A New Era
Three Trends Driving Repair
by Les Shaver
A decade ago, HSG
(formerly Harmon Solutions Group) probably had a repair rate of somewhere
in the high teens or low twenties. Now, the Eau Claire, Wis.-based network,
the third largest in the total solutions provider realm, says its repairs
constitute almost half of its business—46 to 48 percent to be accurate.
“I definitely think that repair is coming into its own element or has
fully matured,” says Paul Gross, president and chief executive officer
of HSG. “There’s been a substantial movement from that standpoint in terms
of repair at the insurance carrier level.”
Others in the industry are also seeing this trend. “We’re starting to
see more and more people doing windshield repair,” says Dan Mock, vice
president of operations for Glass Doctor, a replacement and repair provider
based in Waco, Texas.
While the sentiment expressed by Mock and Gross isn’t universal, there’s
definitely a feeling that the repair has some headwind behind it. There’s
the environmental movement, the cost savings in repair, and the ability
to maintain the integrity of the windshield’s original seal pushing the
“We’re saving them deductibles and time and people are starting to see
the environmental aspect of windshield repair,” Mock says. “I think there
are a lot of things at play. It’s not just one single thing that’s making
a big difference. I think there are several different things coming together
at once—kind of a perfect storm.”
But some industry veterans think still more steps need to be taken before
repair reaches its potential. They feel it may be some time still before
the industry reaches its full potential.
1. Cost Savings
As the recession has taken hold, unemployment is rising to almost ten
percent and wages are falling. People are taking pay cuts, furloughs and
watching their retirement accounts dry up. They don’t want to spend money.
“Everybody is trying to pinch a few pennies and save money where they
can,” Mock says.
Repairing a windshield costs much less than replacing one. “Based on the
economy, there are more and more people taking repair seriously,” says
Rory Most, general manager of Glass Technology in Durango, Colo. “Repair
started because it was a cost-effective alternative to replacement.”
And it’s still effective. “I think windshield repair is recession-proof,”
says Peter Jones, owner of Glass Technology, a one-man windshield repair
business in Boston. “It’s an item that has to be fixed to [pass] your
Many insurance companies are helping promote repair even more by waiving
a customer’s deductible if they choose repair over the more costly replacement.
“The cost savings to the policyholder is dollar for dollar of what their
deductible is,” Gross says.
“The costs savings to the carrier will depend on what the deductible is
too. In a state like Florida or Massachusetts, where there is no deductible,
the carrier will save every dollar of that.”
Just before press time, Safelite also had started running television ads
focusing on repair and the fact that it is often free when processed as
an insurance claim (see related story on page
Also, driving insurers to repair is the “per incident” pricing trend,
popularized a few years ago. Under this type of agreement, an insurer
guarantees to pay a network a certain amount per glass claim. Since, repair
is less expensive, it makes sense for the network to prefer repair.
“Per incident pricing has been out there for many, many years,” Mock says.
“It’s a way of lowering your overall cost for an insurance company to
do business with you. If they can save a few dollars here or there, it
all impacts their bottom line.”
Hurdles to Cross:
If repair has higher profit margins than replacement, does it really matter
when people don’t know the advantages? That’s what Kerry Soat, owner of
Fas Break Windshield Repair and Replacement Glass Systems, a repair system
manufacturer in Mesa, Ariz., wants to know. He thinks a lot of people
still don’t even realize that their deductibles could be waived in repair.
“I was at a franchise show in Chicago last fall,” he says. “I was shocked
by the number of people that didn’t know an insurance company would pay
for a repair and waive the deductible. The majority of people with whom
I talked were paying for their own repairs.”
And, some companies are moving away from waiving deductibles altogether.
“One that has is State Farm.,” Most says. “State Farm is one of the only
companies that doesn’t offer free repair to its full customer base. It
only offers free repair to people with full glass coverage. They used
to offer it to everyone. They stopped doing it three or four years ago.
But nobody has followed their lead and adapted their policy.”
Dave Casey, president of Orlando-based SuperGlass Windshield Repair, thinks
other insurers could eventually follow the State Farm lead. Ultimately,
Casey doesn’t buy the argument that the recession is augmenting repair.
He thinks the industry may also be getting hurt from the recession.
“We’re seeing growth as far as awareness and receptiveness [of repair]
and being considered the proper thing to do,” he says. “As far as growth
in volume, rent-a-car companies have downsized, car sales are way down,
trucking is fairly static, and rent-a-car fleets have downsized massively,”
he says. “On a per-car-capita basis, that stuff is down. On the number
of new customers getting involved, then that’s up.”
Lucien Bollanger, owner of A-1 Windshield Doctor in Seekonk, Mass., hasn’t
really seen sales increases either. “Quite a few people just have liability,”
he says. “They have to pay for [repair.]”
