by Debra Levy
Mike Melfi, president of the Coalition for Collision Repair Equality, urges the group not to acquiesce to insurers.
If it is true that there is strength in numbers then the Independent Glass Association's first convention was a power hitter. And if emotion is indicative of power, then the passion that was displayed at the event showed the IGA to be a powerful force in the industry, indeed. Held over three consecutive days in mid-March at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza in Nashville, TN, the event attracted approximately 393 attendees from 245 companies. Most of the participants were individual shop owners and managers, making it the largest gathering of any such group ever assembled.
Perhaps the most powerful force at the meeting was the hopeful attitude exhibited by most of those in attendance. The Independent Glass Association was formed in 1995 to help serve the needs of individual auto glass shops throughout the country. It serves as a clearinghouse of information about working with networks and insurance companies and provides a unifying voice for a group that appeared to be heading toward extinction a few years ago. With the recent mergers of the three largest network companies into one, the concerns by insurers about such oligarchies have proved a resurgence for independents. And computer- and referral-technology that once proved a barrier to the independent shop has now advanced to a level that will permit electronic competition between networks and independents on a more balanced basis.
"I've been to many national conventions and state chapter meetings over the years," said one attendee at the open forum on Saturday morning, "and no program has ever been as helpful to me as this one was. I learned more here this weekend then I have ever learned at any single event I've been to."
Suppliers in attendance seemed shocked by the turnout. "We weren't expecting much," said one, "so I'm really surprised by the number of people here and who the people are." "We decided we would come, but would leave if it turned into a moaning and groaning session," said a third. "But it never did that. It gave me positive ideas I can use."
The event began Thursday evening with a welcome from the association's president, Carl Jolliff of Jolliff Glass in Peoria, IL, and its executive director, Sally Custer. "We made it! Welcome to Nashville," she said with a whoop and a holler. "This is our year."
Jolliff made a strong plea for cooperation. "This is the best place for you to stop, introduce yourself, take a name and learn from your neighbor. This group is full of the best teachers there are."
Mike Melfi, president of the Coalition for Collision Repair Equality and owner of C-M Motors Impact Collision Center in Chicago, IL, served as a substitute keynote speaker. Melfi, a former Chicago police officer who once served as an insurance fraud investigator, now owns a collision repair shop. "These guys (the insurance industry) don't walk on water. We are afraid to take them on and we shouldn't be. We are in a suicide run otherwise."
Melfi said he keeps his eye on one goal and one goal only: keeping control of his business. "I do not cede control to anyone, especially not the insurance industry," he added. "What I do is shift the equation, and shift the blame. When an insurance company says I can't use OEM parts, I call my customer in. I tell them that his insurance company wants me to do an inferior job on his car . . . or wants me to do an incomplete job on his car . . .or wants me to put in inferior parts. I move out from the discussion. It becomes one between the insurance company and the customer. They go to battle, not you."
Though a number of sessions were held on Friday, Fall Pricing Schedules presented by NAGS® vice president Catherine Howard was the most popular and the most controversial. Howard discussed the new NAGS pricing system being put into effect under Revaluation 1998 to the dismay of a skeptical crowd. "Revaluation is not devaluation," she said. "The change in how we price should not result in a change in how much you charge." Howard presented some preliminary pricing scenarios that enraged many in the room. "You can't look at this as just taking X percent off a lower price. You must look at it as a change in the way you do business. You may charge for things you don't currently charge for," Howard told the group.
Howard said that NAGS plans to publish all the new prices well in advance of implementation. She added that she has been working with a number of groups to publicize the changeover and that most in the industry have been supportive. Howard feels the insurance industry, which has not yet seen the pricing, will support anything that's reasonable.
Howard, who stayed almost an hour beyond her allotted time to answer questions from the podium, was quizzed extensively about NAGS' relationship with insurance companies. "NAGS is not owned by insurance companies, it is not funded by insurance companies. It is a completely independent information source," she said.
Indeed, a number in the crowd were so unhappy that Jolliff attempted to form a committee to offer suggestions and options to NAGS. A group of approximately 50 people met afterwards to discuss such an effort (see box on page 24 for more details).
Other sessions on Friday included Lying, Cheating and Steering, presented by Jim Reuter, an attorney with the Minneapolis-based firm of Linquist & Vennum, who spoke about deceptive trade practices and legal strategies to prevent steering by insurers.
A number of business add-ons were discussed during the diversification session, including stained glass, brakes and mufflers, car washes, framing and tinting and moisture repellent. Dean Meiske of Performance Achievement Group conducted an afternoon session about the need for training in the auto glass industry and how technical training affects your bottom line.
The program on Saturday fell victim to time constraints as the topics included in the open forum stretched well beyond the 90 minutes allotted. Custer and Tom Braun of Specialized Billing Services of America (wholly owned by the Birkhausers of Auto Glass Specialists, Inc.) spoke about the services for which he and the association were working together. "We expect to have a program in place by next month," said Custer. A number of association members said that they were surprised the organization had not considered using LYNX Services by PPG for this purpose. "We tried to work with PPG," said Custer. "We asked to meet with their director; he refused to meet with us." Custer said that representatives from State Farm even tried to intercede with LYNX to no avail. "Even after all this, we are still willing to meet with them if something changes," said Custer.
Many in the group had waited patiently for a presentation by Dian Prentice of GlasParts concerning RV parts (See USGlass, April 1998, A Bumpy Ride: Is State Farm Trying to Off-road RV Glass Suppliers?) and for an update on a possible lawsuit being filed by a NY-based group called the National Associates for Safe Auto Glass Replacement Inc., using racketeering laws to fight a lawsuit against networks (see article on page 10). One of those wishing NAFSAGR to be heard asked that the group vote to prempt Prentice, creating a testy situation within the audience that turned a bit ugly. Eventually, both groups were heard.
The association has decided to continue its successful convention and hold a smaller version of its program in conjunction with some of the regional Glass Expos USGlass sponsors around the country. The IGA will hold a program at Glass Expo Midwest '98 in Grand Rapids, MI, on October 2-3, 1998, and as part of Glass Expo Hawaii '99, February 19-20 at the Turtle Bay Hilton Resort and Conference Center on Oahu, Hawaii.USG
A group of independent auto glass retailers has formed a committee to recommend changes to the proposed NAGS Revaluation. As a follow-up to the informal meeting that convened after the NAGS seminar presented at the IGA convention, a large group of the independent retailers met April 15 in Chicago to discuss opposition to the changes proposed to NAGS.
According to the group, it objects to the Revaluation primarily because the changes represent a dramatic departure from the role traditionally played by NAGS. The group adds that although NAGS' stated goal of publishing more realistic auto glass pricing is worthwhile, it believes that NAGS' new pricing structure is less based in reality than its current publication and is less so because there seems to be little or no consideration given to the cost of glass as provided by either manufacturers or wholesalers, according to a release issued by the group.
The group agreed that independent glass retailers who object to the new pricing are encouraged to voice their objections to NAGS representatives. In addition, a committee was formed to seek a meeting with NAGS to voice the group's concerns. The group also agreed to encourage glass manufacturers to independently produce suggested retail price lists for their glass. Such lists would provide alternative prices beyond the NAGS lists, according to the group.
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