Volume 12, Issue 3 - May/June 2010

feature

A Focus(ed) Group
Repair-Only Businesses Focus on Success
by Penny Stacey

Though the auto glass repair and replacement industries are in many ways linked, sometimes, businesses that focus on windshield repair alone face an entirely different set of challenges than their replacement counterparts. Many have found a way not only to overcome these challenges—but also to make them strengths. Read on for some tips.

1. Windshield Repair Awareness
Though windshield repair has now been around for nearly 30 years, that’s a relatively short lifespan compared to other processes and ideas. And with that youth comes a lack of awareness by consumers about both its existence and how it works.

“I find that the majority of the public doesn’t know the difference between repair and the actual replacement of windshields,” says Mark Huckle, owner of GlassLogic Windshield Repair in Irving, Texas. “They think that repair is
replacement.”

In order to combat this, Huckle says when he receives a call from a potential customer, he’s always careful to pre-qualify the job.

“I always ask specific questions to pre-qualify and make sure that the break is repairable before I head out to the jobsite,” he says. “That’s really important for a repair technician.”

The way insurers handle repair also can be a source of misunderstanding

“What’s confusing to [customers] a lot is that they still don’t realize that almost all insurance companies will waive their deductibles [for repair],” says Mike Cass, owner of Eco-Smart in Peoria, Ill. “After all these years, that’s still a predominant issue out there.”

However, the recent television and radio program focusing on windshield repair by Safelite AutoGlass has helped with awareness, some say.

“I have had two instances where a customer said [he] saw the commercial on television talking about windshield repair and how it was paid for by insurance, and [he] could not remember the name of the company, so [he] looked me up online,” says Huckle.

Cass thinks the ad campaign has been a positive for the industry at large.

“I’m not against Safelite advertising [windshield repair], because it does create awareness,” he says. “The key really is for people with small shops offering repair to make themselves readily available.”

“I find that the majority of the public doesn’t know the difference between repair
and the actual replacement of windshields.”

2. Gathering New Business
In any business, gaining new customers is difficult, but, in a business with a low level of awareness, it becomes even more so. Jeff Wurst of Crackmaster Windshield Repair in Redding, Calif., has found that advertising—in a variety of forms—is a positive, though.

“I’m always in the Yellow Pages,” he says. “ … I mostly just concentrate in the main one, but online, I think, is now the way a lot of people, especially the younger generations, are shopping. They’d rather do a search than look through the phone book.”

Cass agrees.

“The Interent wasn’t even a blink in someone’s eye when I got started,” says Cass. “But now everyone uses computers … There’s been an explosion in Internet usage.”

Robert Cawood of Rock Star Mobile Windshield Repair in San Antonio says approximately half of all his new business comes from his website.

Huckle, however, goes a step beyond his own website.

“I make sure that I am consistently signing on to lists and other directories that will link to my website,” he says. “Usually if you find an online directory they will have a free spot in which you can put your information.”

Wurst also has a billboard on the main road that goes into his town, along with a regular ad in the local “Pennysaver.”

Though Wurst has tried television, he said it wasn’t his most successful effort.

“I did TV ads last December, and the bills came in before the money did,” he says. “It was a very expensive way of advertising.”

Cass has found that marketing via your vehicle also is a good method.

“Make sure you have a very, very recognizable vehicle,” he says. “Use brighter colors, just something to attract the eye. Leave that vehicle parked in a very busy area, such as a major parking area next to a main road.”

Referrals—both from other shops and from other customers—also can result in new business. Cawood sends all of his customers hand-written thank-you cards, and has found that this usually results in word-of-mouth advertising.

“In just a couple of years, I’ve gotten a lot of repeat business and people will refer me to their neighbors,” he says.

Forming an alliance with a replacement shop also can be a benefit.

“When I encounter a windshield that I cannot repair, I am very honest with people and I do my best to refer to replacement shops,” says Wurst.

“Now they have started sending some [repair work] back, even though I give them a lot more money than they give me,” he chuckles.

3. The Bait and Switch
Though forming an alliance can be of value, not all businesses are ready for such an agreement. And there’s an old technique against which many repair-only businesses still compete—the “bait and switch.”

“A lot of times these repair/replacement companies charge a high cost for a repair on purpose because they make more doing a replacement,” says Huckle. “Then, if [the repair] doesn’t hold, they’ll deduct the cost of the repair from the cost of replacement. A lot of times, they might do a sloppy job to drive the [need for a] replacement.”
Wurst sees this in his area as well.

“I’ve talked to a lot of guys who, when they do repairs, hope that [the windshields] crack later,” he says. “If it cracks later, they’ll give a credit on a new windshield and [the customer will] be forced to go to that company for a replacement.”

He likens it to a tire business that doesn’t align your tires properly, making the tires wear out more quickly.

“The failure of one service can enhance the other service,” he says.

Despite struggling against businesses that do both items, many still prefer to stay specialists in the repair business alone.

“I’ve been told for many years that I should get into replacement, but I like being the repair authority,” says Wurst.

4. Working with Networks
Working with third-party administrators and glass claims networks has its advantages, many say, but it also can create some headaches for a repair-only business. First, there’s billing.

“I can’t survive on what they offer [to pay for repairs], because what I offer is a far greater service than what they’re paying for,” says Wurst. “I’m stuck telling the customers, ‘your insurer says it will pay 100 percent, and that’s not really true.’ That’s part of that bad information.”

To combat this, Wurst has his customers pay him directly and then they submit these to the insurer directly for re-imbursement.

“That’s the only way I’ve been able to survive the last five years,” he says.

As for getting leads from networks, it can vary.

“I’ll have a month where I’m getting maybe three, four or five LYNX calls a week, and then I’ll go a month or so when I don’t hear from them at all,” says Cawood.

And, even if you don’t get referrals from the networks, Cass says he’s found it helpful to be listed on them so that he can help a customer off the street more easily.

“If you don’t get on their lists, you’ll lose business—not referral business but people walking through your doors,” he says. “You’re going to have to call that network anyway [even if you’re not on it].”

When Steering Impacts Repair-Only Businesses
Though windshield repair-only businesses face a range of issues unique to their industry, they also share a concern with many independent replacement businesses—that of steering (or what some call “deceptive referrals”) by third-party administrators (see related story on page 26).

“Just last week I lost a job to Safelite,” says Jeff Wurst, owner of Crack Master in Redding, Calif. “The customer was in my shop, ready to do a repair and Safelite talked them out of using me.”

Mike Cass, owner and founder of Eco-Smart in Peoria, Ill., has also had some steering issues, so he tries to prep his customers prior to calling their insurance companies.

“When insurance comes up, I’m not going to push [a potential customer] not to call his agent, but I do warn them that that their agent’s going to tell them ‘even though you may have contacted xx, you may want to contact this company and this company,’” he says. “I can’t say that I’ve been 100 percent successful with that, but all you can do is keep trying.”


Penny Stacey is the editor of AGRR magazine.

 

 


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