Industry Insider: A Chat with David Rohlfing of Glass America

David Rohlfing is saying what nobody says about the auto glass industry any more-that is, that he is happy and excited to be in it. Spend a little time talking to him and you'll come to believe that the 52-year old president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Glass America (as well as a shareholder and board member of its holding company) actually believes what he is saying and is really, truly happy to be in the auto glass business.

"It's in my blood," he says. "It's the only business I've ever known and I think it's a great one." AGRR/ caught up with him on yesterday to talk about the industry and his purchase of Glass America last October. The auto-glass-only chain currently has 85 stores in 19 states, with two more opening in Florida May 1. Rohlfing expects to have more than 100 shops by the end of the summer. Speaking with him was AGRR/ publisher Debra Levy.

Q-How's it going?
A-Great, having a lot of fun.

Q-When you purchased Glass America, there were a lot of rumors that Belron was involved-probably because of your previous employment [Rohlfing was CEO of the Belron owned Windshields America at one time]. Did it depress you to hear those rumors?
A-The rumors regarding Belron being involved in what we are doing are absolutely untrue. We have no involvement with Belron whatsoever. I'm glad to be able to set that straight.

Q-What are your plans for Glass America since its purchase?
A-We plan to continue to build on the success that Glass America's management has had since its inception. We plan to continue to build it both through acquisitions and greenfields.

Q-Are there particular types of companies you are looking to acquire? Do they have certain characteristics …or is there a model?
A--There's no model per se but the recent acquisition on April 1 [when Glass America purchased Auto Glass Services] is a good one. It has great people. I know and have known the owners for a long time. I know the key people … it's amazing the number of people I know there. The same is true of Glass America. It's a great company with great management. They built a nice network very quickly and buying it was a great opportunity.

Q-Do you have any plans to expand into the collision repair market, the way ABRA or Gerber has?
A--No, there are no plans to do so. We plan to focus on auto glass only. No flat glass either. We are interested only in doing things that we do best. I guess you "never say never," but I don't see us moving in either one of those directions.

Q-You were in the middle of the industry for many years, then you were a bystander for a few years. Had the industry changed a lot in that short time?
A-Well, I really left it in 1996 and since 1996 it has changed tremendously, yes. PPG's LYNX Services has grown in influence and a variety of mergers took place that gave birth to the regional players.

Q-You obviously believe there's still money to be made in this business.
A-I do. I think it's still possible to make money. It's a great industry. It's all I've ever done. I started out as an auto glass installer and it's all I know. This industry gets in your blood and stays there.
I have been fortunate to surround myself with great people. I delegate authority ruthlessly. The managers who operate, operate. They are free to do what they need to do. There's fabulous opportunity at Glass America for them.

Q-Is your senior management team the same as it was before the purchase… Resnick….
A-Yes, Alan Resnick, Sam Cardullo, Chuck Bibbiano, Bob Margerum and Nik Frye are the management team. I brought in Larry Mills, who is the regional vice president and hired a CFO, Scott Wills. The management team was in place. We are just adding to it. The addition of AGS talent pool will help us too… these are all guys I've known for a long time … since the mid-1980s.

Q-What do you think of the changes in NAGS pricing that have taken place in the last few months?
A-Well I don't know much about it….

Q-(laughing) Well, nobody's going to buy that …
A--We look at pricing on a daily basis, we look at how these changes will affect our business. We'd like to see things occur for our industry that are best for our industry and customers. The current pricing mechanism is understood and yet there is a fair amount of confusion. We are interested in seeing some sort of uniformity in the pricing mechanisms used in auto glass.

Q-Glass America has been part of AGRSS. Will that continue?
A--We appreciate being part of AGRSS. It's very important to our industry and we will stay part of it. [Our representative] Chuck Bibbiano really enjoys being part of it.

Q--How do you plan to compete against companies like Safelite?
A--We offer consistently high levels of service to our customers. We don't have a call center, and I don't envision us having one, so it's difficult to compete [in the same way]. If you offer a high level of service, people will come to you.
All we can do is continue to build on the level of service. We push management down to its lowest level. Our store managers and reps run the business. I can't sit here and know what every single market needs. But we have people in our company who do. Those guys run the business. They operate like the stores are their own stores. You reap the rewards of that. We delegate it ruthlessly.

Q-What volume number are you targeting for this year?
A-Volume number? No, I don't have a particular number. We just want to be a strong player, looking to grow, wanting to grow smartly. So it's a difficult question to answer….we are talking to a number of people [about acquisition] even today.

Q-Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
The one thing I would say is that this is a great industry made up of a lot of great people and I am incredibly excited about the future. I hope everyone else shares the same excitement. I am obviously in a company that's growing and excited about it.
We are doing a few things differently. We are opening greenfield stores. We are now opening stores in Florida ….

Q-Where in Florida?
A--Lakeland and Port St. Lucie. We are looking to grow the market. In areas where we can open greenfields, we will.

We want to be the company that everyone wants to work for. Employees are what make up your business and they are the most important asset we have.
The industry has been down on its luck for a few years but it's ready to surge.
I am very bullish on the industry. I've looked at many other businesses in other industries and they just pale in comparison. The glass industry is a fun place to be once it gets in your blood.

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