Curing Lamp, Please!
Glass Surgeon Strives in Repair
Business in Williamston, N.C.
by Leslie Shaver
Woody Andrews knew he was on the verge of finding his future profession in 1991, when he entered the Lucas Travel School in Norfolk, Va., to learn how to become a travel agent. What he didn’t imagine was that his future would not be spent booking flights to Paris and London, but rather fixing bullseyes and star breaks. One chance meeting changed all.
Shortly into his stay at Lucus, Andrews met Nola Owen, who had made the trip from Michigan to learn more about the travel industry. Owen had spent much of her career doing something foreign to most people at the time—fixing cracks on windshields. When Owen first told her young friend about windshield repair, he was skeptical. But after she fixed a crack on his 1984 Chevy Cavalier, he was a convert.
After the course ended, Andrews returned to his home in Winterville, N.C., and began to look for a job in the travel industry. But after interviewing with Delta and some other companies he decided there was not enough money in setting up flights for people. So, he decided to continue his education at Martin Community College in Williamston, N.C. Then one day, going through some information Owen had given him, Andrews made a decision that would change his career path.
“I just said, ‘I am going to do this,’” Andrews said. “I am going to try windshield repair. Everybody thought I was crazy. My friends were always asking why I was throwing away $4,000 to fix windshields.”
Owen put him in touch with Becky Owen, who had one of the old plug-in style, toolbox-type repair kits for sale. Andrews scrounged up $4,000—$2,000 from his grandfather, $1,000 out of his own pocket and the final $1,000 from Becky Owen—to buy the system. He then flew to Michigan so Nola Owen could teach him how to use the system. At first they practiced on a windshield in her living room; then they moved onto to the local Budweiser plant, where he trained on the company’s fleet. There he learned his first lesson about repair.
“I quickly learned that there is no substitute for experience,” he said. “You just have to go out there, practice and learn the tricks of the trade.”
Upon returning to North Carolina, Andrews’s goals were modest: he wanted to do one or two repairs a week while he was still in college to pay back his grandfather and Becky Owen. This was especially important because his grandfather’s health was declining and Andrews had no idea how long he would be around. Fortunately, he was able to re-pay his grandfather before his death.
Andrews graduated from Pitt Community College in Greenville, N.C., and once again entertained thoughts about getting a job with a large company. He even went so far as to begin sending out resumes and interviewing. But, once again, repair pulled him back in.
“My dad owned a grocery store when I was growing up and I always worked for him,” he said. “I began to realize that I did not really want to work for anyone, so I went into repair full-time. At first I did not think I would enjoy it, but as I began doing it regularly I started to like it.”
It helped that there was no real competition in the Winterville area. Before Andrews jumped into repair full-time, he researched the local market. All he really found was one guy from Raleigh who would come down and fix windshields occasionally.
“Doing the work part-time had really given me confidence,” he said. “When I decided to do repair full-time, I was serving the local car lots. Then I started doing fleet accounts and trucking accounts.”
Now, 12 years later, it is safe to say that Andrews is established in the repair business. He says he does about 20 to 30 windshields a week and approximately 800 per year. He used to get some insurance work for much of his business, but since Safelite got into repair a few years ago he says that work has mostly dried up.
“I used to do a lot of Safelite work,” Andrews said. “The only time I get a job from them now is if it is out of the area and [the company] doesn’t want to do it.”
Andrews’s approach to getting business usually revolves around his outgoing personality. Andrews is, in a word, a salesman—he thinks the old-fashioned meet-and-greet method is the best way to educate people about his business and repair. He relies heavily on car lots and does some fleet work, usually visiting car lots once a week and fleets, such as the local telephone company and Pepsi, about once a month. The key to these jobs, he said, is finding the right contact person at the lot or the fleet. He then tells the contact person who he is and what he can do, offering a demonstration.
“The thing is to show them how it saves time [because their vehicles are kept in service] and money when compared to a windshield replacement,” he said.
But, as Andrews says, the beauty of repair is that if a repair technician does not like the fleet or car lot market, he can always try others.
“The great thing about repair is that there are a lot of people out there you can work with,” he said. “It’s just finding what you enjoy most and finding the right market to break into. If you are doing fleet [work], you can’t charge as much, but you do more repair. If you are doing individual repairs, you have to travel more, but you can charge more.”
His marketing to off-the-street customers takes all forms, from anything to traditional door-to-door sales methods to using Yellow Page ads to even making use of free television time. Often, while out doing a job, he will notice a break on a windshield around the car on which he is working. If he sees the owner of the car getting in, he will often come up and introduce himself, explain what he does and how he can repair the windshield. He then hands the customer a business card and tries to get his phone number so that he can follow up later on. He also relies on civic functions, such as Chamber of Commerce meetings, to get the word out about repair.
