Pfaff’s Auto Glass, Inc. has been a presence in Winston-Salem, N.C., for more than a century. As the family-owned company celebrates its 106th year, Douglas Pfaff, co-owner and executive vice president, shares a glimpse of what helped keep his family’s business intact.
“There’s this desire in the family to keep the name and the business going, it’s hard to really describe, but there’s a natural joy in being a part of making this business run for so long,” said Pfaff.
But the auto glass business has an interesting start, which Pfaff explains has a few twists and turns.
“Well let’s see, the original, or our parent company, was started by my great grandfather Samuel back in 1913. That company was and still is called Pfaff’s Auto Glass,” said Pfaff.
He mentioned there was a major challenge the company faced when “previous generations wanted to break away” and create a more lucrative automotive division.
“There was some tension when my dad wanted to open his own auto glass shop. You see, my grandfather had two men under him and my dad who were really good, but he chose not to promote either of the two guys. And as for my dad, my grandfather wasn’t ready to pass the family business down to him yet, so that caused a split,” said Pfaff.
That incident lead to his father creating his own business, with the family’s name, in 1963. That however, wasn’t the only obstacle the family faced, as the name change became too confusing for its clientele.
“We really shot ourselves in the foot with this one. Back in the day we were at an auto glass convention and were told not to change our name and boy we should’ve listened,” said Pfaff.
The convention was around the time when Safelite came out with its 15-mile radius feature, which allows customers to search for auto glass repair and replacement companies within that distance. According to Pfaff, when the automotive division changed its name to Auto Glass by Pfaff’s its customers were confused and in turn, many of them stopped going to the company.
“The issue was customers were still asking for Pfaff’s Auto Glass instead of Auto Glass by Pfaff’s, because of the mix up it cost us a 50% to 75% loss in revenue,” said Pfaff.
It didn’t take long for the auto glass division of the company to reclaim its original name and start rebuilding its customer base. The operation that at one time had 55 employees now has roughly 14 and feels the same lack of qualified tradespeople as others in the industry.
“It’s surprising. It’s like all of the young kids are more interested in computers and that industry than learning a trade. Without trades there wouldn’t be so much advancements in technology. It’s been so difficult just finding someone who not only knows what they’re doing, but who also wants to stay in the industry long-term,” adds Pfaff.
The family-owned company is still going strong as it continues its 106th year in business, but some are already looking ahead. Pfaff has three daughters and hopes they’ll join the business and keep the name and its legacy alive for another 50-plus years.
“I know in 50 years I won’t be around, but hopefully my girls, who are in their 20’s, will come and join their dad in auto glass. We’re all a big family at work and even when we have our ups and downs we know we’re working together as a team,” said Pfaff.