By Rebecca Barnabi
The secrets to success are different for each business. But, one thing is certain for these auto glass retailers: revenues continue to grow lightning fast as they put the COVID-19 pandemic in their rearview mirrors. AGRR takes an in-depth look at the success story for five businesses from the day the company opened to their projections for 2022.
After working in the corporate world, Greg Tornga found himself unemployed in 2001 when the Internet bubble burst and he was laid off by a dot com business. “That put me on the streets,” he says. The situation also created an opportunity for him to think about starting his own company. He considered buying an existing business or a franchise. In his research, he contacted a high school classmate. “It seemed that auto glass was just a great match in terms of my background and my wife’s.”
Greg and Lorraine Tornga soon founded Reliable Auto Glass in Phoenix, which now has four locations, and 85 employees, including six mobile auto glass technicians and 29 who work out of the shop. “I had absolutely no clue what went into replacing auto glass,” Greg Tornga says of founding his business 20 years ago. But he knew how to run a business, and revenue grew steadily every year except in 2012 when the business experienced a decrease of 10%. Tornga attributes 2012’s revenue to the lag brought on by the Great Recession. “I’d say, right now, we’re thriving more than ever.”
Tornga says Reliable’s secrets to success include working hard, treating people with respect, and striving to be the best they can be. “Do what you say you’re going to do, show up on time,” Tornga says of working hard. And don’t be afraid to put in a long day. Respect your employees: the company hires great people, he says, treats them well, and they do right by customers. “We strive every day to be the best. We just really want to make a difference from a service approach,” he says of the company’s third key to success. From the phone presence of customer service representatives to the cleanliness of the technician vans, and to the customer service training, Reliable wants to “deliver that wow experience to every customer.” Tornga says he wants customers to say: “I didn’t really expect that from my glass replacement experience.”
All five of Reliable’s locations provide calibration services and have “certainly had a huge impact on sales growth,” Tornga says. The company added calibration services in 2018, and its five locations offer convenience for customers.
In 2020, Tornga says Reliable transitioned to Omega, a web-based platform for software. “We get so much data out of that,” he says. The software created opportunities for Reliable to do business and enabled remote options. Tornga says when it comes to calibration, the company swears by Autel and Pilkington’s Opti-Aim tools.
Into the Future
Tornga doesn’t plan to grow Reliable beyond Arizona but will add locations for the convenience of customers as necessary. “I know there are a lot of opportunities right around us.” The company will continue to train, improve and hire great people. “And be an even better company,” he says of the future. Customer service training, for example, for technicians will provide a consistent customer experience. “So they’re doing it the Reliable Auto Glass way.”
New Business, Promising Future
Thompson Auto Glass Corporation opened in November 2019 and finished the year with revenue in the six figures. Headquartered in Windham, N.H., founder Kelly Thompson grew up in the automotive industry. “I was born and raised [in car dealerships],” Thompson says. “Naturally, we do a lot of auto glass.”
As president and owner, Thompson says she knows how to pick the right people to work for her. “It’s the drive and the vision,” she says of her company’s success. “You’re only as good as the team around you.” The company began with five employees and now has 27, including 14 mobile technicians in Windham.
Thompson opened Thompson Automotive Technology in September 2021 which provides calibration services. “We’re going to have a team for that too.” She also thinks the company’s image is essential. She insists on technician shirts, vans, everything being high-end. “I just want everything to be pristine,” she says. “The presentation is everything.”
A Look Ahead
After a second location opens in Brockton in June of this year, Thompsons already has sites further south in mind for a third location but has not decided where. “Business is war, and if you don’t think so, you’ll lose,” she says.
Family Business Since 1934
Wilson’s Glass was founded in 1934 by Tom Wilson and later operated by his
son, Bo Wilson. In 2002, grandson Tim Wilson rebranded the family business as Tim Wilson’s Glass Services in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “I can remember my grandfather teaching me how to grind glass,” Wilson says of a memory from when he was six years old. After high school, he went to work for his father. And now, the family business continues to thrive with quality work and longevity. Wilson says he has long-time customers.
He adds that a secret to the company’s success is his wife, Dena, who handles customer calls and invoices. “Dena just plays a huge role in making the customers feel valuable,” he says.
Tim Wilson’s Glass serves half the auto dealerships in the area. With seven employees, including four full-time technicians who work in the shop or go mobile as necessary, Wilson says they began offering calibration services three years ago. “Absolutely, numerically, for sure,” he says of calibration’s impact on the business’s revenue.
“I’ve thought about this, and I feel like I could go anywhere and do what I’m doing,” Wilson says of opening a second or third location. He always comes back to an answer of “no” because he would want to be at each location.
Long-time Industry Business Owner
Ben Burnett is no stranger to owning a business. Auto Glass Specialist of Springfield is his sixteenth start-up. In the industry since 1988, his latest venture opened in 2015. Burnett says Auto Glass Specialist built itself without his investing in advertising or going door-to-door to get the word out. He attributes the company’s success to “doing the work correctly in the first place.” The company has a 1% return rate. “In turn, we’ve acquired [work from] almost every dealership in town.” He also credits its success to his and his staff ’s relationships with customers. Burnett and six technicians work in the shop or go mobile according to what customers need that day. “To me, the biggest thing is just being personable.”
The company’s success is also due to his employees: treating them right and paying them well. “I don’t make the business overall. The employees do. If it weren’t for them, nothing would get done,” Burnett says.
“Getting into the calibration game,” Burnett says of his company’s future. “I built this business up to sell it,” he says. “It’s in a position to sell it now, but I still see the growth that it could be worth more.”
The Family Man in Business
After three years working for Safelite, Kevin Malone knew what to do. “It really opened my eyes to what could be. He started Clear Choice Auto Glass Solutions LLC five years ago in Oakville, Conn.
The secrets to his success include being personable with customers, dependability, honesty, and customer service. “I would say word-of-mouth has been a huge part.” While he only began offering calibration services this year, Malone says he expects calibrations to be a considerable part of his company’s revenues in upcoming years. “It’s just the future. If you’re not calibrating, you might as well go work for someone else at this point.”
Malone and his two technicians rely on GlassBiller for point-of-sale software, WRD Bat for cut-out tools, and ProSet for setting devices. “The technicians are ‘the tools’ we can’t go without though,” he says.
Acquiring more accounts, hiring more technicians, and bringing in more business is the vision for the future. “The real drive behind all of this is for my kids,” Malone says. Malone says that both daughters are interested in the auto glass industry. “That would be an absolute blessing. Even if they didn’t take it over, I think just the opportunity to work with my kids would be incredible.
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