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The Enemy Within

16 Jan

Drive by any Home Depot on most mornings and you can see a number of potential laborers standing around the edges of the parking lots hoping to be chosen for some work. Go will-call a part at a glass distributor in my Bay Area and you can find several characters driving battered makeshift installation vehicles that are either picking up glass or awaiting orders. Seems many of these so-called “installers” are subcontractors working for internet-based companies. They represent the worst of our industry and thanks to the public’s thirst for “value” and regulatory indifference, it is a segment that is sadly growing and creating a potential time bomb for safety.

What is being created via the internet is an illusion of a real auto glass company. In many cases, it is centered in some living room or commercial area. In my area, I know of five to six companies that advertise on the internet using click ads and web optimization. Anytime a search is made for auto glass these companies, many times each using different names, funnel quotes back to a single operation. When the bid is accepted by a customer, work orders then are dispensed to subcontractors for install. In short, the installation is farmed out to outside mobiles.

Now this is where it gets tricky. In many situations, these companies may provide glass, moldings and in some cases adhesives to do a job. Accounts are set up at distributors to allow subs to pick up the necessary parts. I’ve been told that some of these umbrella concerns must pay daily for these orders in order to get the best pricing and I assume to protect the distributor from delinquencies. Some of the billing addresses on invoiced accounts are from hundreds of miles away; these subs pick up the parts. The bottom line is simply, buy cheap, sell cheap.

Ever hear of Amitek EZ urethane? This Chinese-manufactured product is making its rounds here on the West Coast and sold on eBay. I am not aware of any compatible primers, MSRDs or DOT approval. I have been told that reputable adhesive manufacturers cannot identify certain components that are contained in this product. I have even heard rumor that one Southern California source of this “adhesive” was convicted of selling counterfeit Carlite products making him a paragon of virtue and I presume, trust. Amitek is dirt cheap and therefore becoming popular with discount installers and is being provided to subcontractors by some of these internet companies to reduce costs. The time bomb that is being created by the use of this product continues to grow with every application and regulatory agencies appear not to be concerned.

So, we have a Google-searching consumer either sitting in his bathrobe or at a Starbucks scouring the internet for an auto glass deal—this is where technology can disguise shoddiness or just plain incompetence. For the most part, auto glass subcontractors I have viewed are perhaps the worst example of what this trade can offer. No certifications, no liability insurance and worst yet, no conscience of the work performed. Many of these “installers” look and act unprofessionally. In many cases, these are people that you would not trust to cut the grass on your lawn competently much less work on your car, even a 20-year-old one.

This is the underground economy at its worst. For a U.S. grant, these cyber companies find individuals or teams to fulfill orders. We are not talking about an occasional sale. Many of these companies are “employing” several subs who each may be doing four to five jobs daily. This is not a “mom-and-pop” operation. Try paying an offshore web optimization thousands of dollars monthly to help direct business your way. Click ads cost money as well. These web companies often disappear and re-appear under several aliases as complaints or bad reviews arise. As you may imagine, profit margins are thin so volume is a necessity. However it seems there is a never-ending fresh supply of price-driven consumers who are foolish enough to place trust much less their vehicle in the hands of these operators.

For years now, one of my favorite sayings came from the Walt Kelly comic strip “Pogo” of the 1950s and 1960s. It goes like this: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” It is never more so true when it comes to my beloved auto glass industry. I am personally embarrassed, even revolted, when I have to mingle with these hacks when I have to will-call a part at a distributor. It is bad enough to fight the efforts of corporate glass to impose its brand of mediocrity of pricing and quality upon my craft. However they are a welcome sight compared to the bottom feeders that infect this industry. There is a specific culture that knows no one nationality that is constructed to perform auto glass installation in the most unprofessional method possible. The simple fact is that something has to be done to halt these shady and fly-by-night operations or legitimate shops will be negatively affected, if we already aren’t. By allowing these hacks to survive and even flourish, we give ammunition to those who use the horror and fraud stories that unfold to legitimize their corporate growth and sales. Where is the self-esteem and pride within the auto glass industry that is permitting these conditions to exist?

We better find some somewhere. My State Bureau of Automotive Repair is centered on smog or insurance fraud, but not incompetence. Distributors can’t be expected to be policemen but there is real truth to the fact that many pander to the worst of the retail offenders. They are stocking less branded product because the demand exists more for cheap offshore and domestic glass. They will sell to almost anyone and permit the sort of arrangements that allow subcontractors to exist and flourish. Some warehouses even allow, accept and dispense faxed work orders to subcontractors. Retailers used to abhor those distributors who sold directly to body shops. These days, the damage that subcontractors do to legitimate retailers may be a far greater threat.

The future is now! Preserving your reputation and existence is one and the same goal for many of us. The last thing I want is to be lumped into the same category as one of these hacks. It should be your mission as well.

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  1. Steve

    January 16, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Hi Neil, I got one for you. A web based co. out of your great state contacted me about doing work for them. On their website it says they are AGRSS certified. I find it ironic that they say they are but will use me, and I am not. They did not ask for my certs or ins. info. I agree it is sad what our industry has come to. I have been in this industry since 1987, last 9 years on my own. Between the giant corporations and the low ballers it is getting hard to survive. Enjoyed your article, and your personality, keep up the good work. Who knows, maybe your next career may be journalism. Have a great day.

     
  2. Guy Selinske

    January 17, 2013 at 9:33 am

    Great article Neil. Unfortunately I doubt any thing can be done until a vehicle one of these hacks replaced a windshield in is involved in an accident and a someone dies because of their incompetence. Then the politicians may feel compelled to take a look at windshield installation safety.