Special report: Inside the brainstorm
About 200 auto glass repair and replacement professionals gathered in Tucson, Ariz., Feb. 11-13 for the 2008 National Auto Glass Conference: A Forum for Auto Glass Executives. Their goal: to identify solutions to today’s business challenges by networking and learning from industry peers.
In a departure from previous conferences, the 2008 event featured a variety of workshop-style educational sessions in which attendees shared best practices; offered solutions to common problems; and brainstormed new ideas to improve profit margins, employee morale and their overall business environment.
“These newly formatted sessions were a highlight,” said Steve Mort, CEO of Don’s Mobile Glass, Modesto, Calif. “I learned a lot and connected with my peers in a stronger way than ever before.”
In a breakout session Feb. 12 led by Richard Voreis, CEO of Consulting Collaborative in Dallas, retailers exchanged ideas for how to successfully increase sales.
Some of the suggestions that came out of the session include:
• Bring in an outside salesperson who can get out in the field and contact new accounts for auto, flat and contract work.
• Conduct continuing education classes for insurance agents.
• Optimize your Web site.
• Offer loyalty incentives to repeat
• Conduct customer satisfaction surveys.
• Actively pursue and visit customers at their locations.
To generate more profit, consider installer incentives or add-on products, attendees said. Dan Osbourne, CEO of the Glass Doctor franchise in Tabernash, Colo., said he offered his installers a monetary incentive as sales motivation. “They get a piece of the action for everything they sell. We give them an opportunity to see an hourly wage increase based on their sales efforts. For example, if they upsell a customer on a headlight polishing service, they get a percentage of the profits. If they want a raise, it’s on their shoulders,” he explained.
Attendees agreed that windshield wipers were also a good profit source. Dave Taylor, COO of Cindy Rowe Auto Glass in Harrisburg, Pa., reported his company sold a significant number of windshield wipers each month and that it was a “very profitable and logical” source of income. “The majority of customers out there who are replacing their windshields need new wipers,” he pointed out.
One word of caution: invest in a quality product. “If that wiper is not high quality, it could cost you your replacement customer,” said one attendee.
Consider profit-sharing to motivate employees, advised Doug Linderer, president of Go-Glass Corp., Salisbury, Md. “We have a profit-sharing plan where we distribute a percentage of pre-tax net to all of our employees based on their salary for the year. It is a good motivator because if someone’s not doing a good job, we cut into their wallet.” By giving employees a financial stake in the company’s success, you motivate them to generate more profit.
Where do we find good help? That was the question Sika Corp.’s Carl Tompkins posed to attendees Feb. 12 during the “Managing a New Generation of Workers/Professionals” session. Among the suggestions attendees provided were:
• Advertise online as opposed to putting a classified ad in the newspaper. Although not a good tactic for finding experienced installers, it is a successful way to recruit trainees, reported one executive . Another attendee specifically recommended Craig’s List as a potential advertising outlet.
• Employee referrals. Thomas Huff, manager of Go-Glass Corp.’s Delaware operations, reported his company offers existing employees a monetary bonus if they recommend a new employee who stays for more than 90 days. “That’s probably where we’ve found our best installers,” he said. “Our employees know that we have certain rules and they know their friends’ weekend habits that might not fit with our policies, so it’s kind of a natural weeding-out process. We have a 90-day introductory period, at which point the employee gets the bonus.”
Profit-sharing is also a good incentive for employees to recommend quality personnel, said another attendee. “The better the workforce, the better the profit and the more money [employees] can make,” he said.
• Recruit at high schools. One retailer reported he’d had success going to local high schools to recruit graduating seniors. Meet with guidance counselors to find the best fit and examine the student’s grade-point average before making a selection, he advised. A word of caution: Be careful to hire students over the age of 18 to avoid certain work restrictions.
• Last but not least, call your local Boy Scouts Council and look for Eagle Scouts. They understand what loyalty is, said one attendee.
During the Feb. 12 “Green Is Good” panel discussion, GlasWeld President Mike Boyle, Go-Glass President Doug Linderer, Ray Sands Glass President Dave Burns and Enterprise Rent-A-Car Vice President of Corporate Communications and Corporate Responsibility Pat Farrell provided some simple suggestions to “green” your business:
• Put battery chargers on a timer so they don’t drain electricity 24 hours a day.
• Replace the old soda machine in your lobby with a new, more energy-efficient model.
• Tint your shop windows to cut down on passive solar heat gain and lower air-conditioning usage.
• Use energy-efficient light bulbs.
• Replace the Styrofoam cups of coffee you give to customers with mugs.
• Install a high-quality water filter so employees can drink water from the tap rather than purchasing plastic water bottles.
• Call your local energy provider and ask them to come out and audit your facility. You’d be amazed at the number of simple changes you can make to improve your energy efficiency.
• Talk to your employees. You might be surprised by the number of suggestions they can offer.
“This year’s auto glass conference was the epitome of quality over quantity,” said David Walker, vice president of association services for the National Glass Association, in an interview. “Because we made a conscious effort to restructure the conference as an executive educational event, participation naturally shifted to the higher levels of the industry. So while we didn’t see the same level of participation as in years past, attendee feedback was extraordinary and the prevailing sentiment was that we hit the sweet spot with the new focus of the conference.”
The 2009 National Auto Glass Conference will take place Feb. 18-20 at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate.