Volume 15, Issue 2 - March/April 2013
The Crystal Ball
Predicting business is a formula every company wishes it had. One issue we face in predicting business in auto glass is being in an industry that is greatly affected by weather.
Temperature can affect a stone causing a break when it hits the windshield or the temperature causes a stone-break to crack-out. Let’s look at three vehicles for predicting auto glass breakage and crack-outs: (1) parking lot studies and (2) business records which I call the real world versus (3) lab tests which I will call the crystal ball.
I read a lab test from 2009 making its way around the industry and the Internet that concluded that 50 percent of chips crack within a year, 80 within two years and 90 percent within three years while 10 percent never crack. It said that the probability of a stone-break crack-off was 81 percent when the temperature hit 14 degrees Fahrenheit due to glass contraction. At 23 degrees Fahrenheit the probability of crack-off was 70 percent. At 32 degrees Fahrenheit the probability was 59 percent. I thought I would love to show this test to a potential buyer for a windshield repair kit in order to show the demand for windshield repair. I said to myself, “I can’t wait for winter” which is the slow season for the auto glass industry, but if that study were true this industry would be 10 times bigger than it is.
For 27 years I have documented windshield damages on my invoice. I have also personally done parking lot studies in many states and paid for one in Denver, Colorado. The parking lot studies match my business records within five points. My real world studies (business records and parking lot studies) also closely matched 10 years of a large insurance company’s repair and replacement statistics.
In southern California, where I operated a repair-only business for 10 years, 97 percent of crack repairs were edge cracks with only 3 percent floater cracks. A floater crack is a stone-break/chip that cracked out. An edge crack is a crack that runs to the edge with an impact point in the weak spot and it cracks immediately upon impact due to installation stress. The temperature in southern California was not severe enough to cause stone-breaks to crack-out but it is warm enough inland so that impacts cause stone–breaks and impacts in the weak spot would cause an edge crack. In Colorado where I have a repair and replacement business, one out of every three vehicles has a stone-break, 17 percent of vehicles have an edge crack and approximately one out of 10 stone-breaks crack-out into a floater crack. Glass is more robust when it is cold because the glass molecules are contracted. When it is hot the molecules expand and it fractures more easily.
The later part of December and the beginning of January this year it hit below zero degrees Fahrenheit over night with daytime temperatures in the teens and twenties. I anxiously awaited to go to work for the phone to be ringing off the hook. If that test were true then approximately 40,000 of the 150,000 vehicles in the county where I live would have cracked windshields during this cold spell and between the 14 auto glass shops in my county we would all be inundated with business. But it did not happen, the windfall did not arrive. So I decided to brave the cold and go out and do another parking lot study. January 3 and January 4 the overnight temperature was -6 to -8. In the morning of January 3 while it was still less than 14 degrees Fahrenheit I went to the Sam’s Club parking lot but I had forgotten gloves and after 25 vehicles the pen froze. So on January 4 I went to the Wal-Mart parking lot and surveyed the remaining 75 vehicles (had gloves and a pencil this time). Out of 100 vehicles there were 45 chips, five of which had cracked-out; 10 edge cracks and; two miscellaneous breaks.
Why do I believe the lab test is not a valid predictor: (1) the windshields were not installed so there was no induced/installation stress, which I believe plays a key role in whether they crack, whether they crack horizontally or vertically and whether they go to the edge or not; (2) the different types of stone-breaks were not accounted for, (3) the one paying for the study may be trying to justify something; (4) how many vehicles are garaged versus un-garaged plays a key role and; (5) I do not think that a lab test predicting crack-off can duplicate the variables in the real world the way that business records and parking lot studies can. Parking lot studies have the variables of type of break, temperature, weather, climate and topography in a particular area and business records have the variables of type of break, temperature, weather, climate and topography and human/consumer action. My conclusion: the real world prevails over the crystal ball.
Richard Campfield is the founder and president of Ultra Bond Inc. in Grand Junction, Colo.