by Bob Beranek
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My wife and I just returned home from the 2013 Auto Glass Week™ in Tampa, Fla., and I must say that the experience was well worth the trip. I am so busy there that it can be difficult to find the time to see and share experiences with everyone I would like to visit. However, I did meet some new friends and touched base with many of my old ones.

This year again, I attended Auto Glass Safety Council™ meetings, gave seminars on Quality, Safety and Technician Training, judged the Auto Glass Technician Olympics and attended the trade show and events before, during and after the official start and end dates of the show. This work was made worthwhile by good times and renewed friendships.

Those of you that miss the national show are really doing yourself a disservice. Auto Glass Week is an event that should not be missed. If you want to be a successful business, if you want to be on the cutting edge of your industry, if you want to be informed of the newest and best products, services and tools, and if you want to be inspired and rejuvenated then this is the event you must insert into your calendar and budget.

Where else can you see, feel, smell and touch a tool or product before buying? Where else can you rub elbows with successful business owners world wide and get their ideas and stories of success?  Where else can you see the best of the best technicians perform in auto glass repair, tinting and replacement? Where else can you get professional help and information for the price of admission? And lastly, where else can you voice your concerns and ideas to the industry leaders that can get things done?

I hear and read complaints, concerns and topical issues every day in forums, articles and phone calls to my office. Many times unfortunately, not much can be done quickly and efficiently to solve these problems. Auto Glass Week gives us a “soapbox” on which to stand and voice our issues loudly and for all to hear. Why wouldn’t all of you come to be heard?

Auto Glass Week is scheduled in September for a reason. It can’t be held in the summer, it’s too busy. It can’t be held in early winter, too many holidays. It can’t be late winter; taxes are due and it’s too late to plan the year. It can’t be spring because we have to get ready for the summer rush. So, the dates are set after the Northern states’ busy season and before the next year’s budget planning. They are set at the end of the vacation season and the beginning of the school year to give you a reward for a year of hard work. It is set in early fall to take advantage of beautiful weather and affordable prices, just at the beginning of the resort’s off-season. The dates are set to coincide with the traditional automotive new-model introductions to spur discussion of what is to come. It is set during the week so those that wish to be home for the weekend can be but those that wish to make it part of a vacation can do that as well.

Yes, it can be expensive to attend some of these shows if you stay at the headquarters’ hotel and eat and drink on premises. If cost is an issue for you there are things you can do. Stay at less expensive nearby hotels. Eat at Joe’s Diner, McDonalds and the wings at the nearby sports bar. No one says you have to partake in the expensive environments unless you want to. Drive instead of fly and make it a road trip. Stop at the local supermarket instead of the expensive restaurants. The national trade show can be an experience that can be had on a budget if necessary but it should not be missed because of cost.

Auto Glass Week is the venue where professionals come to be successful. I urge you all to consider and budget for next year’s event. You will not be sorry.

All the previous posts on productivity are basic steps that cost nothing to implement. This next step is technology and it will cost a few bucks if you decide to obtain and execute.

When I was an installer in LaCrosse, Wis., we had tachographs in all of our service vehicles. What is a tachograph? A tachograph was a device that recorded the time of day and speed of the vehicle on a paper graph that could be compared to a job log. This management tool allowed our managers to check the speed of the vehicle, the installation times, the driving times and the breaks to evaluate the productivity of the technician. It also helped to determine if the technician is having trouble with a particular installation, traffic route or has a tendency to have a heavy foot.

The “tach” is old school today but there are new types of technology to help the manager with keeping an eye and a finger on the pulse of his business. There are a number of tracking and scheduling software as well as hardware products that can make the flow of work smooth and efficient.

Recently, we consulted a rather large call center with technicians in several states. One of the company’s problems was scheduling and tracking techs as they went through their day. They had a number of technologically advanced systems in place already but the utilization had to be tweaked to make it more usable.

One of the really neat systems is the GPS real-time tracker. The manager or dispatcher can watch as the technician goes through the day and route them to areas of need. They can see how fast the tech is progressing through the day and schedule more or less work depending on problems they see. The manager can also keep the customer abreast of when the tech will arrive at their vehicle or residence.

How about a GPS for the technician? The tech can program in the entire days’ jobs and let the GPS take him where he needs to be. The GPS monitors traffic, finds short cuts and routes them efficiently—no getting lost, no getting stuck in traffic, no having to look for a close restaurant for lunch. It is all there on the GPS.

Another technology that will help in making the day run smoothly and productively is the smartphone. The options (apps) that the modern day phone brings to the job are amazing. The access to a digital camera communicates when words fail and documents when a record is called for. Problems with miswriting a VIN are solved simply by a click of a camera and attaching a photo to the electronic work order. How about getting help in the field? What if a new tech has never seen something before? How do I detach that from here? Just shoot a photo and call your favorite mentor. Attach the picture and get help as fast as it takes to dial a phone number. What if you can’t see where that retainer fell into the engine compartment? Take your phone and use your flashlight app. Oh, there it is. Some phones even have a two-way radio built in to have instant communication with the boss or other techs nearby. Many of the new software products now out for auto glass shops also include a mobile app for instant quotes or part lookup for confirming the right glass part in the field.

Technology is a wonderful thing but it needs to be used to be helpful. I urge you to use the technology to make your day easier, faster and safer for everyone.

When I owned a glass replacement company, initially I would go anywhere I was asked to go by my customer. I would go to the north side of town in the morning and the south side after lunch and then back to the north side again in late afternoon. This was relatively easy to do in my mid-sized market and necessary in building a clientele and a customer base. Even today, I would advise new entrepreneurs to do what was needed to build their base.

However, there comes a time in every successful business that fine tuning is called for, and that includes scheduling of the production staff. However, sometimes scheduling is the last thing adjusted because the owner equates running all over town with customer service. I disagree.

Customer service is defined as doing what was promised when it was promised. If you read my previous post about controlling the conversation, promised delivery is not necessarily immediate delivery. The installation can take place today, tomorrow or next week if that is what is called for, but the promise is what counts.

Nothing eats profits more than chaotic scheduling. Fuel is burned, vehicle life is drained, technicians are stressed and the customer is frequently left waiting. This does not bode well for the new business owner. Being productively inefficient may make you busy, but not profitable. Fine tuning demands changing your scheduling philosophy.  

Here is my advice:

—Don’t promise specific times of day on a mobile run. Too many things can happen during the day that will cause the technician to miss the appointment. Find out where the vehicle will be during the day and during what time periods. At best, give customers a morning or afternoon estimate. If the customer truly needs a specific time, schedule a shop job.

—Make an effort to schedule jobs for the next day so trends can be observed. If a particular part of the service area is clumping up, it makes sense to send a tech that way and build up the day with more jobs in that area. As you grow in the number of technicians, the more areas of your territory you can do every day. Otherwise, schedule a directional run every other day so the entire territory is covered on a timely basis.

—Be careful about adding jobs at the end of the day. Good technicians can get a lot done, but it is annoying to get back to the shop and then be sent back out only to discover that the customer is surprised that you were out there so soon. In other words, the customer did not demand immediate service, the boss did, and doing so cost him more profit than it was worth. Do not confuse immediate service with good service.

—Those being said, save room for emergency jobs. Every now and then there is a sidelite knocked out or a back glass out that needs to be done immediately. Make these the exception instead of the rule.

—Have the technician call the scheduled customers before going to the job. This makes sure that the customer is where they are suppose to be and gives the customer a head’s up of when the technician will arrive.

Once the scheduling is mastered, the profits rise and the customers are well serviced.