Volume 14, Issue 4 - July/August 2012

Independent’s Day
an iga viewpoint

Where There’s Smoke, There’s … ?
by Alan Epley

This, as they say, could get interesting. As auto glass legislation activity wraps up in many states, there is still no clear consensus that sweeping change or relief for independent glass retailers is within our grasp. Despite several years of work and the expense of several thousands of dollars, legislative efforts that once looked promising might have to be abandoned.

What, you say? Doesn’t this represent a striking blow to the independent glass retailers and put them in a bind? Why, yes and no, so let’s cover some points. In every legislative venue that is dealing with an auto glass bill, the opposition is led by Safelite, a third-party administrator (TPA) with a retail auto glass repair and replacement services division. It states that the consumers in each respective state would be harmed the greatest either by cost or safety. “Dismantling direct repair programs (DRP) or ‘preferred provider’ networks (PPN) that offer high quality and low prices hurts consumers,” said Brian DiMasi, senior corporate counsel for Safelite in a recent AGRR™ magazine interview (see May/June 2012 AGRR, page 16).

What Mr. DiMasi and others are failing to address is just what exactly better qualifies their DRP/PPN participant over an independent glass retailer who does not participate in these programs. Filling out some paperwork, agreeing to certain pricing conditions and providing a warranty program to be a DRP/PPN only really qualifies one of the two aspects that Safelite and the opposition offer.

As a whole, independent glass retailers participate in technician training and certification that is based on the most current Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standard (AGRSS) developed by the Auto Glass Safety Council™ (formerly the AGRSS Council Inc.) (AGSC). Even though the AGSC is the widely accepted training and certification organization in the auto glass replacement industry, Safelite chose to develop and implement standards through its Belron technical division. With such a large gap between Safelite’s efforts and those already widely accepted by independent glass retailers through the AGSC, no recommended ‘provider list’ program that relies on the demonstration of certification, safety, and quality is ever going to take place unless all sides can agree on one platform.

“The person with the best mouse trap should win,” said Tom Feeney, CEO and president of Safelite Glass Corp., in response to a question raised in a recent AGRR magazine interview regarding fighting the current legislative efforts (see May/June 2012 AGRR, page 34). This is an overtly absurd comment because the mouse trap to which Mr. Feeney is alluding is something that independent glass retailers cannot build, let alone compete with, in each local market: the TPA. There is no secret to the TPA model in that the company that is the TPA ultimately controls the claim from cost to the service thereof.

If it looks like something is wrong, something probably is wrong. Mr. Feeney believes that the legislative efforts collectively add up to “competitors whining, as opposed to something being done wrong;” however, issues such as oppressive inspections, steering and post-authorization interference are directly at the heart of the efforts by independent glass retailers. At each and every one of these legislative proceedings, multiple independent glass retailers have provided recorded telephone conversations and data that demonstrate that these issues are not “myth or rumor” as Mr. Feeney would like you to believe.

I do agree with one statement Mr. Feeney made in the AGRR magazine article, “fight for the business the old-fashioned way.” That is exactly what I and the other independent glass retailers are doing every day. We are deeply committed at the community level in providing our customer the very best service in a safe and quality manner. If it is a fight Mr. Feeney wants, then he should “be careful of what he is asking for because he may not like what he gets.”

As this “fight” continues, it is important for independent glass retailers to remain involved in the industry through the reporting of encroachment activities by TPAs such as steering, inspections, etc., to the Independent Glass Association (IGA). The IGA has made reporting these issues easy by offering a series of online reporting tools at www.iga.org. The IGA urges you to turn over copies of telephone recordings, images, etc., that support the complaints we make against the TPAs and their obstruction of a free market.

We all know how that famous idiom goes, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” While the TPAs and their partners would lead you to believe that it’s just smoke, the rest of us know to ready our firefighting gear.

Alan Epley is president of the Independent Glass Association. He also serves as president of Southern Glass & Plastics in Columbia, S.C.

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