Brent Deines, owner of the Windshield Repair Forum, offers tips on how to start a windshield repair business. He covers windshield repair kits, equipment and other supplies needed to get started repairing windshield chips and cracks. [24 min.]
Can you give us an overview of the windshield repair business?
The windshield repair business consists of a service that offers an option to windshield replacement in many cases. It saves the customer money, eliminates all the problems associated with windshield replacement such as leaking, rust, and paint damage that can happen from improperly installed windshields, and it’s a very environmentally friendly business. The waste produced from a windshield repair jobs fits in the palm of your hand, whereas a replaced windshield and all of the associated waste that goes with that, is enormous, it’ll fill a Dumpster in a hurry. There’s some limitations to windshield repair, but if caught soon enough, most damage caused by road debris is repairable, and the repair will stop the damage from spreading and eliminating the need for replacement. But I guess what makes windshield repair such an attractive start-up business is how easy it is to learn and how inexpensive it is to get started. I’ve owned several other businesses in the past including a non-glass related franchise, I won’t mention the name here, but I’ve never found any other business that’s easier to start and operate. It’s really pretty amazing.
Can you outline the technique used to repair a typical windshield crack?
Well, there’s a number of different techniques used to fill a crack, but the goal’s always the same. The air contained in a crack has to be completely replaced with a special acrylic resin, which when cured with an ultraviolet light for optimum strength and optical clarity, leaves a result of the structural integrity of the windshield is restored, and the cosmetic appearance of the damaged area is greatly improved. The process involves attaching a device to the windshield that allows a windshield repair technician to inject an acrylic resin into the damaged area, and again that will improve the cosmetic appearance by at least 80% and keep that damage from spreading.
How big do you estimate the market is for this type of service?
I’ve never been able to really obtain verifiable windshield repair statistics, so the accuracy of industry statistics is questionable in my opinion. However, even by conservative estimates, there are over 200 million vehicles registered in the United States, and over 700 million worldwide. If we focus just on the U.S. Figures for a minute, and assume that only 1 in 100 windshields receives repairable damage each year, there are about 2 million potential windshield repairs annually, just in the U.S. At an average of $50 per repair, that’s about a $100 million industry, and again that’s just in the United States and a very conservative estimate. How big is the market? I don’t know, but I’ve been repairing windshields for twenty years, and it just keeps getting bigger.
How hard is it to learn how to do?
That’s the best part. I can’t think of anything easier to learn and depending on the system and the techniques used, just about anyone can complete professional quality windshield repairs with just a few hours of practice. At trade shows, Delta Kits allows prospective windshield repair technicians to do repairs on the spot. I love to watch expressions on a person’s face when a first repair disappears before their eyes. It’s amazing. We’ve even had little kids come up to the booth and we allow them to repair, and that usually draws a big crowd. A nine year old can do this. It’s very simple. They’re always amazed at just how simple the process is.
What kind of equipment and supply costs are required to get started?
Well, Delta Kits sells a top of the line professional package. We sell several different packages, but they sell for between $1000 and $1,400 dollars, and that includes all the tools a new windshield repair technician needs, including enough supplies for about 100 repairs. We only sell professional systems, but starter systems are available from other suppliers for $300 or less. There are also systems that cost upwards of $3000 and franchises that cost 10 times that amount. There really is an option for just about anyone, depending on if they’re just starting out and just want to do it part time or just want to use it for their own vehicles, or they want to add it on to an existing business, or they want to start a full blown business. There’s something for everybody.
In your experience, is this typically a part time or a full-time business for most people?
That’s hard to say. I deal mainly with full time people, but that may be because they’re the ones that order the most frequently. So obviously that’s the most calls that we get through our database, are our people that are doing this full time. But the windshield repair business is very scalable. If you work, or if you want to work seven days a week, you can. If you only want to work on weekends, or just in the summertime, you can do that, too. Flexibility is one of the things that attracts people to this business.
Is there a lot of competition in most markets in this industry?
That depends on the area. In some cities you may find several technicians for a relatively small population base, but I often have new technicians tell me that they got started because there was nobody else in that area offering a windshield repair service. So it’s very dependent on the area that you start your business in. But what I find interesting is that sometimes the areas that have the most competition are the areas where our customers seem to thrive. Having competition helps build industry awareness. It’s kind of like the gas stations — if you find one gas station, you usually find four. You know, they’re on all four corners. You know how you see that. That’s kind of the way it seems to be with windshield repair. If the awareness is good enough in the area, it will support a lot of different people doing this service. Once there’s a demand for the service, quality and consistency are the keys to success, of course.
Is this a year-round business even in colder climates?
