by Bob Beranek
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Far be it for me to promote or criticize a particular business plan. I know a lot of business owners that are having great financial success as auto glass providers with a diverse number of different business types. However, I feel the need—for the sake of safety—to comment on the practice of subcontracting technicians.

First of all, subcontracting technicians is a periodic necessity if a disaster strikes or if business has a drastic unforeseen increase. You can’t turn down business because of fluctuations in the demand.  However, there is some realizations that must be dealt with by both the business owner and the technician offering the service before entering into the subcontracting relationship.

If you are a business owner employing a subcontractor, there are some issues you must be aware of:

  • The subcontractor is not your employee. He does not have your long term benefit at heart. You cannot control the technician—except by ending the relationship which also ends your extra help.
  • You are responsible for his/her work—good or bad.
  • Does the subcontractor follow your directives once they are out of your sight, or do they do what is expedient for them? If you pay by the job, they will do as many jobs as they can no matter what directives you give. If you deduct pay for warranty or callback work, they will make the job leak free, but is it well bonded?
  • Liability is still yours. Heaven forbid that an accident occurs and the glass installation failed to perform properly. No matter what legal papers were signed, the improper installation will stain your company and good name—not the subcontractor’s.
  • How well do you know the technicians skill level? Did you witness an installation? Did you check credentials and reputation?

What about the subcontractor’s responsibilities? Most, but not all, subcontractors are ex-employees of another auto glass company. They may be excellent technicians but average businessmen.  Or, they can be poor technicians and poor businessmen. Either way, the relationship must be open and above aboard.

  • As a contractor, do you carry your own business insurance? Do you carry your own worker’s compensation insurance?
  • What happens if you damage a customers’ vehicle?
  • A subcontractor is his/her own employer; it is his/her own business. All self-employed business taxes, fees and responsibilities apply.
  • Are installation supplies and equipment provided, or are they the subcontractor’s responsibility?  What do those supplies include, and what do they cost? Is the truck supplied? Is the fuel supplied?
  • What if the glass is broke while installing? What if the wrong glass is ordered and a new glass must be picked up?

There is a lot to consider and discuss when subcontracting is the chosen business plan. However, there is one consideration that must be addressed above and beyond the financial and logistical issues, and that is the safety and provided service to the customer. Can it work to subcontract? Yes. Is it easy to provide safe and competent service? You be the judge.

Complaints about glass quality are increasing right now, but I am a “pie in the sky” optimist. I believe that the Aftermarket Replacement Glass (ARG) will get better in the future unlike the current trend. The ARG market must up its game or go out of business and here’s why.

We all know that quality standards in the ARG market have been declining. It started with protruding PVB at the windshield edges so drastic that moldings couldn’t be attached without trimming it back. It progressed further with moldings applied so sloppily that we had to remove them and reapply our own, costing us more than we expected. Lately, we have mirror pads falling off, glass out of bend and parts failing to pass recalibration.  We lose money every time we have to then replace the cheaper glass we originally installed with an OE part anyway.

Like any business, ARG manufacturers may feel the need to reduce costs to remain competitive. Some of the ways a glass company can reduce cost is to reduce the quality control inspections, use less expensive add-ons like mirror and molding adhesives, and/or reduce labor hours where possible.  Waste is reduced by letting less-than first quality parts leave the plant and go on sale, rather than washing them out as defective. Fewer “defective” parts means less waste and more profits.

However, with the advent of Advanced Driver Assist Systems, the quality of ARG parts must be upgraded or their very existence may be in danger. The difference between the original equipment “dealer” parts (OE) and the ARG glass parts is the way the manufacturers get their specifications for production. The OE receives the specifications directly from the carmakers’ designers and engineers. The ARG gets their specifications through “reverse engineering.” The carmakers determine the tolerances they will accept with OE parts. ARG manufacturers determine their own tolerances, usually based on what the market will bear.

The OE has very tight tolerances because of the technology built into today’s vehicles. Some are performance driven while others are safety driven. Both performance and safety driven technologies are important to the carmakers because they want to make their vehicles attractive to buyers and their systems to work properly. OE glass parts specifications are important to the performance of the new technology.

ARG manufacturers cater to the vehicle owners. Some of those vehicle owners put the price of glass repair at a higher priority than the performance of the technology. In some cases, that is acceptable because a performance feature is the choice of the owner and, if the owner decides to bypass performance for price, that is his/her prerogative. An example of this might be the acoustical glass. ARG companies may not offer acoustical glass as an option because it is a patented process, and they choose not to purchase that technology from the patent owner.

However, safety technology cannot be bypassed for price. It must be made operable or the United States Highway Safety Act of 1966 is broken. If a safety technology is not returned to the glass part, then they will lose sales and possibly their whole business.

What does all this mean? I think it means that unless an ARG manufacturer wants to lose business to the dealers and OE suppliers, it will have to improve its quality, sell out or go out of business. I’m optimistic that the ARG industry will not disappear. They will make the adjustments to survive and will choose to improve their quality. Call me an optimist.