Repair Renaissance

By Rebecca J. Barnabi

A global pandemic, shipping issues, increasing costs, and a labor shortage have again emphasized windshield repairs and the advantages they provide. Business is good for repairs as the industry weathers these uncertainties and the evolving technological developments.

The COVID-19 Effect

“Our sales haven’t dropped,” Korey Gobin, sales manager, says of Delta Kits. He does know of technicians whose businesses have been slower because of the pandemic, however.

Technicians who were repairing glass in store parking lots saw their business decrease when those locations were closed. Technicians who worked for car dealerships had less work because those dealerships had fewer cars to work on. “You can see a drop in business according to the audience you cater to,” says Gobin, who has been with the company for 13 years.

Some technicians left the auto glass industry to do something else, while others found the pandemic the perfect time to start their own AGRR business. “A lot of them had to diversify,” Gobin says.

“You survive depending on how ambitious and motivated you are,” he adds.

Ultra Bond was founded by CEO Richard Campfield in 1989 and is based in Grand Junction, Col. Campfield says repairs were down during the pandemic. “People weren’t traveling, weren’t going to work, and money was tight,” he says.

Ultra Bond’s sales were down in 2020. “It’s climbing back up in 2021,” Campfield says. “I think it’s picking back up now that people are vaccinated.”

In the first few months of 2020, Shiloh Spoo, president of GlasWeld in Bend, Ore., says “everyone in the world felt [the pandemic].” During the first few months of 2020, his company, founded by his grandfather 40 years ago, did not experience a difference in sales. Spoo says he considers the pandemic as having a positive effect: more road trips, fewer plane flights.

“I think the biggest thing from my perspective — as calibration, and as technology becomes a bigger part of our industry, is that repair is going to be more in demand,” Spoo says. If windshields become a piece of technology, Spoo expects consumers to shift their view of them from replacement to repair and want quality repairs. He thinks the current atmosphere and the future “is setting up for that very well.”

Tiffany Domingos Swindell owns and operates JJB Auto Glass in Atascadero, Calif., with her husband, Lee Swindell. Theirs is the only shop in a 60-mile area that performs calibrations, which probably helped their company during the pandemic. “We have been extremely fortunate,” she says. The most significant effect she saw was challenges in getting glass shipped in a timely manner, especially in 2021.

“I think we have seen a lot more repairs” during the pandemic, she says, because more vehicles are on the roads again.

Jeff Jacobsen opened Dragon Windshield Repair in Latham, N.Y., early in 2021. “I just kept my face out there and kept moving.” The first five months were rough, but he finds he is as busy now as when he started Dragon Windshield.

Gobin creates four or five videos each week for YouTube to show auto glass technicians the correct ways to perform windshield repairs.

He says each manufacturer follows a different process, though most, including Delta, follow the Repair of Laminated Automotive Glass Standards (ROLAGS), an international standard developed under the auspices of ANSI by the National Windshield Repair Association (NWRA), a division of the Auto Glass Safety Council (AGSC). A new ROLAGS Standard, ROLAGS-002, is in development.

“Everyone in the industry should abide by the Standard,” Campfield says of ROLAGS, which was first published in 2007. ROLAGS’ purpose is to set the standard for what can be repaired.

Spoo has been with GlasWeld for 20 years and has grown up in the glass industry. “We spend a ton of time on engineering with the goal in mind to make our tools as intuitive as possible,” Spoo says. GlasWeld works to simplify the many steps of the repair process as possible while maintaining quality work.

Tools make the process as simple as possible while also providing efficiency and quality. “There are a lot of tricks that can be applied to make the repair faster.” Technicians learn these through years of experience, but certain tools can also make repairs quicker.

As technology changes and windshield replacement becomes more complicated and expensive, Spoo expects more customers will look to repairs, and these can still produce “quality results.”

Nuts and Bolts

Swindell and her husband opened their business four years ago. She handles repairs and duties in the office, while her husband takes care of replacements and calibrations. She says customers may not realize that keeping water from getting into the break is crucial for a good repair. Another item to stress is that repairs can be performed more quickly and
easily than replacements.

Jacobsen, who has 30 years of experience in auto glass repair and replacement, started his business because he “figured there was a market for just repair.”

“We’re looking at the size of [the chip],” he says about inspection. He prefers chips that are smaller than a nickel, but will consider up to the size of a quarter. The smaller the chip, the better the possible repair results.

Next, Jacobsen says he looks for contaminants in the chip, cleans out any broken glass, and uses a dry-out solution to suck any moisture out of the chip. Now it’s time to insert the resin, which usually takes 5 to 20 minutes depending on air temperature and the size of the chip.

Repairs require patience from the auto glass technician, Jacobsen says. “It’s almost like you’re in surgery.”

The Shortage Effect

“Replacements and repairs are two totally different things,” Gobin says. He adds that consumers are starting to catch on that repairing a windshield instead of replacement can be more efficient and cost effective. The glass to replace a windshield may not be available for several days and typically costs more than repairing the windshield.

A glass shortage and inflation will not affect the consumer’s ability to get the windshield repaired. “Windshield repair is great in this day and age,” Gobin adds.

Campfield says that because of the cost of windshields, he has had at least a dozen customers in the last two years drive three or four hours to him for a repair. One customer brought a Lamborghini from Michigan to him in Pennsylvania for windshield repair.

“I do [see the cost of repair being borne by consumers rather than insurance]. One way or another, it’s likely to happen,” Spoo says.

Swindell also sees the cost of repairs falling to consumers. About 20% of JJB Auto Glass’s business is repairs. “If someone can do a proper repair, they would be foolish not to pass some of the repair [cost] onto the consumer.” Her business has seen an increase in costs because of glass prices increasing. “I think overall the cost of a windshield replacement is becoming more expensive.”

Rebecca J. Barnabi is special projects manager and contributing writer for AGRR. Email her at rbarnabi@glass.com and follow her on LinkedIn.

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