“That’s a good way to educate people about repair,” he said. “After hours, you can meet people and tell them what you do.”
He even has hatched some more business generating ideas of late. One of his recent favorites is to visit the human resources offices of local companies. He plans to tell the human resources people about repair, hoping they will let him check their parking lots for cracked windshields.
“You do one car and check around to see if others have cracks,” he said. “You can save people both time and money by doing repairs for them while they are at work.”
The Yellow Pages are another source of business for Andrews. Once he could afford it, he starting buying ads in the phone book. Over time, his advertisements have gotten bigger and bigger. Now, he buys a full-page ad in one of the local phone books and a half-page ad in the other one. Together, the ads cost about $500 a month. This is money well spent, though.
“[Yellow Page advertising] works,” he said. “I get calls.”
Andrews also got 30 seconds of free publicity on local channel 7 WITN in Washington, N.C., by going on its “Business Break” segment. The segment, which runs at around 6 a.m., gives local businesspeople an opportunity to come in and explain their industry and their businesses. Since the segment aired so early the morning it didn’t generate a lot of business, but it did get Andrews about eight customers, which he felt was more than enough for the short time and money he invested.
He invested a lot more time for a lot fewer customers when he tried marketing with fliers, which he says was one of his biggest mistakes in business.
“It was a huge waste of time and money,” he said. “You probably get about one out of every 100 people.”
Outside of watching his own business grow during the past 12 years, Andrews has seen the industry go through tremendous change. When he started, insurance companies barely had any repairs done. However, their interest in saving money by salvaging glass with repair versus replacing a whole windshield has led them to focus on repair. Customers have also come around as they have learned that getting a windshield repair does not require them to pay a deductible. Combine this with deductibles getting higher and higher, reaching as much as $500, and it’s easy to understand why consumers like repair.
“When I started out, everybody wanted a new windshield,” Andrews said. “That’s not the case anymore, though.”
As repair has grown, the number of players in the business has also grown. While Andrews only had one real competitor when he started out, he now has two repair-only rivals in the area. That is not where the major change is, however. Now, he looks out and sees auto glass replacement companies getting into the business. They have been drawn, at least partially, to the repair business by the insurance industry’s insistence on driving more repairs.
“There were not as many glass companies in the business when I started,” Andrews said.
But Andrews likes this competition and thinks it keeps him on his toes.
“If you do a good job, the competition will take care of itself,” he said. “Competition can actually help because when it is not there you may slack off some.”
The only time he thinks competition can be negative is when substandard repairers are doing work that reflects poorly on the industry.
“I think there are a lot of people out there who still do poor repairs,” he said. “Either their training was not good enough or they don’t have enough time.”
Some of this can also be attributed to the quality of product they use, he said.
“Some people will get a $500 kit and try to do a repair,” he says. “But these companies don’t offer the correct training. They may be able to do a star break with this kind of kit, but not a bullseye.”
Despite the competition, whether it is good or bad, Andrews still sees plenty of room for expansion. He eventually would like to add another repair person so that he can capture more of the fleet market in his area.
His brother helped him with repairs occasionally (before he went into the paintless dent business), but he has never really had any long-term employees. This may change, though. At press time, Andrews was about to begin training another man to help him part-time.
“It’s tough when you are on your own because when you are off, you have no money coming in,” he said.
Still, he approaches every apprenticeship opportunity cautiously because it could be very easy for an aspiring repair technician to tap into Andrews’s knowledge and then buy a cheap kit and go off on his own. Because of this, he will have anyone he trains sign a non-compete contract.
“You have to be careful because you don’t want to teach somebody the ropes, get them started and then have them take off and do it on their own,” he said.
Along with bringing in some help, Andrews would also like to narrow down the area he serves to Pitt County and the Greenville, N.C., area. He says this area has about 100,000 people, which is more than enough to keep him busy.
Right now, he services the Winterville, Greenville, Washington, Goldsboro and Kingston areas—all in North Carolina. He will usually drive up to 40 or 50 miles to do a job. However, he said he will look for other windshields to repair in the area after he completes the one for which he made the trip.
While there will always be problems in any industry, Andrews has no regrets with the decision he made 12 years ago. Windshield repair has been the perfect career for his outgoing personality. No matter where he is, he seems to find an interesting person or story.
“Just last week, I met a young couple,” he said. “The guy was an emergency technician who would dive into the water after wrecks. He took me into his house to show me the collection of bottles he put together from his dives.”
Whether it is meeting the rescue diver or an elderly person who invites him to stay for dinner, Andrews said the people he meets make his chosen profession worthwhile.
“You meet a lot of great people,” he said. “It’s been a blessing.”
Leslie Shaver is a contributing editor for AGRR magazine.
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