Volume 13, Issue 4 - July-August 2011


In Motion
Handling the Challenges of Offering Mobile Service in Today’s Auto Glass Market
by Penny Stacey

Watching the Weather
No matter how closely a company may watch gas prices or scheduling, there is always one item that is out of a business’s control—Mother Nature.

Robert Dent, manager of Smail Auto Glass in Pittsburgh, says in the winter he does his best to dissuade customers from requesting outside work.

“If I was driving a $30,000 car, I personally wouldn’t want it ripped apart in my driveway in the winter,” says Dent.

Don Deane of Mothers Totally Mobile Auto Glass in Hamilton, Ontario, says he sees quite a few rainy days in his area and, without a physical location, he often must adapt his plans to the weather. “If [the customer] has a garage, we will do the work there, but generally I find with a windshield, the customer is more than willing to wait,” he says. “Now when it comes to a door or tempered glass, I have a free-standing awning that comes out of the truck, and I can do a door glass under that.”

Alan Maupin, president of Rite-Way Auto Glass in Louisville, Ky., says sometimes the smallest items available in nature also can affect a tech.

“On a spring day, we’ve got maple trees here, and those little helicopters fly off the trees,” he says, “and we’ve got to watch for tHow do you deal with extreme weather—hot or cold? Please email your tips to pstacey@glass.com.hat.”

In today’s auto glass retail market, mobile service is not just the exception, but rather the norm in most cases. Auto glass businesses have offered this perk for so long that many customers have come to expect it automatically, without consideration for the additional challenges and costs it can create for a business.

“We’ve turned into this pizza-type industry where customers think they can call you and you’ll be there in 30 minutes,” says Alan Maupin, president of Rite-Way Auto Glass in Louisville, Ky. Though Maupin operates four locations, mobile jobs make up approximately 85 percent of his business.

Mark Pinkstaff, owner/president of Autoglass Express Inc. in Belleview, Fla., is in a similar situation. Though he owns a shop, most windshield replacements are completed on the road—and his two-bay location is reserved mainly for power window repair.

“When people need [a windshield replacement] they want it now,” he says.

John Kachnik of Fox Valley Glass says his business, located in the Chicago suburb of St. Charles, Ill., averages just one in-shop job a day.

“I thought with the complexity of the cars today we’d see a weaning away from [customers expecting mobile service],” he says.

But with continuing expectations for mobile service comes several challenges that need to be addressed, including rising gas prices, weather concerns, safety and simply the rising difficulty of today’s windshields.

Gas Gains
Most auto glass businesses that offer mobile service will tell you that rising gas prices are one of the top challenges in today’s business.

“The cost of fuel is probably our number-one issue,” says Maupin.

Technicians also are traveling even further to jobs, as businesses expand their reach to make up for a general down economy. “If that’s where the job is, you’ve got to be there to do it,” says Pinkstaff. “We’re driving further to get [to jobs] and we’re paying more for our fuel.”

With gas prices mounting, scheduling can be key. “We have always tried to go to the same town in the same day and consolidate as much as possible, and we’re even more attentive to that now than ever before,” says Kachnik.

But there’s always a catch, he adds. “It never fails that you’re in an area one day and then you get a customer calling you from that area, and you can’t get the glass for them [without a second trip],” says Kachnik.

Vehicle efficiency also plays a role. “Every Monday morning my guys check the oil and the tires on the vans,” says Pinkstaff. “It’s important to keep every van at its peak. Keep the vehicles tuned up and road-ready as possible.”

A growing stash of tools also can lead to a less fuel-efficient van, so Pinkstaff recently had his techs go through a recent de-cluttering to remove any unnecessary items.

“We went through the van and took off all the things that we just don’t use,” he says. “Over the years you’ll find that the [technicians] pick up things—go through the mobile unit and remove anything that’s not necessary.”

Don Deane, who runs a strictly mobile business, Mothers Totally Mobile Auto Glass in Hamilton, Ontario, monitors his fuel usage closely and finds that simply watching his speedometer helps keep costs down.

“You’ve got to watch how fast you’re going,” he says. “I don’t normally race to my next job.”

While all of these options may reduce fuel costs somewhat, Kachnik suggests insurers should play a larger role in the extra costs that mobile service incurs. “I’d love to be able to say, ‘Hey, State Farm, how about [X amount] for going to a customer’s home?’” says Kachnik.

“We’ve turned into this pizza-type industry where customers think they can call you and you’ll be there in 30 minutes.”
—Alan Maupin, Rite-Way Auto Glass

While the NAGS catalog does include service codes for mobile service and fuel surcharges, it does not offer a suggested price—and Kachnik says it is difficult item to add.

