Volume 34, Number 11,  November 1999


Diversifying Your Repair Business
One Company’s Success Story

by Cindy Rowe

In 1980 I decided to make a career change, so I left my nursing position to pioneer windshield repair in Central PA—out of the trunk of my little Vega. Through the 80’s I expanded from repairing windshields via mobile units to opening two full-service auto glass locations—and I invited my husband Dave to join me. By 1990, our original strategies of emphasizing windshield repair and high-visibility advertising, such as targeting the retail customer, were paying off with increased market share in the insurance and general public market segments.
Then came the startling announcement—Allstate Insurance had switched to a third-party claims management system that was being operated by our competitor! It became obvious immediately that if this program were to last more than a few months, fundamental changes would occur in the glass industry. It was time to re-think and re-strategize our business. We did not hit the panic button early on, but concluded there would be time and opportunity to adjust our strategy in the future. We were convinced it would take years for these programs to become a major gateway to the insurance companies. On the other hand, we also decided it was time to figure out how we were going to survive if the worse-case scenario, elimination of all insurance claims, occurred. We considered adding flat glass, but that required expertise and a physical plant, neither of which we possessed. We also considered expanding our emphasis on dealer and fleet auto glass, but knew that if the insurance business dried up, the competition for these types of accounts would be brutal.
We looked at how we began, dealing with mostly dealers and fleets, and thought, “Why not offer another service to our existing customers?” If this service were to mimic our windshield repair service (offering mobile service along with regular shops), it would not likely become the target of national competitors. It was in this same time frame that an acquaintance, also in the windshield repair business, called and invited us to explore a new opportunity that she thought was at the point windshield repair was ten years earlier. This new opportunity was paintless dent repair (PDR). While it would likely fit into our dealer/fleet customer base, it was a totally new concept. There was a school being offered, so we hired a technician and sent him to ten days of instruction. It was his and our general opinion that, since he had much body-shop experience, PDR would be a cinch to pick up. Wrong!
Paintless dent repair is a hands-on process that takes much eye-and-hand coordination. A small dent is manipulated from the inside and the metal is brought flush with the rest of the body part; the tools are numerous—long, short, fat, skinny, sharp, blunt. There are two groups of PDR technicians—one group chases the hail damage across the nation, as it occurs, and the other group targets local dealers, auto auctions, car rental fleets and some body shops. We positioned our company in the later group.
Just as windshield repair was a winner from the start, PDR had a similar beginning. Within weeks we added a second technician and our ongoing growth has put seven technicians in place, with that department having its own manager and own shop. The majority of work comes from the auto dealers, auto auction and car rental fleets. Retail work has been increasing over the past several years, being augmented by demonstrations requested by insurance adjusters and some television and radio marketing.
It costs less than $2,000 to equip a PDR technician. The largest expense is the payroll cost during the two to three months of training. Training is intense, with no “quick training” to allow the tech to be proficient and produce quality results in less time. Our PDR techs are not dual purpose; they perform no other services and work daily to maintain their proficiency and quality.
Over the years, our PDR division has developed its own customer base; it works separately from the glass business, yet, we still project the same quality culture that we require from all our business units.
Although we found strategies in the early 90’s that have worked for our auto glass business, we have also gained a big plus from our reaction to the auto glass network issue. Our PDR division is now a profitable addition to the company and continues to provide balance to our windshield repair and auto glass replacement services.
It pays to look at possible problems as opportunities, to look “outside the box” for solutions instead of looking only “within” at the problem.    

Cindy Rowe is president of Cindy Rowe Auto Glass based in Harrisburg, PA. The company has eight repair/replacement locations, all of which perform PDR, and one location which exclusively performs paintless dent repair.


USG

Copyright 1999 Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.