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The Importance of Character in Business

29 Oct

“The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed.”

Henry Ford spoke those words almost a century ago and it is quite obvious that the auto glass replacement industry of today does very little to validate that truism.

Sadly, the AGRR industry is not alone in a business world that has forsaken that statement in order to create the model that providing less to the customer is the best way to succeed. Mr. Ford knew what he spoke about.

I have toiled in this industry for more than 34 years. I have come full circle in many ways as I still remove and replace auto glass five days a week, and oftentimes longer than 8 hours a day. I have signed paychecks, dealt with unhappy customers and raised a family (or two). My hands and feet hurt constantly, my fair skin shows sun damage but all and all, unless I am discovered to be Warren Bufffett’s love child, I expect to retire as a member of the AGRR community.

Yet every day, I am painfully reminded that there is an existing and still growing element within the industry that operates under the axiom of build it cheap, buy it cheap and slap it in cheap. The public be damned and everyone else down the supply chain. That philosophy crosses all corporate and proprietorship lines, geographical and cultural, as well. Is there hope anywhere that this pernicious and pervasive attitude can be halted?

I have read columns here in AGRR about ethics and countless articles about leadership. What about character? J.C. Watts, a former Oklahoma quarterback who was a congressman said this about character:

“Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that’s right is to get by, and the only thing that’s wrong is to get caught.”

What is so wrong about doing the right thing? Why do glass manufacturers use double-back tape to secure a cowl retainer rather than using a strong bonding adhesive? Why do glass distributors seem to always choose price over quality when it comes to making buying decisions? Why are there so many unethical or just plain incompetent glass installing companies and installers?

It is simply because it can be done and too many do it with impunity. Here are a few relevant examples:

A local competitor has worked its way into many of the mainstream auto dealers via his pricing practices. I can assure you that the owner could not withstand a legal or tax review of the employment status of the technicians who work for him. I’m sad to say, he is hardly alone. I would surmise that at least 40 percent of the mobile installers I see do not comply with tax or liability regulations that exist.

How many shadow auto glass companies exist in this country? I see independent techs standing outside glass distributors with insurance work orders in hand picking up parts. The work orders have varying company names assigned to do the work and yet it is performed by a single self-employed installer most likely being paid a flat rate for his labor. Is this ethical or just good, old, free market capitalism?

Speaking of the free market, look at our industry leader—the largest third-party administrator has first contact with customers and has remuneration limits for vendors. A Michigan insurer that is a client of the company now has instituted a zero glass deductible on some policies if customers agree to use a preferred vendor … and guess who that might that be? I wonder how that impacts the guaranteed average invoice?

Greed and hubris may exist as standard operating procedures in many business models, but I maintain it does not have to be that way. Yet the dilemma that exists for every tradesman, shopkeeper or corporation is not to show up at a gunfight with a slingshot or a pillow. Auto glass, especially over the past 15 years has become a highly volatile yet fractured industry. The corporate side has become the domain of the very large and the very few which is seemingly successfully attempting to service the needs of the casualty insurance industry and become the vendor of choice or obligation for them.

On the lowest rung of the glass ladder stands the one horse operator that sells on price alone and markets to those who may be too ignorant to discern what junk installs really cost the buyer.

The independents in the middle oftentimes find themselves in a battle just to survive in this struggle between philosophies and real life.

I believe one of the best business litmus tests we can apply is the one created and written more than 2,000 years ago … “Do unto others as others would do unto you.”

I grew up on the urban mean streets of a New York City and learned that life is not always pink ribbons and bunnies. However, one always gave respect when and where it was earned. There are words such as “service,” “duty” and “honor” that should mean something in this world. I’m sad to say that within this industry, “cost cutting” and “revenue per unit ” are phrases that have more relevance and influence than the words previously mentioned.

Any change has to start from within. No government regulation or oversight is going to alter the negative behaviors that have pervaded the AGRR industry. It is up to us, shop owners, techs and those in the supply chain to have pride and respect in what we do. There are small steps we can take to demand quality and pride from within and from connected vendors, which would have a rippling effect if a number of us mandated such behaviors. When talking to consumers, put the customer’s interests first whenever possible. If they feel they are not a number and have reasonable expectations, trust can be built.

In closing, I will leave you with a pearl of wisdom that a relative passed on to me a few decades ago: “It is far more important to have character than to be noted as being one.”

Let’s do our best and be proud of our handiwork.

 
 

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  1. Daveycrewcut

    October 29, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    As I have said before I like your style!

    P.S. I think it was more like-Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.-but I knew what you meant.

    Treat others the way you would like to be treated!

     
  2. Cam Leslie

    November 20, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Neil,
    Excellent column.
    Those of us that aspire to create and nurture good character must never give up.
    Well done Neil!