Volume 14, Issue 4 - July/August 2012

Feature
Safety and Profit
A re They Mutually Exclusive?

by Erica Terrini

Safety versus profit: this is the Hobson’s choice for some in the auto glass replacement industry. While some choose to sacrifice safety for profit, others find success and sacrifice nothing.

The Middle Men
Richard Lutton has owned Metro Glass, an AGRSS-registered company based in Omaha, Neb., for the last six years. He says his business uses the “highest standard possible” when replacing windshields and goes the extra mile by discussing safety with his customers.

“[We are] doing everything we can to restore the windshield to factory condition by using foam dams, using whatever the vehicle had coming out of the factory,” Lutton says. “We replace that and the price is passed onto the consumer, but we do nothing that would take away from the safety of the consumer. [The windshield] is a federally mandated piece of safety equipment and we treat it as such.”

Still, many, including Gerald Zwart, owner of Clearview Windshields in Sioux Falls, S.D., realize that consumers often are focused strictly on the bottom line.

“I agree that our industry leaders focus on safety, but not all customers and especially cash customers even see that on thier radar screen,” he says. “Most often shops hear ‘How much? How much?’”

Lutton agrees more consumers are concerned with price; yet it is still his job to educate them of its importance and the importance of proper care.

“If people cut corners to give them a cheap windshield installation on their car, they could suffer from it,” he says. “The customers that we have appreciate it greatly. We don’t have people coming back because of leaks or because we put in windshields over rust. If there is rust left over from the shortcuts taken by a competitor previously, we actually grind it out and put chemicals on it to make sure we’re putting in a safe windshield. That’s going to cost the customer money but they’re extremely grateful.”

Lutton says it is implausible to compete with the cheaper, faster option even though his business uses a quick-curing urethane.

“You just can’t because they cut out half the steps that provide a safe windshield and keeps the vehicle from rusting out,” he says. “They don’t care about that so they do it in a half hour, whereas it takes us a good hour and a half to replace the windshield. We’re not competitive with the real cheap guys but I think we’re competitive with other people ... ”

Lutton says the businesses that are “cutting corners” are doing a lot more than improper replacements.

“They’re not only putting people’s lives at risk, they’re ruining vehicles,” he says. “About 25 percent of all vehicles that come to us that have a replacement windshield have rust. They don’t put the right chemicals down; they don’t follow the right process. If they go five or six years, then they have to go to a body shop to get the rust fixed and it’s expensive and it’s unsafe.”

Don Deane, owner/operator of Mother’s Totally Mobile Auto Glass based in Hamilton, Ontario, says he would rather walk away from an auto glass replacement job than install a windshield improperly.

“I have walked away from jobs,” Deane says. “With us [safety] is number-one.”

It comes down to a lack of training of technicians within the industry, Deane says.

“If the guy before me did it right, we wouldn’t be having this discussion in safety over profit,” he says. “I just shake my head when I see some of these jobs.”

The Hustler
One 51-year-old North Carolina auto glass shop owner says that, in order to remain in business, many—including his own techs—within the industry opt for inferior products, inadequate procedures and undercutting the proper amount of time to get the job done.

The owner of the independent auto glass shop, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, says while auto glass may be the company’s “bread and butter,” it is the stiff competition of the auto glass replacement industry that has forced the business to take on more and more non-auto glass jobs.

“We have to in order to stay alive,” the owner says. “Now, if a customer walks in our door, we’re hustling to try to capture that job and, within reason, we’ll beat whatever nasty price out there. We’re all for safety ... but we can’t let safety get in the way of profit.”

The industry has made great strides through the publication of the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standard (AGRSS®) by the Auto Glass Safety Council (AGSC). AGSC has growing company registration and technician certification programs, this particular owner says the majority of his company’s local competition disregards safety. Occasionally, the owner or technicians will recommend a safe amount of waiting time to a customer, as is their procedure, but in the end they lose—because a competing shop will promise to shave off the minutes and, in this world, less time equals more money.

He says businesses should be recommending a safe drive-away time to their customers to let the adhesive dry properly according to the manufacturer’s instructions—but he doesn’t think this is always the case.

“We shake our primer for a minute,” says the owner. “How many [technicians] literally follow the adhesive manufacturer’s recommended procedure 100 percent of the time? I would say one percent. How many times do we take a windshield out and we see scratches on the pinchweld that weren’t primed last time and rust is starting to form?”

When the owner or the shop technicians do encounter a vehicle with significant damage left over from a previous improperly installed windshield that now requires additional work, he says it is their procedure to suggest it be corrected. More often than not, the company is at the will of the customer paying the bill.

“I’ve got to make a decision—this customer doesn’t want to let his car spend the night at the body shop or spend three days in the body shop to get it properly fixed,” the owner says. “We can do minor rust repair but we cannot offer a full warranty from this point forward. We’re going to slap this windshield in and let the customer sign our disclaimer form and cross our fingers that it doesn’t come back to bite us.”

In the instances of vehicles that require a longer safe drive-away time, the owner says it comes down to recommending the customer not drive until that time is passed, but there is no way to guarantee this.

“It’s not safe drive-away time—it’s safe crash time,” the owner says. “The term should be changed. You can drive away safely immediately, just don’t have an accident. Don’t get in a head-on collision and not have your seatbelt on.”

The Voice of Reason
According to Bob Beranek, president of Automotive Glass Consultants in Sun Prairie, Wis., and chair of AGRSS Standards Committee, there are several problems that have brought the industry to this issue of safety and profit.

Among his concerns is that the average consumer is more concerned about price than with the overall quality or safety of the installation, he says.

Zwart agrees, but says it’s up to shops to educate consumers. “I feel it is the shop’s responsibility to take the time to educate the consumer that it is not all about price,” he says. “We need to explain the differance between OE and aftermarket and explain the AGRSS Standard and what it means to be registered with it and how [the cosumer] can benefit from that. Afterall, they called us with a need—should we not educate them and sell [to] them?”

Additionally, there are auto glass businesses that open prematurely without research or a business plan and are not well versed on the safety issues, Beranek says.

“Our ills boil down to our industry,” he says. “It’s pretty easy to get into and pretty inexpensive to get into. Because of the competition, you’ve got people who are undercutting other businesses that are trying to do it right.”

But the biggest issue, Beranek says, is a lack of communication.

Consumers do not realize the dangers of improper windshield replacement and demand their service providers practice safe procedures, Beranek says. He fears prices will continue to decrease if shortcuts are allowed to be taken and because the consumer at large still considers the windshield as a commodity.

“[Consumers] wouldn’t even think twice about spending the money necessary to put an airbag in or to put a safety belt in,” he says. “The general public has to start understanding that without the windshield installed properly, their safety devices will not protect them.”

Erica Terrini is assistant editor for AGRR™ magazine. Email her at eterrini@glass.com.


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