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Volume 7    Issue 6            November/December 2005

Body Work
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Working
For Body Shops
by Brigid O'Leary

In 2003, the article “Invasion of the Body Shops” was a cover story for AGRR magazine. It looked at how body shop involvement was affecting the auto glass industry. Two years ago, the concern was that body shops had invaded the glass industry and were taking what little money was left to be made from the auto glass industry. Today the concerns are different. Many body shops subcontract their glass repair and replacement work to glass shops. So the real question is, is it worth it for a glass shop to do contract work for body shops?

Why Ask Why?
Before we look at the advantages and disadvantages to working for a body shop we must first look at why body shops subcontract to glass shops.

Gene Covert, a manager at a body shop in Woodbridge, Va., said his company has been contracting work to glass shops since it opened in 1952 and does so for a couple of reasons.

It’s not always feasible, Covert says, for a body shop to keep the inventory for glass replacements on hand, nor do all body shops employ people who know how to do glass replacements. Additionally by contracting out glasswork, the glass shops assume the responsibility if a windshield (or other glass) replacement leaks. 

While the reasons for a body shop to contract glasswork out to a glass shop seems obvious, some of the reasons glass shops do—or don’t do—body shop work may not be so obvious.

Disadvantages: Pay Scale, Etc.
And the pay scale is one of the drawbacks glass shops face when working for body shops.
“Because the insurance companies demand the same pricing from [body shops] as they do from us, we have to lower our prices,” says Bob Steben, president of Ed Steben Glass in South Windsor, Conn. “Some insurance companies don’t, but most do; I have to ask which insurance companies the [body] shop does business with. I know about what the pricing is for each insurance company and then I work with [the body shop] to make sure they make a profit.”

Steben isn’t the only glass shop owner who cites the pay—or lack of it—as one of the disadvantages to working with body shops. Clyde Stephens, owner of Visions Glass in Perham, Minn., also finds the economics of working with body shops a hindering factor.
“A lot of time for us, body shops want you to come out and do it as cheaply as you can. When I first came to this community, I had a body shop owner come to me and ask ‘Can you install a windshield for $50, so I can make $200?’ Those were his exact words,” said Stephens, who said he told the body shop owner that if he made $200 they could split that between them. Stephens ultimately chose not to work with the shop.

“If they want to keep having the guys do it who are the cheapest, let them have at it. Go right ahead,” Stephens said. “Many body shops want to make a profit, and as we know, the insurance companies are beating up the price to the point that there is hardly any profit. That’s the dilemma I have with it. There’s not enough profit for two hands to be in it.”
For Jim Horrox, chief operating officer of Stockton Auto Glass in Stockton, Calif., scheduling can become a chief disadvantage. 

“Customers ... suffer damage to their vehicles and are forced to spend money at the body shop that they don’t want to spend. These customers tend to be extremely demanding and, at the end of the month, it can get extremely hectic. They can demand [that a body shop] turn the car around really quickly and sometimes the body shops can really put the heat on the glass shop,” said Horrox. “Sometimes, we have a technician scheduled to do three cars at a body shop and they get there and have six more that all need to be done before the techs leave. It’s a good problem to have if you’re charging the right amount, but it’s a very time-sensitive process. It means it affects our schedule for those techs all day. You have to be aware of what the body shops has promised its customers.”

That’s not to say it’s impossible to make some profit by working for a body shop; it’s all about choosing the right body shops with which to work.

“One of the things you’ll find is that there are two groups of body shops out there. One is the premium shop that charges more but does really good work on your car. They tend to be affiliated with the dealerships and do good work. Then there are bottom feeders. We don’t deal with the bottom feeders. We can’t charge enough to make a return and they don’t pay their bills. We only work with the premium body shops,” said Horrox.

The High End
Working with only the high-end body shops isn’t always an option for a glass shop. For Stephens, whose facility is just north of Fargo, the community is just too small to have that kind of flexibility.

“The body shops in my town are my competitors. The sad part is, most of them don’t do their own work. They farm it out to the lowest price bidder,” said Stephens. 

Stephens also lists the working conditions in some body shops as a deterrent to working with them. Some of the shops into which he’s gone to do work are less than sterile.

“Some are so dusty and dirty that it’s hard to work,” he said, though he will readily admit that it’s not the case with all body shops and that some are quite clean, but that’s not a guarantee.

“Sometimes they’ll already have the glass out and just want you to put it back in, but they’ll have dust everywhere and you have to be really careful to make sure you get a good adhesion,” he added.

Because the environment can be hit or miss, a glass shop owner should make sure to define with the body shop that for which it will and will not be responsible, such as leaks in the case of the company for which Covert works.

“Make sure that the body shop knows that the glass shop cannot be responsible for parts broken. The cars are being made with more and more parts that are not meant to come out, like quarter glasses and some backlites, they are only meant to be installed if they are broken. A glass shop does a tremendous service by being able to save the glass,” said Horrox. “You want to understand ahead of time that the glass shop is not responsible for glass that is broken upon removal or if the customer (or body shop) provides the part. Now, that doesn’t mean that you’ll throw the parts around and be irresponsible, but you’re not responsible [if they break]. Those are the things to make sure if you’re getting into a relationship that you’ll want to consider.”

