad-lib it,” McAdams said. “He did a good job. He was confident in our business and people could understand that as they listened. As soon as he changed spots and the station got a new guy, the calls dropped. The new guy would just read a generic ad.”
While McAdams and Riggsbee may not be pleased with the advertising and marketing they paid for, they have gotten a tremendous amount of mileage out of free exposure. They have proven to be very effective in using the media to get the word out about their company and the repair industry in general.
Meeting the Customer’s Need
The company has been featured a few times on local television stations. In two segments of Raleigh Channel 5’s “Money Desk,” McAdams and Riggsbee did repairs for Nationwide. Later, they appeared again, demonstrating how their repairs on highway patrol cruisers saved money for the state of North Carolina.
In both cases, McAdams called the local station to set up these segments, and both men say the segments have been valuable in establishing their name in the community.
Riggsbee and McAdams rely on one other thing to bring in and keep customers—customer service. To them, customer service can mean a number of things.
It starts when they receive a call for a prospective customer. Many times, they say, these customers call them and then a glass network, where they are often assigned to another shop. In some cases, Riggsbee or McAdams will follow up with that customer to see how their repair experience went with the other company.
“We often have people call us to look at someone else’s repair just to see if they did it right,” Riggsbee said. “The next time you will get a customer.”
The company also focuses on customer service once they get a customer. This is a part of the job that Riggsbee enjoys. For him to do his job well, the customer has to know exactly what is in store for him.
“Repairs are not that difficult,” he said. “It’s your relationship with the customer that is critical. I am reluctant to do a repair when the customer is really busy and just tosses you the key. I like to tell him exactly what he is going to get and find out what his expectations are. The way you communicate with a customer defines whether you satisfy him.”
This has not always been a strength of the company, though.
“One of the hardest things to get used to is that the best repair you can do is never perfect,” McAdams said. “Until they get the technology to where you can repair a windshield perfectly, you will always be able to see even the smallest amount of damage. As we evolved we have learned how to tell the customer that the repair will leave a little imperfection. Usually, [the customer] will accept that if [he]can save $400.”
And, what happens if Bullseye does not completely satisfy the customer? The repair is free.
“When we first started out, we gave away more repairs than we charged for,” McAdams said. “If they were not perfect to us, there was no charge.”
The company not only wants total satisfaction with the repair, it also wants complete satisfaction with its repair experience. This even extends into billing. A lot of times, the company will leave after doing a repair without payment or insurance verification. They say this show of faith has gained them many loyal customers.
“It’s just an old-fashioned way of doing business,” McAdams said. “Once in a while you will have to call the customer [for payment], but we have gotten cheated out of a lot more money from networks than we have from customers not paying.”
Riggsbee and McAdams say they have established such a reputation in the area that they can basically survive on word-of-mouth and repeat customers. They say they average about three repeat customers a day.
“What has helped us is that we have been in business 21 years,” Riggsbee said. “We were one of the first in the area in this business. If we were just starting up now with the networks and glass shops in this, it would be very difficult. Our name recognition has helped sustain us.”
“We are more or less flying by on longevity,” McAdams said.
When talking with McAdams, it does not take long to realize where a lot of his stress comes from—the networks. It’s not just the networks themselves that bother McAdams, it’s the steering that he sees going on in call centers.
“Unfortunately, the calls from customers go into the Safelite call center,” McAdams said. “We don’t get those calls initially. Even when we do get the call first, sometimes we lose it because the network sends them somewhere else.”
McAdams and Riggsbee both praise a recent North Carolina law (House Bill 13) that says insurance companies and their representatives must not steer customers. The pair sat in on some glass association meetings in support of the bill, but they admit that there has not been any evidence of its effectiveness.
“We just need more public awareness of this problem,” McAdams said.
Even without steering, Riggsbee says it would be difficult for a mobile operation like Bullseye to pull in enough work from the million people in the Durham/Raleigh/Chapel Hill area.
Even when Bullseye does get an elusive insurance job, paperwork and payment can create such a problem that it is not even worth doing.
“Even the agents who used to have us send the bill to them—now they turn around and send it to the network,” Riggsbee said. “Now it comes back to us saying we did not have the proper reference number. There is so much paperwork for a little $60 windshield repair.”
Even worse, many times Bullseye says it is short-paid by as much as $10 or $15 per repair.
“It’s a real problem because any business has got a fixed amount of expenses,” Riggsbee said. “When you send somebody a bill and you get less, it can really screw things up.”
Bullseye’s stiffest competition—larger repair shops and chains—can afford to take this hit on repair jobs, according to McAdams.
“The reason the price is so low is because the glass companies can afford to do it for $50,” McAdams said. “When they can convert a percentage of those into replacement, they are making up that $10 or $15.”
McAdams says many of these glass shops take repair jobs only to turn them into replacements or poor repairs.
“A lot of the glass companies get by with this stuff because the average customer does not know a good repair from a bad repair,” he said. “If they are saving their deductible, it maybe a totally lousy repair but they are happy because they saved money. Two years later, when it is a totally lousy repair, they won’t remember who did it.”
This can give the whole industry a black eye, he said.
Loving Every Day
Though insurance companies and glass shops can provide their share of problems for any repair-only company, Riggsbee and McAdams have never regretted their decision.
“I would not trade this for anything,” McAdams said.
Riggsbee echoes the thoughts of his business partner and friend.
“I cannot remember a day where I got up and did not want to go to work,” Riggsbee said. “I have met some interesting people and been to places I never knew existed. Everybody would like to make more money, but I cannot think of anything I would rather do.”
Lawrence McAdams (left) and Ned Riggsbee are not only long-time business partners, but also friends.
Leslie Shaver is a contributing editor for AGRR magazine.
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