|Give Me Liberty Or...
This service-oriented business knows how to get its customers to ask for it.
10th Avenue and 48th Street in Manhattan is home to Liberty Auto Glass, a fourth generation business that thrives in the Big Apple, not a location most might think is fertile territory for an auto glass business.
But Liberty has two basic tenets of running a successful business down pat: provide such good service that your customers ask for you, and treat all your employees like family so that they remain loyal and do first-class work.
The midtown West Side area has always been for Liberty Glass, which was founded in 1919 by Ben Levy and his young son Harry. The Levy family came into the auto glass business in a round-about way.
“My grandfather, who started the business,” explained Leonard Levy, current president and owner of the company, “was a cabinetmaker in England. When he came to the United States, he went to work for a transit company because cars at that time contained wood and his skills were transferable. He had an uncle who was in the body shop business and, because my grandfather knew how to cut glass—a cabinetmaking skill, he started cutting the glass for the body shop.”
Levy pointed out that there were no auto glass shops then, so his grandfather’s skill with glass was in demand by other vehicle businesses. “He saw the demand and decided to go into business for himself. The name Liberty comes from Ellis Island and the Statute of Liberty, because it had made such an impression on him when he came to the U.S.,” he explained.
Today, Liberty Glass is run by the founder’s grandson, the third generation Levy, and his daughter, Deborah Berger, the fourth generation.
Cars in Manhattan?
In a city famous for its public transportation and residents’ lack of cars, how has Liberty Auto Glass survived? Levy says there is no lack of work.
“We do the auto glass work for the major rental companies and for auto dealers,” he explained. “We do the municipality’s vehicles, the city of New York.” “We do taxis, fleets, commuters, break-ins,” added Berger. “We’ve been around so long and service is so important to us.” According to Levy, the company’s longevity is an asset in offering a service customers don’t need that often. “We get a lot of repeat customers. They call and say, ‘You put my glass in six years ago and did a good job.
The name Liberty always stuck in my mind.’”
Levy explained that the company does some window tinting, but basically specializes in just auto glass replacement. It has been doing repair for the last five years, but does not find much demand for it among its clientele.
He estimated that 60 percent of the company’s business is mobile. The company has three other locations. (See box page 34.) There are a total of 25 to 30 employees, with 12 of them at the Manhattan location, the company’s largest site. The company has the flexibility to send some of its Manhattan-based technicians to New Jersey for mobile jobs when necessary, although Deborah made the point that they try to keep at least three technicians at the 48th Street location all the time because of the volume of business.
One Big Happy Family
Liberty Glass has 16 technicians in total, five at 48th Street.
“Most of our employees, and especially the technicians, have been with me for a long time,” said Levy. “I’ve worked very hard to get the best people and to keep them.” He said that a number of the techs are in the mid-40s and have been with the company for 20 years.
Levy said that he looks for the right qualities in a perspective new hire and employees start as a car shifter (someone who drives the vehicles back and forth between the dealers or car rental companies) and then if they show potential move up in the ranks.
“We have the luxury of taking people on to find out if they are good and then keeping them or letting them
go. I’m not desperate for help,” Levy said.
He pointed out that all technicians receive training from the sealant suppliers once a year, regardless of how much experience they have. Safety films are also used for training. “Our callback rate is less than 1 percent,” Levy stated proudly.
One Big Family
Family stories abound. Deborah told the story of Javier, a technician, who “was a kid on the corner and Dad brought him in to keep him out of trouble. This is Hell’s Kitchen,” she emphasized. “Then Javier brought his brother Rudy in,” she added proudly.
And then there are the other members of the original family who are in the business.
“My nephew, Marc Stone, runs the Queens shop,” Levy related. “His dad used to work in the business. Then my nephew-in-law, Dan Stone—no relation—runs this location with Deb and I.” The three try to trade off so that there are always two of them at the shop at any time.
Levy said that his son Brian was in the business for 10 years, but he has decamped and become a big-deal sports manager.
Celebrities are not unknown to Levy or Liberty Glass.
Asked to name some of the people whose vehicles have been worked on Levy lists Michael Douglas, Eli Wallach, the violinist Itzhak Perlman. “Andy Rooney came in and I didn’t even recognize him,” Levy tells a story on himself. “And I watch 60 Minutes all the time.” Katharine Hepburn, Alan Alda, he continued naming. “We do all of the mayors’ cars because of the city contracts,” he stated. “We also do a lot of major executives’ cars, but I’d rather not name any of them,” he added. Their drivers generally bring those vehicles in.
“We deal with a lot of affluent people,” Levy explained and that’s the reason that his repair rate is only about 5 percent of his business. “These are higher-end cars and the owners want replacement not repair.”
Although Liberty Glass is in the middle of Manhattan, Levy said that the company faces a lot of the same problems as other glass companies. He said that he does a lot of business with the networks because a lot of his clients ask specifically for the shop.
Some of the problems which are more unique to his location are the lack of parking (often a vehicle has to be put in a parking garage due to lack of street space) and high rents.
Levy mentioned hearing Belron’s Gary Lubner speak at the National Auto Glass Conference in Tucson. “They’re a little older than we are,” he said of the South African-based company which has reentered the U.S. market. Lubner made clear in Tucson the company was looking for acquisitions. Has he contacted Levy? “No, but we’re approached regularly,” he stated.
“I’m 67 and I love what I do and still strive to do better every day,” he said. It shows with the repeat clientele and the enthusiastic, long-term employees.
“He’s a one in a million,” stated Paulster Johnson, foreman, who has been with the company for 19 years. “He treats you with respect and cares about your family.”
Maybe it’s lessons learned from the streets of New York City, but they serve Liberty Auto Glass well.
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