Safelite Sold: Guarded Optimism
Fewer than 24 hours after London-based Belron announced that it was buying Safelite Glass Corp. in Columbus, Ohio, the news is still sinking in around the industry.
Shop owners seem to have similar thoughts about their largest competition moving under the Belron umbrella.
"It will remain to be seen what happens, but I don't see this being bad a thing," said Dave Burns, president of Ray Sands Glass in Rochester, N.Y.
In fact, cautious optimism seems to reign throughout the industry. "I don't think it will hurt our industry," said Tom Lee, owner of Lee & Cates Glass, an automotive and commercial glass retailer in Jacksonville, Fla. "I would like to think it will be a positive throughout the industry."
The main reason: pricing. "Safelite would take a job and lose money on it," said John Webb, owner of Deals Glass Services in Kannapolis, N.C. "Hopefully, they [Belron], will say, 'No, we won't do that.' Someone needs to stop price deterioration and say no to the insurance companies. I'm optimistic that pricing will go up."
Larry Diesbach of Bachman Auto Glass in St. Louis also hopes Belron will increase what auto glass retailers are paid for a job. "I think that a positive from Belron buying Safelite could be, if Belron really steps to the plate, like they say there are going to do, to help industry pricing," Diesbach said.
Dave Hackett, operations manager for Premier Auto Glass in Waukesha, Wis., adds his voice to the growing chorus of hopeful auto glass retailers. But he doesn't expect overnight change. "If Belron proceeds as speculated I hope the downward pressure of the cash market will reverse itself, thus also affecting insurance payment structures," Hackett said. "This will all take at least a year or two to shake out in my opinion."
Diesbach also tempers his expectations for pricing increases. "I strongly believe that if Belron thinks that they are going to waive a magic wand and make all the insurance companies on their network just start paying more, I can see some of the insurance companies not going along with it," he said.
While Burns is also hopeful prices for auto glass installations will rise with Belron, he has another reason to welcome them into the American auto glass business. "They are customer service and quality oriented," he said. "They have always been focused on training. So, I think the first thing [that] will come is an emphasis on service and quality."
Burns isn't alone in this sentiment. "They have a history and are known for their service and quality," said Mark Dawson, president of Glass Doctor in Waco, Texas.
For an industry seeking leadership in service and quality, this is definitely a good thing. "It could be good for the industry if Belron can turn a profit and train their technicians," Webb said.
But, it's not all rosy. A couple of glass shop owners told glassBYTEs.com they expect stiff competition from the auto glass giant. "I've heard rumors that Belron doesn't like to share [business]," Burns said.
But Dawson doesn't expect the competition to be a more challenging than it was in the past. "I think they are going to be aggressive to get more business, like any big company would," he said.
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