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Glass Shops see Opportunities from the Emerging Hispanic Market
by Les Shaver
David Johnson, president of Interstate Glass Inc., in Smithfield, N.C., sees what’s happening in the triangle area of North Carolina as well as any demographer would. He not only reads the newspaper articles about the large number of Hispanics moving into his area, but he also encounters Hispanics everyday in his regular activities.
Yes, to Johnson the newspaper and magazine articles with their headlines about the rising influence of Hispanics in all walks of American life speak the truth. And, as any good businessperson would, Johnson, who is not Hispanic, aims to entice this growing demographic to be his customers.
To make inroads in this market, though, he knows he must make changes in his hiring and possibily his marketing. He’s already encouraging his partner (who specializes in operations) to hire a bilingual candidate for his next office opening. To him, it’s essential for his company to find someone who can speak Spanish because immigrants today are different from earlier waves of immigrants who came to this country.
“When my mother’s grandparents immigrated, they learned English because they had to,” he explains. “Society did not accommodate all the different ethnicities. Today, society does. It doesn’t force them to learn English like my mom’s family did. As a business owner, either you get on board with that or you don’t.”
Many business owners in states like Florida, Texas, Arizona and California have long been on board with this. As the Hispanic population grows and moves into new areas, glass shop owners will suddenly have to decide whether they want to court the Hispanic market and, if so, how best to do that. In doing this, many are discovering that the best way is to have Hispanics in their workforce, while spending some money marketing specifically to this population segment.
Seeing the Market
Like Johnson, Paul Heinauer, president of GlassPro in Charleston, S.C., has his eyes fixed on the Hispanic market. Heinauer’s business relies on advertising and he has his media buyers focused on reaching Speaking-speaking people. So far, he’s been a bit surprised with what his people report back to him. They say that the Hispanic radio stations charge more than some popular stations because it lets advertisers hit “a very specific market.”
“Our advertising people felt it wasn’t really a good deal, but we’re beginning to get ready to get something going with one company,” he says.
Jim Horrox, chief operating officer of Stockton Auto Glass in Stockton, Calif., thinks radio is the best way to reach the Hispanic population.
“Stockton Auto Glass currently runs ad spots on the largest local Spanish-speaking radio station covering the Central Valley in California from the Bay area into the Sierra foothills,” he explains. “Our marketing research indicated that a large proportion of the Latino population listens to radio throughout the day, and we therefore selected this vehicle over print advertising or yellow pages.”
While Rob Ray, owner, Ray Glass Co., Rosenberg, Tex., doesn’t spend much money advertising to any segment of the market, he does have one unique way to reach the Spanish-speaking population.
“We have a lot of Hispanic Catholic churches here,” Ray says. “In the county fair, they have boards that flash ads. We usually buy an ad in that.”
Others avoid advertising to specific market segments.
“I don’t see advertising [to that specific segment] as a necessity,” says Steve Mort, chief executive officer of Don’s Mobile Glass, an auto and flat glass retail shop and manufacturer and distributor of shower doors based in Modesto, Calif. “If you were to advertise on Telemundo or the Hispanic radio stations, that would be great, but I don’t think that’s absolutely a requirement.”
If you do advertise to the Hispanic market, most owners say the only real essential is buying spots in the Spanish yellow pages. Dave Duron, owner of Freddy’s Auto Glass in Waco, Tex., does this, but no other specific marketing. Randy Maddux, owner of Ever-Ready Glass, a five-store chain based in Phoenix, also does this and runs ads in the regular yellow pages with a note saying that he has employees who speak Spanish.
“A lot of the telephones books are English and Spanish,” Maddux points out. “We make sure we always get ads in the Spanish sections. We have several phonebooks that are just Hispanic, like the Hispanic directory.”
Bridging the Communication Gap
While radio spots, ads at church fairs, and yellow page directories all seem like good marketing methods, some companies use other marketing approaches as well.
“We have direct sales people who make sales calls to the Hispanic market,” Mort says. “We also have Spanish-speaking CSRs in all of our facilities.”
Maddux has been marketing to Hispanics for almost ten years and has a similar strategy. In Phoenix, he has two Spanish-speaking customer service agents on staff so that one is always around to answer the phone. In his Tucson store, he has another one.
“You have to have people fluent in Spanish because there are a lot of people calling who can only speak Spanish,” he explains.
Maddux also has a team of salespeople who market his company to insurance agents. The salespeople who cover Hispanic areas of his market must be able to speak Spanish, he says.
“The agents in Tucson who cater to that market demand must have Spanish speakers on staff,” he says. “My salespeople are out there marketing to the agents with the fact that we have Spanish speaking customer service representatives.”