2. Environmental Concerns
As HSG has seen glass repair business increase among consumers, the gain
has come in some surprising places—Florida, Massachusetts, and South Carolina.
“We actually drive a substantial repair percentage in those zero-deductible
climates,” Gross says. “I would say ten years ago, people in zero-deductible
areas thought repair was not viable in states like Florida, South Carolina
or Massachusetts, where there’s no economic advantage to the policyholder.
But we’re seeing a dramatic improvement, largely because of how we approach
Gross isn’t approaching it by talking about the economy, but other benefits
associated with windshield repair, namely the environmental advantages.
“I think in this day and age, people want to do whatever is responsible,”
he says. “That’s getting more traction. That’s where we see the incentives.
In those zero-deductible areas, we’re talking about everything other than
economic incentives and demonstrating how it’s the responsible choice.”
In a society that’s seen to be more focused on environmental factors,
repair does have some advantages. Right now, there’s no simple way to
recycle windshields. With 275 million pounds of auto glass going into
landfills a year, according to the Global Glass Conservation Alliance
(GGCA), that’s a huge deal. And, add the 15.2 million BTUs in energy used
to produce a ton of glass, it’s easy to see how consumers might opt for
the environmental friendliness of repair.
“We educate our customers that the windshields, at least not right now,
are a non-recycled item,” Most says. “There are a lot of people who are
learning that. More people are learning more about repair because they
realize it helps save the environment.”
That’s what the folks at insurer Esurance think, according to Gross. The
Sioux Falls, S.D.-based web-based insurance company doesn’t print anything
and they e-mail everything.
“It’s all electronic and they have a really strong track record of embracing
the environmental responsibility for how they conduct business,” Gross
says. “Windshield repair fits nicely into that campaign. They are enamored
with the environmental side of this. That’s been their motivation for
repair. We’ve actually created a campaign with them where for every windshield
repair that we commit to planting a tree on their behalf. It’s a great
example to how industry has shifted from cost saving to other favorable
impacts that are a direct result of repair.”
Gross sees more insurers following this trend. (Editor’s Note: State Farm
and some other major insurers declined to comment for this story). “That’s
a trend you wouldn’t have seen five years ago,” Gross says. “I think the
environmental aspect is huge.”
The environmental aspect has created such a boom for the industry that
the National Windshield Repair Association (NWRA) recently became a part
of the newly formed GGCA. The GGCA’s goal is to bring awareness to the
public about the benefits of glass repair, restoration, reuse and recycling.
The NWRA now acts as a council of the GGCA (see related story on page
“I think windshield
repair is recession-proof.”
Glass Technology, Boston
Hurdles to Cross:
While there are those like Gross and Most who think the environmental
movement can provide a great boon to the repair industry, others aren’t
“Landfills have been there for 35 years. I didn’t see anyone jumping on
it 35 years ago,” Soat says.
Casey agrees. “The environment is great marketing pitch,” he says. “These
days it seems like there’s a lot to deal with—whether it’s the economy
or swine flu and the environment takes a back seat. It [marketing the
environment] is a great concept, but I don’t see people buying on it.
There’s more reason to tout the environment than ever, but I think there’s
3. Saving the Seal
While the environment may not be first and foremost in the minds of windshield
repair customers, they do have other goals that seem to be in line aligned
with what the repair industry can provide. Take, for instance, a woman
for whom Bollanger did a repair. She had a nasty break that could have
been repaired. She knew nothing about the environmental advantages of
repair, but she didn’t want the factory seal in her windshield broken
because she feared leaking.
“They [customers] are more concerned with keeping their windshields from
leaking,” Bollanger says. “They don’t want the windshield to leak or have
wind noises … It’s what everyone is concerned about.”
Jones sees much of the same thing. “I tell them [customers] they have
to them to keep the original seal in as long as possible,” he says.
And, Jones finds that message has traction. The cry to save the factory
seal has long been a battle cry in the repair industry, but the main driver
wasn’t wind or noise. The industry’s has traditionally pushed repair’s
ability to save the factory seal and possibly save lives. The rationale:
it’s more likely for the windshield to stay in the event of an accident
if it has the factory seal.
“I don’t know of a lawsuit where the windshield was repaired and they
sued the company,” Bollanger says. “I can recall countless incidents where
people were pushed out of a car and sued.
Hurdles to Cross:
Unfortunately, many customers have little idea that windshield repair
can cut down on leaks and noise while possibly making them safer. In a
way, this misunderstanding is symbolic of the bigger perception problem
that repair has—few people know about it or what it can do for them, their
pocketbooks, and the environment. That’s a bridge the industry must cross.
“I see that [preserving the seal] as a huge advantage, but most policyholders
don’t understand the materiality of preserving that factory seal,” Gross
says. “Obviously you need to have some education.”
Les Shaver is a contributing editor for AGRR magazine.
© Copyright 2009 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.