Shops Find Ways to Use AGRSS Registration
by Leslie Shaver
If you ever happen to be driving south of Ocala, Fla., and hit tiny Belleview (population 3,478), you may want to stop in on Mark Pinkstaff, owner of Auto Glass Express Inc. You’ll notice that, in some ways, Pinkstaff’s operation is not much different than any of the thousands of other glass shops across the country. He takes out windshields, puts in new ones and even deals with networks.
But then watch what Pinkstaff does after the installation, meticulously recording the temperature at the time he put in the new windshield, the adhesive he used, the humidity at the time of installation and the type of windshield. Not a big deal, you say. Well, it shouldn’t be. And, if you don’t think it’s a big deal, you are doing it right. But see, Pinkstaff didn’t always do it this way. He didn’t always carefully record information, use adhesive rubber gaskets to install glass, avoid any rust more than a ˝ inch in square feet or apply an adhesive that accommodates rust repair.
What changed Pinkstaff—turning a one-time auto glass “sinner” into a safe installation disciple? Well, it’s a combination of things. First, he went to training schools. But the icing on the cake may have been the new Automotive Glass Replacement Safety Standards Council Inc. (AGRSS) Safety Standard. While he is proud of his redemption, of sorts, Pinkstaff suspects it has cost him money—not only in the time and materials, but also in the jobs he has turned away from people who wanted butyl installations.
Pinkstaff figures he can recoup some of these costs if AGRSS can attract safety-conscious customers. But, like many in the industry, he is not sure this will happen. Some think it can help attract customers, while others think AGRSS has no effect on the public. And then there are those who not only think it can bring in customers, but fear some fly-by-night shops are using it to establish credibility (while still doing shoddy installations). On the surface this may sound like a giant mass of confusion, but AGRSS registration committee chair Carl Tompkins says the maturing AGRSS program will address these issues in the next couple of years.
Why Do It?
For most people, signing up for AGRSS was easy for one reason: it was already the way they did business. Joe Ruz, general manager of Cristal Auto Glass in Staten Island, N.Y., didn’t make any drastic changes and Wayne Turner, owner of Glass Technology in Many, La., only started collecting DOT numbers.
“I had no problem signing up for AGRSS because it was the way I did business,” Turner says.
Larry Swetz, owner of Gallatin Auto Glass in Uniontown, Pa., agreed.
“We are a by-the-book glass shop,” he says. “We have been in business 35 years and we try to follow the rules and attempt to find every way to be better than the next shop.”
For Bob Cassell, AGRSS was another way to set his company apart.
“I promote safe practices already and do them no matter what,” he says. “AGRSS is a perk we have added because it’s the only way we are going to compete. It shows we do quality work. It’s just another tool in our arsenal to differentiate ourselves.”
And many of the shops who signed up for the standard do exactly what Cassell does to use AGRSS to differentiate themselves as a quality alternative to those who haven’t signed up. Cassell does this by educating customers about the standards.
“Some people don’t care and are intimidated by their insurance companies,” he says. “But other people will come in and watch us.”
And this gives him an opportunity to sell himself as a registered AGRSS shop.
“As the customers watch us, we explain what we do and how we do it,” Cassell says. “As we go on, they understand the process of correctly putting a windshield in. Even if they get someone else to install it, we tell them to make sure they do it safely. We tell them not to go the cheapest person.”
Ruz follows a similar strategy.
“There are a lot of curious people out there,” he says. “The customers will ask what certificates and training we have. I explain to them that we have taken courses and signed up for the AGRSS standards.”
But customers still don’t know enough to ask specific questions about the industry.
“The majority of people don’t know what to ask,” says Robert McCawley, general manager of Route 66 Auto Glass in Haymarket, Va. “Very few people know to ask about the type of adhesive and the brand of glass.”
Regardless of what customers ask coming in, the question is: do these tactics of selling AGRSS work? Once the customers come into a facility, most shops owners say yes … usually.
“Some customers want to hear about AGRSS and they are glad we tell them,” Pinkstaff says.
Courting the Public
While dealers say in-shop advertising of their AGRSS registration can work, they are not sure how it works in their outside advertising, through phone books, newspapers and even the radio. The AGRSS council supplies marketing materials, such as cups, hats, logos, pins and signage to get any shop started.