The potential of tapping into the Hispanic insurance market is the reason Johnson remains convinced that he needs a Spanish speaker on staff. Hispanic insurance agents come in and ask him if he has Spanish speakers. When Johnson says no, he realizes he is missing an opportunity for business. Once he gets the Spanish speaker on staff, he already knows how he would utilize him or her.
“We would run all of the calls from all five of our locations to a phone number that would ring back here to the main office,” he says. “We could have that number on a separate line, so that when it rang, the person would say, ‘Hola, Interstate Glass.’ We would be very inviting because these folks want to do business with someone. Whoever can make it easy for them and less intimidating will capture that segment of the market.”
But others say they haven’t had a problem selling to the Hispanic population without Spanish speakers on staff. Ray doesn’t currently have a Spanish speaker on staff, yet says he can make sales. But he says the bulk of his Spanish-speaking customers don’t have insurance, which takes that sometimes arduous process out of the equation.
“We’re able to communicate,” he says. “We don’t have a problem making a sale. We keep samples here. If they give us the information and we know what questions to ask and what to show them, we’re able to communicate. We don’t have any problems doing business with them.”
While having Spanish-speaking installers isn’t as important as having CSRs who speak Spanish, it’s very helpful if the people installing the glass can speak the language of the customer.
“We go around the vehicle beforehand and document scratches and you have to communicate with the customer on all of that stuff,” Maddux points out. “A lot of customers are concerned with the process of how the windshield is installed. A lot of them stand there and watch you.”
Diversifying the Workforce
It seems many glass shop owners know that one of the best ways to make a business welcoming to Hispanics and sow good feeling in the Hispanic community is to hire Spanish speakers. But the benefits go far beyond that. While it’s always difficult to find good help (especially auto glass technicians), shops that market for bilingual employees can open up a whole new employee base. “You open yourself up to a whole new kind of individual and a whole different market of qualified, hardworking people,” Duron says.
And, with the rising number of Hispanics in this country, there will be more opportunities to hire them.
“We know the workforce is going to change dramatically in a few years,” says Tom Lee III, owner of Lee and Cates Glass Inc., an auto and flat glass retailer based in Jacksonville, Fla. “We’re an equal opportunity employer. If you’re qualified or even if you’re not qualified and want to work hard, we want you. We want good people.”
In fact, Lee is considering helping Spanish-speaking employees learn to speak English. He got the idea from watching a friend, who owns an office supply company, training his Bosnian workforce to speak English. While he hasn’t followed suit yet, Lee would consider such a move.
“We’ll look at anything,” Lee says “As the world changes, and the population increases, we’ll definitely have to look at things like language courses.”
Unlike many of the glass shop owners interviewed for this article, Lee and Mort have some people in their companies who can’t speak English. Both say this communication gap hasn’t caused a problem.
“We have one guy who is Cuban but speaks English and there’s another who doesn’t speak English well,” Lee says. “The Cuban has helped interpret in those situations. But it’s still somewhat of a barrier.”
Heinauer can see where it would be a barrier, but is open to having employees who don’t speak English. He admits the situation could be tricky.
“I think in a very short time, we could communicate efficiently,” he says. ”On the other hand, we want the employee and our customers to feel as comfortable as possible. So there would be a limit to the gap in communication for both parties.”
Other shops owners want no communication gap.
“It could pose quite a challenge because they can communicate with all of the other employees, but it would be tough for them to speak with me,” Duron says. “It would also be hard for the manager of the auto glass shop to communicate. He would have to go to someone else to communicate what his requests are.”
Duron’s fellow Texan, Ray, sees the same thing. “I don’t think I could hire someone who couldn’t speak English,” Rays says. “It just wouldn’t work out.”
So, for many shops, the goal is to find Spanish-speaking employees who have a grasp of English. Though finding these people isn’t easy, Duron has some suggestions.
“My advice would be to get in touch with someone at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and get involved,” Duron says. “You can also go to the Hispanic chamber of commerce and see where these people are and maybe even go to the local workforce commission.”
Whether it’s marketing to or hiring of Hispanics, glass shops—even in states that haven’t traditionally had large Hispanic populations—must be ready for the influx (see maps, pages 29 and 31)
“When you look at the workforce, a lot of folks want to move here from other parts of the country and find the American dream,” Lee says.
And, in a business where it’s not always easy to find good help, it can serve a glass shop well to help them find that dream.
Les Shaver is a contributing editor to AGRR.
Census Says Hispanic Is...
The Bureau of the Census defines Hispanics as follows: People who identify with the terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” are those who classify themselves in one of the specific Hispanic or Latino categories listed on the Census 2000 questionnaire—”Mexican,” “Puerto Rican,” or “Cuban”—as well as those who indicate that they are “other Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino.” Origin can be considered as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States. People who identify their origin as Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino may be of any race.
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