Volume 15, Issue 5- September/October 2013

Veer in the Headlights

Headlight Restoration Services Can Boost Profit
by Jenna Reed

Diversification can take on many forms in the auto glass repair and replacement industry. A company can add mirror restoration, leather and/or vinyl repair, paint protection, paintless dent removal, remote starters or even window film to its repertoire. Though the economy is in recovery, profits in auto glass repair and replacement can be tight and seeking out new methods to add to the bottom line can bear fruit. One of the most successful forms of diversification is offering headlight repair/restoration to the mix. Auto glass company officials report good results.

Denver, Colo.
The Denver metro area has a high concentration of windshield replacement and repair companies. To make Alternative View of Denver, Colo., stand out, owner Ina Machuca says the windshield repair company takes a different tactic. Machuca offers headlight restoration as a good avenue to drive profits.

“We knew it was going to be a necessity for our customers, so we began to introduce this three years ago, but it’s gotten more popular within the last two years,” Machuca says.

Overall, she says this portion of business continues to grow.

“It has become almost one-third of our business, so it helps our bottom line quite a bit,” Machuca says.

She has also considered adding headlight replacement to the services Alternative View offers, but as of right now, this remains on the back burner.

“When we do offer headlight replacement it will likely be in the fall or early next year,”

Toledo, Ohio
For a family-owned auto glass business in Toledo, Ohio, headlight repair traffic has been “touch and go,” but overall business is up, says Jim Donovan, co-owner of Sonic Auto Glass.

“Business took off right from the get-go,” he says. “We started the company in 2008. Everybody is saying how tough it is right now, but we’ve grown 40 percent or more. If you do bad work you won’t get a lot of business.”

His operation has three technicians, Donovan, his son and daughter.

“We also replace windshield blades,” he notes. “But the business for headlight repair and wipers is touch and go. A guy recently came in with a brand-new Mercedes. He knew someone who had been a customer a few years ago and asked if I could work on his headlights. He wanted help right away, so we worked on his car.”

Donovan says offering more services can ultimately mean more business.

Aside from auto glass, his company also works on boat and RV glass.

“We’ll go out and do emergency seal-ups for no charge,” he notes. “We’ll go out and take care of the broken car window, vacuum it up and wrap the opening until we can replace the glass. We get a lot of compliments and extra business thrown our way because of this.”

Donovan says Sonic began advertising through the Yellow Pages, but he was not pleased with the results. “The Yellow Pages barely break even,” he says. “The best bet is Internet advertising. I took a break from this for two months and went into TV, but barely broke even.”

He also tried some radio advertising, but said he came out perhaps 20 percent ahead.

Ultimately, he said his team keeps experimenting to see what service they could add next. They experiment on their own cars before trying techniques on customers’ vehicles.

Henderson, Nev
. Alex Raphjens is the owner of a one-man operation in Henderson, Nev., called Fix-A-Chip Auto Glass. His company specializes in windshield repair and headlight restoration.

“I added headlight restoration two years ago,” he says. “I’ve been in business five years.”

Raphjens sees headlight restoration as another way of driving business.

“Headlight restoration has boosted our business,” Raphjens says. “I get a lot of calls for it.”

As for advertising, he primarily spends money online, but also actively solicits fleet business.

“I offer a higher quality of repair,” he points out. “I don’t do replacement, so I focus more on the quality of my repairs.”

He doesn’t foresee offering any additional services soon, but keeps an open mind.

A Supplier Perspective
Sunlight can have a big impact on the deterioration of headlights, according to Bruce McDonald, an account executive with Delta Kits. McDonald says he sees quite a few headlights that need work in the South, citing sunlight as a possible cause. However, headlights in the Northern climates seem to hold up better.

Pressure washers and industrial car washes can also have an impact. Vehicles come off the assembly line with a special UV protection coat on their headlights and over time, pressure washers can wear this coat down.

McDonald says his company has seen a growth in demand for the company’s headlight restoration system.

“I’m seeing growth in our customer base,” McDonald says. “Interest in offering headlight restoration is growing. It’s really grown over the last few years, especially as people hold onto their vehicles longer.”

“With our system, we remove the haze and the yellowness that headlights can get by sanding it off. We start with a 320-grit sanding disc, using an orbital sander. You shouldn’t use a drill because it will leave swirl marks,” McDonald says.

The technician then uses progressively finer grit discs until the headlights are clear again, going from the 320-grit to 600-grit to the 1,500-grit sanding disc and finally the 3,200 grit polishing disc. By this point, McDonald says the headlights are almost like brand new.

This process can take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the experience of the technician, according to McDonald.

For the final step, the technician reapplies a UV protective coat.

“We offer a water-soluble solution for the protective coat,” McDonald says. “The technician just puts it on and lets it dry. You’ve got to put the UV coating on. We can’t guarantee how long the restoration will last as it depends on environment, etc., but the headlights should look almost brand new.”

McDonald says it’s very important that auto glass companies that are considering adding this service do research first."

I’ve bought the offerings they’ve put on TV and it’s all polish. It doesn’t work,” he points out. “The important thing is making sure the UV protection coating is reapplied. You don’t need any type of UV light to cure our protective coat. It’s just like paint and dries. But it is clear and blocks ultra-violet, which is what ultimately protects the headlights.”

Offering this service can be very profitable for auto glass companies, McDonald says. “The total cost per car for the sanding discs and chemical is about $8. A company can do the restoration in anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes and charge about $50 to $60 for the process,” he says.


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