W.A. Wilson President Bob Hartong Reflects on Exit from Auto Glass Business, Offers Advice for Independent Shop Owners
January 28, 2011

Bob Hartong

W.A. Wilson Inc. president Bob Hartong took some time today to speak with glassBYTEs.com™/AGRR™ magazine about his company's recent decision to sell its auto glass assets to Mygrant Glass. Hartong also discussed the years leading up to that decision, and offered some tips for independent auto glass businesses in today's changing market.

Hartong, who has been with the company since 1995, became president in 2002 when his father, Robert, retired after 34 years with the business.

glassBYTEs.com(GB): Were any facilities sold as part of the deal? What was included with the sale?

Hartong (RH): No facilities. It was all just our auto glass assets and really the biggest thing was our customer list.

GB: At what point did you begin to see a downturn in the auto glass market, or do you think it's been gradual?

RH: For us, it's kind of been gradual over the last 7 or 8 years and it really accelerated in the last two or three.

GB: Would you attribute the downturn to anything specific?

RH: Really, we're such a small regional independent, that trying to compete with the PGWs, the Pilkingtons and some of the larger players, we just didn't have the buying power that they did, so it just made it very difficult.

GB: Some have said that NAGS pricing makes it really difficult for distributors to operate—would you agree with that assessment?

RH: That's an interesting question … In the terms of the last several years, we haven't really used NAGS to sell from. It's been more of a cost-plus in our market area, but as I look back, and going back to another question, "when did we see a downturn?"—really once in our area NAGS was no longer the basis for how distributors sold to retailers is when the margins really started to drop. If I could go back and kind of pinpoint one of the things that really changed auto glass in our area, it was when our market got away from using NAGS pricing.

GB: How long had the company been looking to sell the auto glass business?

RH: We'd talked about it maybe for the last couple of years. It kind of became evident this summer that we were going to have to do something, but didn't really get active until probably October or November.

GB: How have your customers reacted so far?

RH: It's been a mixed reaction to be honest with you. We've been selling to these people for over 40 years, so from the relationships and friendships out of it, it's sad and disappointing, but I think the fact that we brought in a really solid distributor that is family-owned and independent that is going to be able to meet their needs in the marketplace it's a positive.

GB: What advice would you have for your former customers who also are struggling to survive in this market?

RH: All of our auto glass customers were independents, first off, so what I would say to them and have said to them is they really need to play that up and they need to market themselves in their area[s] to the end user. The auto glass business has changed so much. For years it was so insurance-driven and now because of higher deductibles and so forth, it's more of a cash business, so you really have to go to that end-user and market yourself so that in your area, when they think of glass, they're thinking of you. The other thing is they really need to pick their partners, especially who they're buying from. I find it difficult to really understand how they can buy from someone who may also be their competitor.

GB: You mentioned that one of the things that was desirable about Mygrant is that it's independent and is a family business, and I know that W.A. Wilson has strong family roots as well. Did that make the sale any easier?

RH: From a numbers standpoint, it was actually a pretty clear-cut decision of what we needed to do, but from an emotional standpoint-auto glass was such a big part of our business for so many years—it was tough. But when you're talking about such first-class people like the Mygrants, a family business that kind of has the same core values as we do as a family business, I felt good about that, so it did make it a lot easier.

Need more info and analysis about the issues?
Subscribe to AGRR Magazine.