Volume 10, Issue 2 - March/April 2008

Independent’s Day
an iga viewpoint

Anti-Steering Wheels Turn
by Mike Russo

There is no question that possible steering by competitor-administrators (CA) has a major impact on our bottom lines. As independents, the frustration that we face with the tactics used by the customer service representatives of CAs has taken a toll on us personally and on our businesses professionally. It is getting tougher everyday for even the most resourceful independents to remain in business. When we take into consideration all the money we spend on advertising to initiate that first point of contact with the customer only to have it displaced by the tactics of CAs it makes our daily headaches even worse.

Heading to the Capital
Within the states in which we conduct business, there is an opportunity through legislation to bring these practices to a halt. And it does not take much effort to get the ball rolling toward an open marketplace. An initial meeting with your elected representative can get the process underway. You would be surprised to learn that many representatives are not informed as to what is going on in our industry. In some states, you may learn that steering practices are already illegal. That is why the IGA currently is developing a comic book called “Don’t Get Steered.” Our hope is that putting our issues into a simple format will allow legislators to quickly digest the unfair business practices going on in their states.

One critical point to remember in waging this fight is that it is not about pricing. Pricing must not be the thrust of your argument. Our fight is about fair access to the marketplace or a level playing field. You need to explain that, unfortunately, under the current state of affairs, we have to fight to earn business that is already ours. You’ve worked years—if not decades—to earn your reputation. You have created the necessary advertising budget to promote your business. Through all your efforts and hard work you have convinced the customer to call your shop. And then, bingo, a call to a customer’s insurance company’s glass claims call center and that customer is gone forever. Real fair, isn’t it? You pay to advertise. You work hard to earn your clients; they have a contract to run a call center. In the end, they influence where the customer goes, because they control the point of contact to the insurance company. 

Across the States
Activities to right this wrong are taking place in many states. In some states, such as Washington and Oregon for example, legislation has been enacted that ensures customer choice. Currently a major movement is under way in Missouri and Kansas to protect consumer shop choice rights. These are very important battles that we can use as models for winning the war in each of our own individual states. IGA members have access to the authors of these battles and can use these already-proven game plans to start grass roots efforts in their sections of the country. If you want to save your business and protect the free market then you need to get involved. Get together with others in your state and contact your legislators. Educate them as to what is taking place.

Use your membership in the IGA as a source to help you get started and if you are not a member, do yourself a favor and join. Many of your fellow independents already have. In 2007, IGA saw its membership rise 30 percent. Your IGA is a very important ally in this process and the primary association confronting issues that impact independents on a daily basis. It is a very worthwhile first step and may be the only way to ensure the survival of your business. 

Mike Russo is currently the controller for Thru-Way Autoglass Distributors Inc. in Syracuse, N.Y. Russo currently is a member of the board of the Independent Glass Association and is a past bookkeeper for the New York State Glass Association. Mr. Russo’s opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine. 

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