W.A. Wilson President Bob Hartong Reflects
on Exit from Auto Glass Business, Offers Advice for Independent
January 28, 2011
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
Hartong, who has been with the company since 1995, became president
in 2002 when his father, Robert, retired after 34 years with the
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 operatewould 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
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
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 yearsit 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.
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