Volume 14, Issue 6 - November/December 2012

Feature
A New Itch to Scratch?
Auto Glass Repair Companies Find New Revenue in Flat Glass Scratch Removal

Phil Nungesser, owner of ClearVision Auto Glass & Headlights in Atlanta, has been doing windshield repair work for about seven years now. As the company’s name implies, Nungesser isn’t reluctant to expand into different markets. He recently decided it was time to consider expanding his services again, and flat glass scratch removal seemed an obvious place to look.

“I was looking to expand my business because the automotive side of [glass repair] can be up and down at times,” Nungesser says. A little research showed that few companies were providing flat glass scratch removal in his area. “I knew that there was a good market,” he says.

Pat Mannen, owner/operator of Glass Mend in Seattle, has been doing windshield and chip repair for about 20 years now, and several years ago expanded to add flat glass scratch removal to his business.

“I decided to do [flat glass scratch removal] to have another avenue of income and it turned out to be very lucrative for me,” he says. Mannen can now offer customers a range of repair surfaces from smoothing out wiper scratches to polishing scratches on antique cars. Going from autos to removing graffiti on flat glass and mirror scratch elimination seemed like an obvious transition.

“I would always rather restore than replace,” says Don Dickson, owner/operator of Glass Technology Windshield Repair in Hereford, Ariz. “I do windshield repair, have been doing it for 20 years, and now everybody and their brother and sister is into the same line of work.”

Dickson, too, is looking to further differentiate his business by doing windshield wiper scratch removal but sees the possible overlap from auto to home scratch repair. “I don’t want to do a restoration of a big complex,” he says. “If somebody has a scratch, I want to be able to remove that scratch, that’s it.” It makes sense that the mobile tech, while repairing a crack in the car owner’s driveway, can see and potentially repair the chip in that same customer’s living room window.

Michael Keen, owner/operator of Glass Guardians in Chicago, began scratch removal three years ago with a slightly different focus. “Actually we went in with the general purpose of commercial scratch removal and veered off into cars,” he says.

With the right equipment and proper training, there’s no reason a windshield repair technician can’t add flat glass scratch removal to his list of services (and vice versa). Yet, just because the skills are transferable doesn’t mean there aren’t some considerations to keep in mind when going from automobiles to buildings. For Keen, reaching customers in either market was no problem when using traditional channels of marketing. The key, however, is getting the word out.

Mannen often works from third-party referrals. “On the automotive side, I get a lot of referrals from the auto dealerships that I do chip repair for,” he says. Those dealerships, and the antique car clubs for which he provides glass polishing, are only too happy to refer his work. “They’ll refer me to their customers who come in for service, and so I have a good following there,” he says.

If expanding to dent repair, for example (see page 34), an auto glass business owner might be able to use the same network. However, if expanding into flat glass, you may need to put new networks into place for bringing in customers.

First Scratch is Hardest
For Mannen, it was all just a matter of getting that first flat glass scratch removal job.

“I got started with a contractor in Seattle who was remodeling homes, then he told another contractor about me and I went and did work for them. I’m doing a 24-unit townhome right now where every unit has about three lites of glass that were scratched,” Mannen says. “The flat glass [marketing] is really more word of mouth.”

Nungesser is just starting to set sail in that same boat. “Most of my windshield work is for auto dealers, getting their pre-owned vehicles ready to sell, doing reconditioning. I haven’t figured out a great way to get my name out with builders and property owners and things of that sort,” he says.

It’s a new market, and needs to be approached with a new network—or appropriate advertising to auto glass customers and local residents until that network is established.

Flat vs. Auto
There are, of course, the technical differences between flat and curved glass as well, and these differences shouldn’t be underestimated. Luckily, many windshield repair techs will find that it’s easier to go from curved to flat.

Keen finds, “It’s the same method. The only difference you’ll probably be looking at is the arc in the windshield and the amount of pressure you’ll need to apply.”

That arc is a big deal when it comes to scratch removal.

“One of the most important differences is, of course, that all of the glass on the automobile is curved to some degree, and usually in two different directions,” Nungesser says. “So using the system on that does take a lot more [work] to be able to do it in such a way as to not distort the glass.”

“For the windshield, we use a certain polishing pad with a motor, and we use a specialized, patented compound. When we are polishing the windshield, this compound polishes it distortion-free,” Mannen explains.

Nungesser adds that while there is no room for a little distortion on windshields, there might be a little more leeway in house or business windows. “[Drivers] are trying to read street signs, so if there’s any distortion at all, they’re going to be bothered by it, whereas architecturally speaking, you may be sitting on your couch, looking through to the trees at the birds, you’re not trying to focus.”

Mannen adds, “On side lites we can go a little more abrasive with that [polishing pad] and still not have any distortion. The angle of the windshield is such that if we did it too abrasively it would cause distortion …”

There is one more difference in going from vehicles to buildings, and it involves the market. “Be sure to do a little homework to familiarize yourself with local architectural glass costs,” advises Brad Plumb, director of sales and business development for GlasWeld. “Windshields are priced differently than typically architectural glass. Customers like to have a general price comparison of new glass versus the cost to repair.”

Getting Started
For auto glass technicians willing to learn the differences, there is plenty of opportunity to branch out into flat glass scratch repair.

“It would definitely be lucrative,” Mannen advises. However, he adds, “Go to a good training facility … It’s something you have to learn, it doesn’t come right away. There’s a knack to it. But I’d definitely [say] add it on if you’re looking to add money as a side business.”

For Dickson, the big question comes with finding the right equipment for the job. “I have been looking all over the Internet by searching for ‘glass scratch removal’ and lots [of suppliers] come up claiming they are the best,” he says. “If I had the money, I would go to the glass shows to see and try these systems on the spot.” Taking advantage of supplier training and trade show demos can, in fact, be a good way to get started on this equipment.

And this expansion can be lucrative, Plumb agrees, so long as you’re willing to put the work into learning the market—and your customers know it.

“Be honest with your customers. Your customers need to know the process, price of new versus repaired, and what makes sense to repair or not. Sometimes the cost to repair may simply outweigh the cost to replace, but generally the repair process is always a much less expensive alternative. Flat glass scratch repair can be a very lucrative business, as long as you are willing to work diligently,” Plumb says.

Megan Headley is the interim editor for AGRR™ magazine.

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