A few weeks back Bob Beranek addressed the issue of in-shop installs over mobile service in his blog. His thoughts that a customer received an overall better quality job from a brick and mortar store than from a mobile service, has ignited debate on the AGRR Forum. I would like to add my two cents in. Overall I believe he is right.
First of all, some of the readers may or may not know, I have been a pure mobile service in the San Jose area of California over the past 15 years. Prior to that, I built up a business that encompassed windshield repair, auto glass installation and flat glass over another 15 years that included a shop as a base of operations. In other words, I have lived in both worlds. After reading Bob’s blog, I agree that he brings up a number of good points.
First of all, if I had lived anywhere else other than Central or Southern California, I never would have considered doing this craft for a living. The climate here is Mediterranean, meaning it rarely rains outside a certain time of year—even then it is scant. How someone can live doing mobile auto glass year round in my native Rochester, N.Y., Fargo, N.D. or even Miami Fla., with its afternoon thunderstorms, is beyond me. Arizona may be dry and hot, but outside working conditions makes one hour SDAT urethanes skin so quick at times, one has to emulate Speedy Gonzales in order to function. On windy days, in Texas and elsewhere, how much airborne dirt or pollen can alter the adhesive platform much less an exact setting position. Ever lost a lite when wind blows one’s bench rack over? In short, weather affects quality and when there are negative, even marginal, conditions, there exists an economic pressure to do the job. Some techs and owners care, but the sad fact is many more don’t. They gamble with the customer’s vehicle and possibly the owner’s life. A pop-up tent or a self-serve car wash cover is not the solution, but more of the visible problem.
Is mobile service efficient? For me, at times it certainly is not. I have had many days where I have had to drive back to a distributor to return or exchange a wrong or defective part. Try to get a customer to look under their rear view mirror on their Odyssey or late model MDX and have them ascertain if it has a visible head of a screw and get a right answer 100 percent of the time. Tint or shaded? Some customers do not like the aftermarket shade bands. Did you miss a scratch or lamination defect that would impact the customer’s acceptance of the job? Let’s not talk about the lack of overall quality of many of the aftermarket parts that we are forced to buy. Many times we can get tempered glass whose bonded parts may not be glued in the exact position. Deal with that situation with the customer looking on. Just last week, I had a bonded quarter glass of a Sonoma pick-up whose latch would not lock. I discovered that little detail after I had riveted the assembly onto the body (the latch post that came with the new part was too long, I ended up switching it with the old one). Those issues and mistakes happen daily all over the world, but as a mobile service, one has to deal with them as soon as possible and in many cases one cannot move on to another job until things get resolved.
Quality is not in the eye of the beholder. It has narrow definitions. Either a job is done right or not. In a shop, one can control more variables than we can as a mobile and I believe that is what Bob was writing about. However, both our largest installation firm and the thousands of individuals that operate out of vehicles daily have embraced this philosophy of mobility and anointed it with sanctimonious self-righteousness. In far too many instances, marginal if not sub-standard exterior work conditions have been ignored all for the sake of putting the job “on the books.”
Consumers for the most are as ignorant as they are impatient. I can inform a caller that it would be best if they could wait for a urethane-based install on a mobile basis if weather was inclement. The next glass business they may call could reassure them that precipitation is not necessarily a deterrent to an immediate windshield replacement. We have been crucifying ourselves on a cross of convenience trying to convince consumers to choose a particular shop. I am all for making it easy for anyone who wants to use my service, however who is the professional and who is the amateur? How can they define a hack when trying to choose glass vendors?
Sadly they are everywhere. Butchers certainly exist under roofs that are supported by brick and mortar. Some drive shiny clean vans. However for many, the archetypical hack may be the driver of an aged Japanese mini pick-up whose truck bed is stuffed with a glass rack and two rolls of generic molding but has only a tool belt hanging off a five gallon bucket. He may be driving down Main Street, but not working inside it.
An educated technician’s proficiency, along with his pride and conscience, still provides the best basis for a proper install. The surrounding environment enhances it, but it is usually not the decisive factor. Put a chimp in the best equipped shop and you get monkey business. Send a cherry rookie out alone to install and the same thing usually occurs. Sending a certified tech out to do a mobile ahead of a super cell broiling over the Plains or a nor’easter bearing down on Long Island is as foolish as the first two scenarios. Doing any kind of glass work in weather under 30 degees requires a lot more of something than I will ever possess.
Mobiles are here to stay until the technology or safety requirements change. Companies big and small will fight that shift if it were ever to come. They want it to continue and would enlist the public’s help to continue the practice since its virtues were oversold in the first place. But admit the truth, a controlled environment certainly removes a few conditions that can and will affect the quality of an install. Mobiles usually do not have those options.
Personally I am not going to change my business model at this late date, but I face far less meteorological obstacles than the majority of my compatriots. What is far more dangerous for me is crossing any street in California. The likelihood of being hit by a glass toting mini pick-up is far higher here (and probably uninsured) than anywhere else.
If the city fathers of Mobile, Alabama were really smart, they would demand some kind of brand fee for the alleged use of their name in the AGR world. I wonder how many brick and mortars would want to attend if Auto Glass Week were ever to be held in that great Gulf port city? Would Bob stay away on principles alone? Inquiring minds need to know.