Oh yeah, absolutely. We have customers in Alaska that do very well. We even have customers in Siberia, so I’d say that’s about as cold as it gets.
So you can do a repair even if it’s 20 degrees out?
You can. Naturally, there’s some challenges to overcome for the windshield repair technician, but today we have tools to warm the glass and remove the moisture from the damaged area, pop-up tents to keep the rain snow at bay, so it’s getting easier all the time, and there’s challenges, but you can certainly do it. I actually started in Montana, and had to deal with over 100 degrees in the summertime and sometimes below zero temperatures in the wintertime, and there’s workable ways around all of that.
How much does it cost usually for the end user to have a cracked windshield repair? Obviously that will vary depending on where you are, but in your experience what price range do you see for the end user?
You’re right, it varies from state to state and from one repair company to the next, but I would say the national average is about $50 per repair. The range is probably on the low end maybe $25-35, and all the way up into the $70’s or $80’s, but I would say an average is about $50.
For comparison, how much net profit do you expect to make if a repair is, say, $50?
Well, the consumables cost less than $1 per repair, so on a $50 repair your net profit would be $49. Keep in mind to factor in the fuel costs, office supplies, advertising, but how most businesses are going to look at it, the net profit would be about $49.
How long does each repair job take, I’m trying to get to the question of how many can you really do in the course of a day if you’re truly busy?
Average repairs take about 15 minutes. I always hesitate because my philosophy is a repair should not be rushed, it should be done until it’s done properly. But on average it takes about 15 minutes, and again as low as maybe 5 or 10 minutes on the low end, and then up to 20 or 30 minutes on the high end depending on the difficulty of the break. But it’s not uncommon for experienced technicians to repair several vehicles at the same time, especially when they’re servicing fleet accounts. So even though a repair maybe takes 15 minutes, you can also repair 4 or 5 repairs in about 30 minutes.
Do businesses with large vehicle fleets often use windshield repair services to save them money over replacements?
Yeah, absolutely. Most large fleets are self insured, andat least as far as the glass is concerned costs come directly out of their pocket. Windshield repair offers them an immediate saving, but also minimizes down time and safety concerns.
What about car dealerships, especially used car dealerships? Do they repair windshields in-house often or in a lot of cases are they hiring an outside person to do that service?
Well, oddly enough, most used car dealers still hire an outside service. Some repair technicians spend the majority of their time servicing car lots. That’s a huge part of the market. It’s a heavily targeted part of the market, so sometimes some people get into the business they will say, “gee, I went to all these car lots and there’s already somebody doing all this business.” Well, that’s true because that’s the first thing that people go out to hit. But it is the reason they go out to hit it is because there’s a ton of it out there.
Do some insurance companies cover the cost of repair instead of replacement?
Yeah. Most insurance companies will still waive the deductible and cover the full cost of the windshield repair, whereas replacement, they have to satisfy that deductible before they have their windshield replaced. And if people have high deductibles, so if you have a $500 deductible like I do you’re going pay for that entire windshield out of your pocket. I know with my insurance company, if I go have a windshield repair, nothing comes out of my pocket, they pay for 100% of it, and I don’t have to. I don’t even see the bill.
If you’re a one-person show do you participate in billing the insurance company, or how does that typically work?
Yes, and that’s a great question. Our particular company offers a couple of different services, and there’s a number of them out there. We don’t own any insurance billing services, but we certainly help people get set up with them so that they can bill those insurance companies electronically which is the way most of them want to be billed.
In your experience, do insurance companies take a long time to pay or is it a relatively fast payment?
Typically it’s within 30 days. I think on average most of them are paying within the 20-25 day range now.
Anyone who’s owned a small business realizes that a pretty good when you receive payment in 30 days.
Yeah, I definitely think so. And to me it’s a lot better dealing with large companies where you know that payment is coming than worrying about bounced checks a lot of times or if you offer a 30 day period for people to pay, you’re going to get stiffed on that sometimes, but insurance companies are good as gold in my opinion.
You deal with a lot of professionals in this business. What are some of the most effective ways you’ve heard that people are using to market their windshield repair business?
