Welch Panel Discussion Covers Personnel, Competition

Suzy Welch asks some hard questions during Auto Glass Week.

Suzy Welch asks some hard questions during Auto Glass Week.

What comes out of an industry leadership panel moderated by seasoned business veteran Suzy Welch? Wisdom on everything from personnel management to standing out among competitors.

Joined by her husband and legendary businessman Jack Welch along with A. Allan Skidmore, CEO of TGC International; David Rohlfing, vice president of Club Assist; Paul Heinauer, president of Glasspro Inc.; Troy Mason, president of TechnaGlass; Donna Wells, regional sales manager for the Louver Shop; Michael Schuch, CEO of Graffiti Shield and Xlnt Tint; and Ed Golda, president of Michigan Glass Coatings, Auto Glass Week™ attendees got their fair share of enterprise information.

A Competitive Edge

The first topic tackled was how to differentiate a company that is thought about as a commodity by the consumers.

“Coming to a conference is one thing that helps us do that,” Heinauer said. “Coming to the Auto Glass Safety Council and promoting safety helps,” rather than just promoting services.

Jack Welch dug a little deeper, asking for substantial ways the business owners set themselves apart.

Rohlfing recommended doing it through charitable acts.

“Make sure you’re the person in the marketplace that makes a difference in the lives of those in the community you interact with,” he said, which would include sponsoring activities and events, advertising, etc. “You need to have your name out there constantly.”

Mason said it’s simply by referral business—then explained how he gets those: with quality technicians.

He said to do “anything you can do to make them feel like industry professionals. So we have a program that gets the latest tools in their hands. We also offer education and training and have our internal competition, as well as send them to the competitions here. It’s what makes them professionals in their industries,” which ultimately leads to business referrals.

Upcoming Problems

Suzy Welch continued the panel with a question on what’s to come.

“I wonder if we can go up to 20,000 feet for a moment and talk about the industry as a whole,” she said. “I wonder what keeps you up at night. When you look at the big looming problem, what is it?”

For many, their worries involved personnel.

Heinauer said he’s been thinking a lot about employee compensation.

“We’ve been evaluating the terms of our pay,” he said. “We look at what the benefits package, etc., looks like. We’re trying to develop a pay structure that really helps reward people but also makes me clear on their expectations. It’s important everyone knows where they stand.”

Mason said he’s simply ready for success.

“I really don’t have anything that’s keeping me up at night,” he said. “I think the industry is poised for a great future and the biggest company that we compete against is as big as it’s going to be and it will only go down from here.”

Suzy Welch pointed out that everyone’s worry seemed to be revolving around people and not small AGRR shops’ biggest competitor: Safelite. She asked why that isn’t their foremost worry.

“They have 24 of the top 25 insurers,” Mason said, predicting the company is as big as it’s going to get. “They’re billed as an insurance fulfillment center—they’re not retail like us. It’s up to us to differentiate ourselves with customer retention and referrals.”

Rohlfing disagreed, saying the company, “is spending $50 to $100 million a year on advertising. Deductibles are getting larger and they’re looking out 5 to 10 years to build consumer awareness.”

“On a local basis you have to fight for the local level,” he said. “They have a brand and none of us necessarily likes them. At the end of the day, they have a strategy and they’re playing it out. They’re going to win if none of us do something about it.”

Suzy Welch said the competition can be healthy.

The thing about a big competitor is they make you better,” she said. “You hate them and you wish they’d go away but they make you better.”

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