“The competition is just too tough,” he says. “If we were able to try to get more [for fuel costs] … we can’t do it.”

Large Parts
With the growing, challenging windshields that are common in today’s vehicle models, another rising cost is that of labor. Businesses are faced with choosing to send two technicians out together, investing in a one-man set tool or system, or finding another economical way to replace large windshields.

“The windows are getting so much bigger, and it’s getting hard to set them as an individual,” says Deane, who handles all of the installations for his business. Deane injured his back several years ago, so he purchased a one-man set tool in recent years.

“I use an [AEGIS®] Solo now,” he says. “It was a godsend.”

But not all technicians feel comfortable using these tools, including Kachnik and his team. “We generally have two guys meet up or send two guys out,” he says. “I think the two-man sets are here to stay.”

Smail Auto Glass in Pittsburgh does its best to keep two-man jobs in-shop. “If it does take two, I tell the customer to bring it in so the work can be done correctly,” says company manager Robert Dent. “And, if they insist on mobile, then I tell them it needs to be at a specific time that fits with our schedule.”

In that case, he might have two techs meet up at the location for the set only. “It’s hard on the shoulders and back [to do such jobs alone],” says Dent. “We get there long enough to do the set and we’re gone.”

Safe Driving
When a mobile technician isn’t installing glass, a large part of his day is spent on the road—finding the customer’s office or home, communicating with the shop and traveling from one spot to another. This, of course, creates a whole other set of issues for an already complicated day’s work, especially in the days of smart phones, GPS systems and text messaging.

“We’ve had phone calls in the past saying, ‘hey, I’m passing your driver and he’s staring at his phone,’” says Kachnik.

Though his company had already put a policy in place to ban texting while driving, Kachnik found he had to re-enforce it.

“They understand the danger in it [now],” he says.”

Dent echoes this sentiment. “There is a company policy on texting—no texting when you’re driving,” he says.

Pinkstaff adds, “Texting is not tolerated. If my [technicians] are found texting while driving they’re looking for a new job. You cannot do that and drive.”

He learned the hard way that this was needed. “I had a technician out sick, so I went out with another technician, and we were at a stop sign and I noticed him reading his phone and pushing some buttons, and I said, ‘hey, are you texting?’ and he said ‘yes’ and that’s when I realized it was a problem,” he says. “That’s when I instated the policy.”

But he points out that even with the policy in place it can be hard to enforce. “I could get a call from someone riding alongside the vehicle, or if [the technician] was in a crash the cell phone records would show it,” says Pinkstaff.

On the inverse of this growing issue, though, is the fact that text-messaging can be a useful business tool. “We do send information to our techs by text, but we ask that they wait until they’re stopped and that they then write down the message,” says Kachnik.

“I thought with the complexity of the cars today we’d see a weaning away from [customers expecting mobile service].”
—John Kachnik, Fox Valley Glass

Likewise, Dent says his company has had success with communicating with customers by text. “I tell people if we’re on the way that we’ll send them a text to let them know,” he says. “[Customers] are going to answer a text before they answer a phone at work.”

In-Shop Incentives
While mobile service and the issues that accompany it are not likely going to end for the auto glass industry anytime soon, some business owners are taking measures to incentivize customers to bring their vehicles into their shops.

“If it’s a cash customer, we may offer [the customer] $10 off [the job] to bring the vehicle in,” says Maupin, who adds that this works approximately 40 percent of the time, depending on the area.

“We’ve got a couple small markets where we’ve got small shops,” says Maupin, “and in those areas the customers are more likely to bring their vehicles in, rather than a city like Louisville, where it’s busy and [customers] tend not to be as willing.”

Dent encourages customers to bring their vehicles in-shop as a way to save them time. “I tell the customer that if he wants an exact time to get his car done, he needs bring it into the shop,” he says.

If this doesn’t work, Dent also offers a discount for in-shop work. He also has tried the pickup and delivery method. “I will have people who say they have to work, so sometimes we do drop them off and pick them up from work, since our hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” he says. “There’s always someone available to do the job [that way].”

Pinkstaff encourages customers to bring their vehicles into the shop based on factors such as weather issues (see box above) and tighter scheduling and is considering other items as well.

“I’m thinking of offering a windshield treatment or new windshield wipers or a gas card for $10,” he says.

While whether such incentives work remains to be seen, one thing is certain: mobile is here to stay for many.

“Everybody is busy, and for them to sit around in the shop is not feasible,” says Kachnik. “It’s an instantaneous society.”

Penny Stacey is the editor of AGRR magazine/glassBYTEs.com™.




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