Well, there’s a lot of people in the industry that don’t use newspapers or yellow pages. I still believe that’s very important, particularly if you have a fixed location. But even if you have a mobile service, it lends credibility to your business, and it’s still the first place that many people go when they need any type of auto service. Obviously web sites are getting very popular as well, but a lot of people will still go directly to the yellow pages. Getting a little bit more creative, a lot of people are now setting up tents in shopping center parking lots, or car washes, and that’s proven to be particularly effective over the past few years. In many cases, it’s all the advertising that they ever need. The people will just come to them at that point if they’re visible enough. I still believe in the direct approach for fleets, rental car agencies and car lots, as well. If you call on them once a month on the same day at the same time, eventually they’re either going to tell you to get lost, or they’re going to throw some business your way, and once you have your foot in the door all you have to do is simply provide a little bit better repair quality and better service than your competitors, which is really not hard to do in this business. A lot of people, unfortunately, get kind of lax because they find it’s so easy that they start not taking care of their customers, so there’s lots of room to jump in there an build a business on a quality basis, and once you get your foot in the door it makes it very difficult for a competitor to get back in.
I heard a recent news report about people who travel to different areas of the country repairing windshields in the aftermath of storms like hail storms. Is this a successful approach that you’ve heard of?
I know it’s a popular way of operating a paintless dent removal business, but I haven’t heard of a lot of windshield repair technicians doing that, or using that approach. I think most storms that produce enough hail to damage a windshield, which I think is where most of that comes from, likely causes damage that’s beyond the limitations of windshield repair, but I could be wrong about that. Creative thinking opens up a lot of new doors for people in any industry, but particularly in the windshield repair industry. I’ve just seen people going out and knocking on doors, talking to insurance agents — they’re not supposed to refer business, but building those types of relationships. There’s a number of different ways. That particular one I haven’t heard of but that sure doesn’t mean it’s not out there.
You run a busy and probably the most popular on line discussion group for this industry at windshield-repair-forum.com, are there other websites, books, or resources that you could recommend to people interested in starting this kind of business?
Yeah, there’s four that stand out for me I guess. The National Windshield Repair Association is an organization that’s dedicated to the promotion of professional windshield repair. On their website you can find a wealth of information that every windshield repair technician will find useful. Their website is www.nwraassn.org. I really feel that there’s a lot of valuable information there. The second one along the same lines, the National Glass Association, they’ve come a long way in recent years, and they’re now very active in the promotion of windshield repair. They used to be very anti windshield repair. Now they’re very active in the promotion of it, which is kind of exciting. It’s very exciting for the business. They now have a website devoted specifically to windshield repair, and have recently developed a series of on-line training modules to actually help repair technicians get better at their trade, and they also are offering certification. In fact, both the NWRA and the NGA will be offering certification. They are at windshieldrepair.org.
What are the biggest mistakes people make when starting a windshield repair business?
Well, two things come immediately to mind. They’re not getting properly trained, typically, because windshield repair is so easy to learn, and such an inexpensive business to start, many technicians never bother to receive proper training. Then they pass on bad habits to others that enter into the industry, and it just goes on and on. Techniques are very specific to the type of system used, so I believe that every technician should receive hands-on training by the company that sold them the repair system or the repair equipment. If they do that, they will do a much better job and cast a better light on the industry as a whole I think. And if they change systems then they should be trained again using the new equipment and new techniques, because everything is different when you switch. The second thing, I think, is not approaching this like a serious business. Someone who shells out $100,000 for a franchise will work very hard at that business, you know. If you’ve got $100,000 on the line you’re going to really bust your hump to make sure that you don’t lose that money. And you’ll find that if somebody starts a McDonalds franchise or a Wendy’s franchise or any big franchise like that, these guys are working 24-7. They’ve got a lot on the line. One of the problems with windshield repair is they can get into the business for a couple of thousand dollars and get into it well for that, but a lot of people have only got a couple thousand invested, “this isn’t going that well, I’m just gonna try something else.” I’d say that’s one of the top ones for sure.
Any other advice for someone considering this business?
Do your homework and insist on a money-back guarantee. Every company out there when you look into this business, just like with any other business, everybody you contact is going to say that their equipment is the best. Their company is the best. So purchasing equipment for the first time can be really confusing. If I were starting a windshield repair business today, I would suggest that equipment manufacturers, first of all, research the equipment manufacturers as well as you possibly can. Pick out two or three that you think are the best and really grill them, put them through the course, and then I would take the factory training course from each one of them. Find out a lot about the capabilities of the system, the support the company’s going to offer you, the quality of the product you’re going to be using, and after the training class I think most people have a pretty clear preference. If you still can’t decide at that point then I would recommend purchasing the top couple of systems, try them for thirty days, like I say they’re really not that expensive. As long as you have that money back guarantee, keep the one that works best for you and return the other ones, it’s a very customer service driven industry, so you want to make sure that you have somebody that’s going to be backing you and giving you all the support and service that you’re going to be giving to your customers, and I think that’s a great way to do it. You’ll probably spend a little more on travel expenses that way, but you’re still getting into this business for a lot less than most businesses, and you’ll be far ahead in the long run if you make those good choices up front.