“Some glass shops are incorporating the AGRSS logo and language into their ads to illustrate to the public that they are following the best practices as defined by the standard,” Tompkins says.
Ruz has tried the logo in advertising and says, while people may not know what it means, they do have questions. This gives him a chance to inform them.
“I think it does have value,” he says.
“You would almost need a small pamphlet to explain what AGRSS means,” Swetz says. “If you mention AGRSS [in an advertisement], it would just go over everyone’s head”.
But AGRSS wouldn’t be the first standard to encounter this problem.
“It’s like ISO 9000 certification,”says Steve McClure, owner of Glass Unlimited in DuBois, Pa. “The companies who have it are proud of it, but most people have no idea what it means.”
The AGRSS Council is trying to teach the average Joe about the importance of safe installations, but it’s not kicking off the program until 2005.
“The long-term plan is to fund public service announcements through radio and television in each community,” Tompkins says.
But until this marketing program rolls out, Tompkins and other AGRSS leaders are working behind the scenes to promote the program and the shops that have registered. They are meeting with insurance underwriters to inform them about the importance of the program. They hope this will start the ball rolling.
“Once the public and the industry see companies like State Farm and Allstate use the AGRSS language, it will become much more real and relevant,” Tompkins says.
The AGRSS offensive also extends down to the agents. Tompkins, for instance, will speak to the agents in their continuing education (CE) courses in his role for Sika Corp.
“As the extension of a glass shop, we talk about why insurance companies should only work with people who follow the standard,” Tompkins says.
But, regardless of what the committee does, some say there is a limit to how much attention the public will give to auto glass.
“I think the [AGRSS] committee has high hopes, but I don’t think we will make this another Burger King or McDonald’s,” Pinkstaff says. “It’s just not going to happen.”
Not everyone agrees with Pinkstaff, though. There are some shops owners out there who not only think AGRSS can be a marketing tool, but fear that others are only signing up to display the logo to customers.
“People are using AGRSS as a marketing tool,” Turner says. “They are marketing that they do it, but not changing anything. If you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.”
While no one else interviewed for this article was as outspoken as Turner, others are concerned that other shops may not be following AGRSS standards to the letter, cheapening the whole process.
“I think there will be some people that say, ‘That looks like a good marketing scheme. Let’s jump on the bandwagon,’” Pinkstaff says.
McCawley thinks smaller shops will be more likely to stay in compliance because they have fewer installers, making them more accountable.
“The smaller you are, the more accountable everyone is,” he says. “The bigger you are, the more installers you have to keep up with.”
Pinkstaff would welcome AGRSS to policing their shops and establishing credibility for the standards.
“I wish they would drop in on us from time to time and check us out,” he says. “We work hard to comply. They can go to the other shops that aren’t.”
The Auditing Process
For Turner, Pinkstaff and others, big brother may soon be on the way very soon, in the form of auditors. These people will be responsible for monitoring the compliance of random shops. The first two parts of the program—developing standards and having a registration so that shops can sign up—are now complete. Now Tompkins says the AGRSS auditing committee has moved to the third stage: developing a monitoring process.
“It’s only in the infancy stage,” he says.
“If they are not in compliance, they will given a chance to comply or be removed from the program,” Tompkins says.
The goal is to make AGRSS credible to the glass industry, insurance companies and, most importantly, the public.
“We don’t want to make it come one, come all [to have the standard],” Tompkins says.
But after establishing credibility, both the public and insurers can be confident that AGRSS shops should know what they should be doing. Of course, first the public needs to know the importance of glass being installed correctly and how to tell if it’s being installed properly. If shops do their job informing customers and the organization uses the media, this can become a reality.
Then the customers who make the trek down to Auto Glass Express in Belleview, Fla., will know to be on the lookout for auto glass shops that document each installation and not ones offering the biggest perks.
“We need to get the word out,” Pinkstaff says. “The public needs to understand that it’s more important to have your windshield put in correctly than to get a free box of steaks,” Pinkstaff says.
And, as AGRSS takes hold, this may happen yet.
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