Volume 8, Issue 3        May/June  2006

View from the Driver's Seat
the retail manager's and owner's perspective

Jim Horrox

Are We Easy?
by Jim Horrox

As many of you are now aware, I’ve recently left Stockton Auto Glass to accept a new assignment with The Morgan Group, a privately-owned company in Northern California predominantly engaged in collision and automotive repair. One of my first projects has been the start-up of a glass provider to compliment our core businesses, and I’m proud to report that Central Valley Auto Glass has been born.

I’d like to be able to claim that this launch was quick and painless, (because, of course, we all know that there are no real barriers to entry in our industry). Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. 

First of all, I have to admit that during my initial decade in the auto glass business, I inherited well-established operations; my roles have usually been to motivate, execute, and improve, not start-up. 

Eenie, Meenie, Minnie
Now, I’m in a different situation. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.

My recent excitement over getting to choose a business software provider was quickly tempered by how time-consuming the selection process was. Little did I realize that I had to consider a diverse matrix of user base, set-up expense, monthly expense, annual expense, network transaction expense, technical support expense, product update expense, product complexity, glass-related features (parts interchanges, schematics, etc.) non-glass related features (payroll, production reporting, general ledger interface, etc.) and length of commitment terms. 

There are at least six viable competitors, each offering a dizzying array of systems solutions to complete this matrix. I’m sure two or three consultants could easily burn a full week analyzing the “pros” and “cons” of each. Since our consultant team hasn’t reported for duty yet, Susan (our computer specialist/bookkeeper/corporate office manager) and I performed the review and made our choice. The process was far from easy.

Puzzle Pieces
Another piece of the launch puzzle which has been rather tedious to assemble is the insurance (network) pricing. For years, I’d operated under the assumption that this information was readily available, either on the carrier’s or third-party administrator’s Web site. I was wrong. You have to dig for this data, especially if you simply want to reference the numbers for purposes of comparison, or to pre-construct account profiles. 

In some cases, I’ve already felt “coerced” into joining a network simply to get the proper billing information for work I’ve already completed on behalf of a customer who days ago already selected me as their vendor. Oh, and I haven’t even addressed the fact that I get to pay for this “service.” Again, not an easy process. 

The Reality Show
Now I’m sure that many of you reading this are laughing hysterically and bellowing “Welcome to the club!” Alright, I understand that advances in technology and demands of a more computer-literate provider market have driven software enhancements. And I understand that forcefully influencing a consumer buying decision in a competitive retail climate (notice I didn’t say steering) likely precludes completely open and accessible pricing reference. However, dealing with these obstacles forced me to think about the issue another way: How easy is my company to do business with? 

• Can I be reached quickly and consistently when my customer has a need? 
• Are my terms of doing business (i.e., pricing, scheduling, safe installation processes) standard and simple for a non-expert to understand?
• Have I connected with the right professionals in my market area to recommend me?
• Have I started to develop my brand so that my customers know something about me before they need me?
• Since I’m a “grudge” purchase to begin with, have I taken as much hassle out of entire interaction on behalf of my customer as possible?

As I consider the honest answers to these questions, I recognize Central Valley Auto Glass certainly has a long way to go. It turns out that being easy isn’t easy. 

Jim Horrox is COO and director of sales/marketing for The Morgan Group Inc., which has facilities in northern and central California. He is the former chief operating officer of The Stockton Glass Group (d.b.a. Stockton Auto Glass) in Stockton, Calif. He may be contacted at jhorrox@morgancollision.com.

© Copyright 2006 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.