Volume 14, Issue 4 - July/August 2012

focus on REPAIR
On the Side
Repair Companies Add New, Value-Added Services

by Sahely Mukerji

As competition in the auto glass aftermarket heats up, increasingly more shop owners are diversifying their businesses to add to the bottom line.

“If you’re going to stay in business, you really have to look at other avenues and services to offer,” says Bernard Cook, owner/manager of A Plus Windshield Repair and Headlight Restoration in Atlanta. “I think customers expect that now. There is so much competition out there for windshield replacement and repair now that it’s even tough to get a Web presence because of major companies like Safelite with a big advertising budget. It’s not enough to sustain a business by just doing windshield repair.”

Cook offers headlight restoration and says that he is able to supplement his income with that part of his business.

Like Cook, Dennis Arguin, owner of A1 Windshield & Vinyl Repair Inc. in Jeffersonville, Vt., added interior repair services to his windshield repair shop. “Vinyl and leather damage is a big problem in the industry, and nobody was doing repairs in my area,” he says. “Americans love their automobiles and they love to keep them up. If I was in a metropolitan area, like Boston, I could probably have 10-15 technicians on the road just for interior repairs.”

The Market Demands Diversification
There is a need for vinyl/leather repair in the industry, Arguin says. “Car dealerships are stuck because nobody repairs torn seats,” he says. “We save automobile dealers quite a bit of money by repairing seat covers.”

Pat Mannen, owner of Glass-Mend Mobile Windshield Repair in Kent, Wash., diversified his windshield repair business precisely for the same reason. “I could see the windshield repair business going down, when the economy was down, and I started the scratch-removal business,” he says. “I did work for dealerships in the area. When I did scratch removal on the windshields without distortion, it was very economical for me.”

Mannen started his rock-chip repair business in 1992, added scratch removal to his services in 2000, headlight repair three to four years ago, and water spot removal on boat glass last fall, he says. Today 80-85 percent of his business is still windshield chip repair, 12 percent is scratch removal and approximately 2 percent is headlight restoration.

“There aren’t very many people out here who do scratch polishing,” Mannen says. “I could go into that full-time and be very busy. It’s just an add-on but it’s very lucrative. If I wasn’t about to retire, I’d probably take it up full-time. It’s more physical, because you’re running a polisher, moving your arm back and forth and carrying the weight of the polisher.”

“I needed a headlight repair done and noticed that it was hard to find a repairer,” Cook says. “So I started research and found Delta Kits.”

Cook started his business in 2010, after getting laid off from his job. He had just finished business school and decided to train with Delta Kits and open a small business. “When I started, 95 percent of my business was windshield repair and 5 percent headlight restoration,” he says. “Today about 70 percent of the business is windshield repair and the rest is headlight restoration. A lot of the customers now call me specifically for headlight restoration.”

Training usually is simple for the service, according to Brent Deines, president of Delta Kits Inc. “Headlight restoration is very easy to learn depending on the system used, so training is not always necessary, thereby reducing start-up costs,” he says. “

Competition is growing, Cook says. “There was only one other company in the area that had an online presence, and now I’m noticing a lot of car details shop that are doing headlight restoration.”

Second Source of Income Helps Core Business
Like Cook, Kevin Lewis, owner of Windshield 911 in Ruston, La., also has diversified his windshield repair business and has added headlight restoration services. “Windshield repairs slow down some time of the year, but restoration service is good all year,” he says.

Lewis started his shop one and a half years ago and added headlight restoration services six months back. “I noticed a lot of cloudy headlights on cars,” he says. Today, 80 percent of his business is windshield repair and 20 percent headlight restoration. “I think it will pick up more,” he says. “I don’t have lot of competition in the area, so people don’t know about it. One other guy does it, but it’s a detail shop. It will probably take me a good year to get where I want to be with it.”

Matthew Horne, founder of Deco Windshield Repair in Alberta, Canada, agrees.

“Any time we can have an additional offering it adds to the core business,” he says. “Our concern is that the additions cannot take away from our core business of windshield repair. We want them to be stackable.”

Horne started his business as a windshield a repair company in August 2005. He added headlight restoration to his services in 2011, and Goclean waterless car wash and hydrophobic glass treatment this year.

The waterless car wash is a new offering and is beginning to gain traction, Horne says. “In municipalities and cities, it is illegal to wash your car in the driveway,” he says. “This service saves five bathtubs full of water or 150 gallons per car. An automatic car wash uses 80-100 gallons of water per car.”

Labor is the highest part of the cost, because the service is manual. “Our price is competitive with automatic car washes,” he says.

The hydrophobic glass treatment repels water on the windshield. After a windshield is treated, the wiper blades run more smoothly, when driving in the rain, Horne says.

Deco Windshield now has more than 200 mobile locations across Canada, and is selling franchises in the U.S. for a launch in the fall.

“Educating customers about the purpose of the products is the most important part of the value-added business,” Horne says. “I use the value additions as working capital for the company. I’m taking the income and re-investing in the company.”

How Much Does It Cost to Value-Add?
Depending on what you pick to add to your services, initial investment varies over a wide range.

Horne invested $30,000 on his value-added services, he says. He bought spray bottles, micro-fiber cloths and extra shelving for the warehouse. The other service offerings he considered were paintless dent repair, 3M paint protection and diagnostic testing, and made his decision based on “what aligned best with our values/purpose, what we could stack, i.e., perform in the same time as our core business (windshield chip repair) and that didn't require intense logistics, distribution hurdles.”

Cook, on the other hand, invested approximately $3,000.

Cook says he looked into other services, such as scratch-removal, window film and interior repair, “but they all require a lot more training to start,” he says. “But I am considering picking some of those services up in the near future.”

Lewis spent approximately $2,000 to add headlight restoration to his services. “I bought some needle-nose pliers, flashlight, drill and a UV light” to start restoring headlights.

For Arguin, it took “a few thousand dollars” to add interior repairs to his services. “It’s a service business,” he says. “The investment for providing a service is very little. We bought how-to videos from our suppliers, such as Vinyl Pro in Marietta, Ga., and taught ourselves. The technicians doing the work have artistic abilities. We work from the back of our trucks; it doesn’t take a lot to provide the services.”

“I’d encourage people to add services to their businesses,” Mannen says. “It is great for extra income, very lucrative. It is something you have to learn, through trial and error, over a matter of time, and you should train at a school.”

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