Volume 10, Issue 6 - November/December 2008

Get Off the "What"
and on to the "Why" and "How"

Inside Phase Three of AGRSS Registration: Third-Party Validation
by Carl Tompkins

The foremost issue on the minds of today’s leading retail glass shop owners and management is being able to stay in business by attaining an appropriate number of profitable windshield sales. This issue defines the “what” of the situation—meaning a lack of profitable windshield sales is “what” is wrong within the retail portion of the AGRR industry. Most people who have this concern remain fixed on it. They focus on nothing more than the “what” of this situation with little hope for improvement. The key is to get off the “what” and move toward the “why” and “how.”

The “Why”
Through my national travels, I continue to witness this growing trend: auto glass companies pop up in metropolitan areas and absolutely dominate in market share within a one- to twoyear period. They do it by marketing their products and services as a commodity where only the lowest price wins. While all businesses have the legally protected right to sell products and services at what ever price they choose, what’s bizarre to me is how much lower their prices are compared to fair market pricing. “How” can this be? Is it that the other long-term glass shops have been gouging customers with abhorrently high prices? I don’t think so, especially since I’ve witnessed more glass shops closing, selling or diversifying in 2008 than ever before.

In one Northwest city, four companies closed their doors; each had at least a 10-year history in the business and the closures were primarily caused by a new company that entered that market and promoted retail prices a third less than what these former companies could offer. “How” can these type of companies survive when competing with this approach in conducting business?

The answer to this “how” is that these companies cheat! “Cheat” is the word I use to describe those who do not play by the rules. Not one windshield replacement is done legally, meaning, that not one windshield being returned to the public is deemed “operable” as defined in the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. The reason “why” these glass parts are not operable is because they will not pass FMVSS 212/208 if in a collision because they were not installed properly.

The concepts of proper installation are defined by the current AGRSS Standard. When companies cheat they cut corners to reduce their costs of running a business. Being able to achieve such a lower-cost platform gives them the ability to offer much lower resale prices than the non-cheaters and to survive. While it is good to run a tight ship on expenses, should this level of expense be allowed to run so low that it creates such enormous risk to your customers, who may pay the ultimate price if they are in an accident? Should companies be allowed to compete for business when utilizing practices that violate the AGRSS Standard? The answer to both of these questions is “no.”

More specifically, should these type of companies be allowed to conduct auto glass replacements when they use butyl tape in lieu of polyurethane? How about the use of urethane purchased for two bucks a tube because it has expired, or the use of urethane that requires 18 hours to reach drive-away time, even though the cars are released immediately? Let’s not forget the three different cleaning and priming products that were required for a proper installation, but never purchased. How about the employment of untrained, non-certified technicians, whose two most popular tools are a hammer and roll of duct tape? I cannot leave this subject until I also mention the great cost-saving method of installing used or sub-standard glass parts. I’ll stop here, hoping you get the point. The answer to my question is, “NO!”

The Ultimate Goal
The ultimate goal of the AGR industry needs to be the creation of a business environment in which only those glass companies that deliver installations completed in accordance with the AGRSS Standard are able to be industry participants. The attainment of this goal provides a level playing field of competition. It is inappropriate and unacceptable to tolerate anything less and this conclusion resonates not only among of the AGR industry but all those who participate as customers as well, including the insurance industry.

All too often I hear this question: “With all of these dangers that you’ve so eloquently outlined, how many windshields were installed last year and how many people were killed due to faulty auto glass installation?”

By percentage, the answer is very, very low. But I ask, “What number is needed before we stand together and take action?” While the Department of Transportation (DOT) reported that 2,600 people lost their lives in a fouryear period due to windshield ejection, does the number have to reach a certain percentage before it makes sense to put preventative measures into play unilaterally?

Jon Fransway would tell you that one death over the period of forever is too many. Jon helps our AGRSS Council by sharing his testimony of what it’s like to have a sister die in your arms at the hospital after being found 80 feet from her vehicle, in a corn field, lying on top of the windshield. Remember, though, once every two weeks a car involved in a fatal accident has had its windshield replaced within the past 48 hours. The few deaths per year attributed to faulty auto glass installations are most likely because of the low frequencies of collisions that test auto glass retention. So, being that we do not crash very often, should we hide behind this low frequency of incident and claim that everything is okay?

During a recent presentation, I asked an audience of insurance companies, “How many children were killed in school zone cross walks this past year by drivers exceeding the speed limit? How many children encountered school zone cross walks this year?” From the millions of children exposed to this risk, does such a low frequency of death mean that speed limit signs should not be enforced?

