Volume 11, Issue 4 - July/Augsut 2009

Independent Voices
Independents Gather to Share Stories, Learn from One Another, in Fort Myers, Fla.
by Penny Stacey

“If you think you’re too small to be effective, you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito.” Those were the words of Independents’ Days Conference keynote speaker Greg Coccaro on the conference’s opening days, and words that could be used to sum up the theme of the three-day event, during which independent shop owners from across the country gathered to learn how they, too, could make a difference among a see of auto glass chains, conglomerates and insurers.


Play Ball

Coccaro, who kicked things off with his opening speech on Tuesday, May 12, is no stranger to any of these struggles. In fact, he probably knows about dealing with the latter of them more than he’d ever dreamed he would. The owner of his body shop, Custom State, in Bedford, N.Y., was sued several years ago by Progressive Insurance for a case involving a customer who wanted to use his high-end shop to have nearly $30,000 worth of repair work done on her vehicle. After a long, convoluted repair process, Coccaro ended up with payment for the repairs—but also a summons.

The insurer sued him for fraud, making numerous allegations. Among these was a claim that he charged for repairs he never completed.

In the end, a New York Supreme Court judge threw the case out of court, and Coccaro prevailed—but lost $500,000 in legal fees incurred fighting the case. In a story that sounded strangely familiar to many shop owners, if on a smaller scale, Coccaro detailed the events that led to the filing of the suit and how the case itself played out in court.

“What I’m trying to portray here is the lengths that [insurance companies will] go to to demolish an individual who won’t play ball with them,” he said.

Coccaro, who now is suing Progressive for alleged tortious interference, also left attendees with something to think about: the ‘63 Consent Decree.

“When you read this, your jaw will drop,” Coccaro said. “In 1963, Robert Kennedy sued the insurance industry for all the things going on today … It states in there that [insurance companies are] not allowed to do the things they’re doing. They’re not allowed to suppress rates, and they’re not allowed to steer vehicles.”

He also advised that he believes that federal legislation—rather than handling issues state by state—may be the answer for automotive repair/insurance industry struggles.

“The time is right for this,” Coccaro added.


“Run Your Business”
One particular piece of advice attendees received was simple and to the point: “You have to run your business similarly to how other businesses are run.” These words came from another notable body shop owner, Bruce Hutchins of Bruce’s Super Body Shops in Richmond, Va.

“We live in fear of insurance companies,” he said, “and we shouldn’t.”

He also talked about businesses that depend on insurance networks and advised this isn’t necessarily the way to go.

“Shouldn’t we actually think more about our marketing strategy?” he asked.
Hutchins prides himself on the customer service his business provides. His technicians dress in white uniforms and are trained in handling customers, he said. Hutchins’ television commercials, with which he has found much success, stress quality service and consumer choice.


The Bad Seeds
Unfortunately, despite the efforts of many to market quality service the way Hutchins does, there will always be some that take a different approach—sometimes even an illegal approach. This was the focus of a talk by attorney Dennis Kass, Manning & Marder, Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez LLP, who makes a living investigating and helping to prosecute glass shops (and others) for fraud.

“It’s just opportunism giving the industry a black eye,” Kass advised. “This is a sobering and thought-provoking presentation.”

The most common type of fraud Kass sees are shops that lie about where they’re located in an effort to get higher payments from insurance companies and networks for their services.

Cindy Ketcherside, chair of the AGRSS accreditation committee, followed Kass with an update on the group’s third-party validation program. Turn to page 20 for the latest on this effort.


NAGS Now

A popular forum in recent years’ IGA conferences continued this year—the NAGS question-and-answer period. James Patterson and Bud Oliver again took center stage and opened themselves up to a variety of on-the-spot questions from attendees.

One common question is always: what is NAGS’s role in the industry?

“Our role is to be an information provider,” Oliver explained. “We just gather the data … We create a part number for the glass based on the attributes of that glass.”

Patterson added, “What we strive to do is create a common language and a point of reference. That really is the underlying role—just that commonality.”

Another question dealt with “low-ballers”—and how Oliver and Patterson feel about those who employ this practice and complete insurance work for a large percentage off NAGS.

“That wouldn’t happen if they couldn’t find retailers to service their policyholders,” Patterson explained.

The value of NAGS benchmark pricing also came up.

“The nice thing about the benchmark is that it allows different markets to respond different ways,” Patterson said. “[The benchmark] runs across 1,600 parts in different markets.”

Town Hall
Though attendees traveled from many different markets to attend the conference, their differences in origination didn’t stop them from participating in a town hall meeting to discuss common issues of importance to them. Neil Duffy of Auto Glass Menders in San Jose, Calif., and the IGA’s newest board member, Corey Hemperly of Windshield Doctor Inc. in Pocatello, Idaho, and led the discussion, during which they, together with participants, explored a variety of topics.

Hemperley reiterated Hutchins’ thoughts when he stressed the value of strong customer service—particularly in an effort to avoid possible steering practices.

“People will fight for you if you build that relationship and educate the customers,” he warned.

Similarly, Duffy stressed the importance of educating consumers about the importance of a quality installation.

“Half my calls are me trying to educate the customer,” he said. “I want to be paid for my time and my liability.”

Hemperly also called on audience members to answer a challenging question: why they’re in the auto glass business.

“I loved cars, so I saw an ad in the paper for an auto glass job, and it turned out, I liked it,” said Raymond Jones of Absolute Glass in Columbia, S.C. “I [started] my own business because I got tired of the small moms-and-pops who couldn’t pay me more … It seems all I did was jump from one roller coaster to another.”

Hemperley closed the meeting with a reminder, too, that echoed Coccaro’s mosquito analogy.

“I asked someone once when I was younger, ‘How do you make a difference?’ and he said, ‘You just do. You just do make a difference,’” Hemperly recalled. “I encourage all of you to go back and encourage others to get involved … I encourage every one of you to let your voices be heard.”

Robert Johnson of Johnson Auto Glass called the conference an “eye-opener” for him.

“This has been the greatest conference I have ever been to,” he said. “There were so many things that I learned that I never knew about auto glass … Everyone here is so willing to help.”

The conference was accompanied by the Spring Auto Glass Show™. For more about the products introduced during this event, turn to page 56.


IGA Launches Data Collection Service
The Independent Glass Association (IGA) launched an online data collection service designed to collect information about possible steering incidents from shop owners and technicians throughout the industry during its annual conference in May. According to IGA president Dave Zoldowski, who also serves as president of Auto One in Brighton, Mich., the goals of the program is to collect data—particularly regarding alleged steering practices.

“The goal of the program is to document what we believe to be true and that is that competitor-administrators use a variety of tactics to steer our customers to their shops,” Zoldowski says.

The service is open to all—not just IGA members.

“Anybody can use the program as long as they legitimize themselves and state for the record that they have a claim number to reference the job, and a particular job description,” he says. “Our plea to the industry is [for you] to report what you know is happening and you know that you are hearing or your CSRs know is going on.”

Though steering was a main factor in the system’s development, it wasn’t the only one.

“Our feelings are is that this communication tool can be used to report any valid incident that you believe damages the consumer or the shop,” Zoldowski says.

The form to input information can be accessed at http://www.windshieldsafety.com/grievance.


Penny Stacey is the editor of AGRRmagazine/glassBYTEs.com™.


AGRR
© Copyright 2009 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.