by Leslie Shaver
The contrast could not have been greater. An industry poised to face the technological changes of 21st century automobiles gathered to learn about these challenges in an elegant hotel more reminiscent of the roaring twenties than the digital nineties.
With this as the setting, the auto glass community gathered on September 22-25 at The Breakers in Palm Beach, FL, for the 1999 National Auto Glass Conference and Expo. While the picturesque beaches of Palm Beach and the historic hotel were draws for many attendees, the main attraction was information. The event gave attendees a chance to interact and exchange information with their suppliers, competitors, counterparts from around the country and some of the biggest decision makers in the industry.
The opportunity to network with a thousand auto glass professionals was very good, said Dave Taylor of Cindy Rowe Auto Glass in Harrisburg, PA. There were so many people there from all over the industry.
I can get such a good cross section of the industry there, said John Serrell of Windshield City in Harrisonburg, VA. I can meet anyone from chief executive officers to marketing representatives to installers.
While the show offered seminars and installations, the most valuable information was probably shared in the bars and lounges. One attendee who gained a great deal from these informal meetings was Serrell. I learned so much, he said. I learned about the growing global market and the rise of E-commerce and how these things are going to be important for my business in the future.
The seminars, the other main information source at the show, were not quite as well received. A number of attendees said the seminars were weaker than past conferences. I dont think the seminars were very strong this year, said one attendee, who preferred to not be identified.
Michael Kim of K & Y Glass in Compton, CA, reflected the sentiment of many attendees. The seminars were about 20 percent different than in past years, he said. It seemed like it was just the same questions and answers.
However, criticism of the seminars was not universal. I think the seminars were very informative and the subjects were very good, said Jim Kurnik of Auto Glass Technologies in York, PA.
Installation demonstrations were a large part of the seminar program. While the installations were performed on different vehicles and generally involved different speakers, many of the themes were universal. All of the instructors noted the high liability on auto glass installers and the importance of documenting work.
While a large portion of the seminar space was devoted to installations, there was a notable lack of installers there to benefit from them. Kurnik attributes this to the tight labor market in the industry. You have to be afraid of taking installers because it is an open market down there, he said. In a sense it is like taking them to an employment fair. There are always people looking around for better employees.
A number of other attendees cited cost as a reason they could not include installers in the trip, saying they could only afford to pay for one of two people to go along. In fact, cost was another problem many shop owners saw with the event. While The Breakers is a top-notch hotel, it is also very expensive with a pot of coffee running as high as eight dollars. I though it was pricey, said Kurnik.
Liquid Resins was just one of the exhibitors at the auto glass conference.
This years exhibits were no different from last year as many companies took the auto glass conference as an opportunity to introduce new products. Possibly the most discussed product was the new NAGS airbag guide, which is published by NAGS International of San Diego, CA. The book includes detailed information on all cars with airbags and proper methods for accessing these airbags.
Sam Brownell of Carlite in Dearborn, MI, also made a splash at the event by announcing that the company had approved three new adhesives for all Carlite programs. These adhesives include Sika Tack-Plus Booster with the Sika Activator, produced by Sika Corporation of Madison Heights, MI, and 3M Rapid Two Part and 3M First Cure One Part, both produced by 3M Company of St. Paul, MN.
BTB Auto Glass and Body Shop Tools of Candia, NH, and Equalizer Industries of Round Rock, TX, brought out new concepts for the show. Equalizer had a large booth that was designed like a tool store, while BTB offered new kit configurations with various types of blades. In addition, Aegis Tools International of Madison, WI, introduced a cordless caulking gun for both cartridges and urethane sausages at the event.
C.R. Laurence of Los Angeles had an exhibit featuring many of its tools, including a caulking saver, Powr Urethane Products and an Euro-Knife.
Surprisingly, the award for busiest booth may have gone to Safelite Corporation of Columbus, OH. One of the companys major attractions was an artist who drew caricatures of people on miniature windshields. In addition, the company was highlighting its wholesale auto glass operation, network operations and repair tools from Glass Medic.
With all the new product introductions, it was no surprise that a number of people pointed to the trade show as a highlight. I enjoyed the trade show, said Christopher Hill of Aquia Glass and Mirror in Stafford, VA. The tool manufacturers were very helpful.
Thomas Mee of AAA Nalls Glass Service Center in Shreveport, LA, agreed with Hill. I got a lot of quality input from suppliers. I will be able to take a lot of it home and put it to use.
Leslie Shaver is an assistant editor of USGlass magazine.
© Copyright 1999 Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.