Insurance Viewpoints
The insurance industry, for the most part, continues to view all glass shops as being equal. After all, the 12,000 retail glass companies that make up our industry lay claim to being the best and following the AGRSS Standard. Furthermore, most all retail glass companies have signed the same Offer and Acceptance contracts guaranteeing their conformance to proper auto glass installation practices, along with compliance to all pricing and billing requirements. With no appreciable frequency of complaint or catastrophe, there is no reason to think any differently. Being as objective as possible, it’s easy to understand why this point of view can exist.

The last element is a result of an AGR industry that has operated for more than 100 years having no benchmarks of business entry or maintenance. This is no one’s fault other than our own. This circumstance has afforded people the opportunity to enter the retail auto glass installation arena at little cost, with no educational requirements, nor a standard for performance requirements, no testing and a lack of commitment, etc. This equates to “come one, come all and do as you will.” Operating under this long-term scenario, we ourselves have reinforced the notion that all glass shops are equal.

Keeping these three elements in mind, the answer to “how” we solve this problem requires three steps. The first step is to define AGR values. This step has been completed in that the AGRSS Standard provides a Standard that is exact, comprehensive  and enforceable. We often refer to the AGRSS Standard as being the line in the sand, separating those who walk the walk of proper installation practices from those only able to talk the talk. As part of step one, this defined set of AGR values must be promoted to all parties to create a national awareness, and offer education and motivation to adopt such values within their buying decision processes. This step has been going on since 2002 and needs to continue on a national, regional and local street corner basis.

It must be understood that what is accomplished by each individual glass shop in its local community is going to create brand awareness of the AGRSS Standard. Any other measures offered by any other parties or resources should be treated as a bonus.

Branding is Critical
Ralph Nader said it perfectly, stating that branding is critical and will not be accomplished by fancy ads, television or promotional campaigns but rather by what glass shops do in their local communities in promoting the AGRSS Standard and making it the core fiber of their company culture. A gentleman in Seattle recently stated to me, “The problem is that most all glass shops are willing to take on any and all success, business growth and profit possible as long as someone else is willing to do it for them.” Remember that the best of baseball bats has never hit a home run without a set of willing hands to swing it. Our bat is the AGRSS Standard and it defines our AGR values.

The second way to solve our industry problem is to create a means of identifying those who provide these core AGR values. This is a service to customers in that many, including the insurance industry, don’t have the time or resources to test the worthiness of some 12,000 subcontracting glass companies. Our means of accomplishing this task comes in the form of the AGRSS Registration program. Having been in existence since 2003, we approach our final phase of implementation early in 2009 that includes the provision of independent thirdparty validation—key to securing customer buy-in.

We must understand that no customer can take the word of a glass shop, or even a glass shop’s own internal assessment of compliance, because this provides no safe-guard of reliable proof. There is too much risk associated with such a situation.

But, in 2009, when AGRSS-Registered companies provide proof of AGRSS compliance through third-party validation, the insurance industry will have a trusted process that can be defended, leading to its ability to adopt the requirement of AGRSS registration. Will they?

I cannot answer for any of the 1,200 plus providers of auto insurance, but it certainly makes sense that they should. After all, there is no question concerning their need to provide their policyholders the best means possible of vehicle restoration, especially when the operability of a safety device is involved.

Only those glass companies that are AGRSS-Registered should be recommended or make up the list from which to choose. Anything less is definitely irresponsible. No longer is the conformance to merely price and billing procedures the benchmark for glass shops to make the “Approval List.” Requiring AGRSS registration of network shops would provide insurance companies a way to show their “duty of care” and concern for their policyholders.

Delivering Values
The remaining step in solving our problem is to make sure that all AGRSSRegistered companies deliver the values defined within the AGRSS Standard on a regular basis. This need reminds me of an interview I watched a few years back with Oakland Raiders team owner Al Davis. He was asked dozens of questions concerning the most important aspects of running a successful team. Al did nothing but grin at the camera as the onslaught of questions kept coming. Finally, and following the last question, Al’s single response was, “Just win, baby!”

If you are into winning, follow the advice provided by former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Knoll, who taught that “victory is dependent upon preparation.” Each and every player on the AGRSS team must be prepared to meet the challenges of AGRSS compliance every day. Keep in mind that this should not be a new challenge in that there is nothing in the AGRSS Standard that should not have been occurring in every glass shop for years.

Now you can test your conformance and prove your compliance. Company management must start by having policies and procedures in place that are understood and utilized by all company personnel, whether employees or subcontractors. Then, make sure that all technicians are “interview-ready,” meaning that they can discuss the procedures they use in conducting auto glass installation and to make sure their answers to questions match the written instructions by which they have been trained.

The three steps toward solving the “what” is wrong with the retail AGR industry will work, under the condition that you do the same. It is not easy, and, if it were, many more would fulfill the invitation, “Come one, come all and do as you will.”

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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.