One indicator that glass shops can use to see if a particular body shop might be one with which to do business is the price the body shop will pay for the glasswork done in preparation for a paint job. As Horrox explained, some body shops find that they do a better paint job when the windshield or backlite has been removed prior to painting and replaced afterwards. The price the body shop is willing to pay a glass shop for that—and the price that the glass shop is willing to receive—can be telling about both parties.

“There are some body shops that will take a piece of glass out and reinstall it for $25. We can’t even approach that. What we look at is at least $70-80 range,” Horrox said.

If a glass shop is being asked to do the work for significantly less cost than it would take to do the job, then a shop owner may have to make the decision between maintaining a business agreement and making a profit. Steben has had to make hard choices like that, though not often.

“We’ve had to turn down jobs; they would be dealer jobs that require OEM glass and the margins just aren’t there,” he said.

Advantage: Consistency and Doing Good
So is it worth working for body shops? There are advantages.

“It helps with the volume of business,” said Steben who pointed out that, for some companies, body shops provide just enough business to survive in the currently tumultuous auto glass industry.

Stockton Auto Glass, which does about 25 percent of its business in body shop work, also puts the steady volume of work as a significant advantage of working with body shops, too.

“Commercial work, with body shops and dealerships, is consistent. It’s 12 months a year, no peaks and valleys. It’s a constant demand. Consumer business may be busy in the summer when people are traveling, but body shops are pretty stable. Once you’re contracted to work with a body shop, you know that’s pretty consistent, so even when your cash/customer basis is down, you’ve still got body shop work keeping your guys busy during the summer months,” he said.

Horrox said it’s easy to overlook the advantage of doing work at the body shop’s facility, under stable cover, rather than battling the conditions one would when performing mobile work. And as auto glass shops build longstanding relationships with body shops, more advantageous opportunities can present themselves. 

Whether or not a mutually beneficial partnership develops, the responsibility of a good installation can be the only reason that some glass shop owners choose to work with body shops. One glass shop owner contacted for this story who did not want to be identified said that while he does work for body shops, he does it because he wants to know that the work is being done correctly and safely, not for the pay.

Stephens also chooses to work with body shops—though not contractually—for a similar reason.

“I like to help people. I like to serve people. I dread it every time I have a body shop call and say ‘we need this piece of glass put back in,’ but I’ll still go and try to help them, though I know there is always going to be some problems,” he said. “There are a few body shops that I don’t mind working with because they don’t know what they’re doing. They were using butyl sets. They may still be doing it that way. They throw it in with butyl tape and a little urethane so the top doesn’t leak.”

Though it may not be common, there are, in fact, some body shops that do their own glasswork. One of those is Hiler Body Shop in Mount Sterling, Ky. Owners Shane and Robin Hatton purchased the shop seven years ago and all that came with it—including personnel that handle glasswork. The system is working for them and while they have no intentions on changing any time soon, they recognize that they are in a different place than other body shops.

“We’re the only ones locally that do it that way,” said Robin Hatton, and they prefer to do it for the same reasons that some glass shops will do work for body shops that they otherwise wouldn’t—the responsibility and accountability factor that the job is done correctly.

“We get to oversee it and see that it is done right and that way we have fewer people come back for water leaks and that sort of thing,” Hatton explained.

As fewer body shops handle glass repairs and replacements the way Hiler Body Shop does, the competition they represented before is also declining; and a good partnership with a successful body shop can pay off in the long run. 

“The body shops we work with let us deliver our glass there and have other customers meet us there... sometimes the body shops will let us use their cover to do a cash windshield, so it’s like having additional satellite locations in the field,” said Horrox, who also pointed out that a good working relationship can result in referrals from body shops when a repeat customer needs glass work but not body work.

Building Bonds
“That comes with a long-term business relationship. We’re not necessarily looking at a client/customer relationship. We’re looking at a partnership. If they need a favor, we help them and when we need a favor, they help us,” he added.

Body shops are looking for certain things from the glass shops with which they work. For Covert, some of the most important things a glass shop can offer evolve around a shop’s reliability and ability to do insurance work and its reliability.

“They have to be able to deal with insurance companies. We do a lot of insurance work. And they have to be responsive in a reasonable amount of time. We had to dismiss a glass company because of that. They were taking two or three days to get there or they just didn’t show up,” Covert said. “Otherwise, it’s like any other business. You have to take care of the customer in a reasonable amount of time.”

And while body shops have their needs, a glass shop can’t let its own needs fall by the wayside, either.

“What will happen is that body shops [will be] visited by representatives from glass shops. There is always the pressure to reduce the price. When you’re doing a removal and install, you have to factor in just how much time is going to be occupied by the tech. To do that is tricky. We have a technician assigned to most of our body shops and a relationship has evolved so that the techs can go in and say ‘That job will take this long, I’ll charge you X, but that job will take an hour and I’ll charge you XX.’ Never say no to a customer, just make sure you put the right price on yes. You have to hold the line. The bottom line is to make sure you charge your service accordingly,” advised Horrox. 

Brigid O’Leary is a contributing editor to AGRR magazine.

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