Not Just Another E-Mail
By Lyle R. Hill
The following e-mail came in this past April and after I read it, I printed it and pinned it to the marker board behind my computer with a couple of magnets … wonderful things, these magnetic marker boards. I re-read it at least three times over these past several weeks because it deals with a situation that, as a consultant to glass shops, I have observed several times over these past couple of years. So with a small amount of editing and names removed, I have now decided to share it and answer it publicly because I know this writer is not alone in his situation.
Dear Lyle …
I have been working in the glass industry since I was a teenager. I have owned my own shop since 1965. I am now in my 60s and cannot believe how the industry has changed. I purchased my shop from a relative. We have an excellent reputation and worked hard to get it. My uncle started his glass business in the late 1930s so as you can see, our family has long supported itself by working with glass. But things are different than they used to be. Over the past few years I have witnessed the closing of several family-owned glass companies of one type or another in my area of the country. Between the Internet, big box stores, networks, and a lack of young people wanting to work with their hands to make a living, we are in trouble. All you need to do today is have a van, a garage and a website and you are in business. It used to be that the suppliers only sold to legitimate, brick-and-mortar businesses, but now they will sell to anyone who waves some money at them, whether they are qualified to install their products or not. You just cannot fi nd good help or people willing to learn, and that is what will probably cause me to close down, too. It’s a problem that is not getting better. And I thank you for listening.
Dear Shop Owner …
I have toiled in this industry for more than 47 years, and I don’t believe anyone admires glass shop owners more than I do. My son is one, and his struggles are quite similar to yours. It is not easy and may not get better anytime soon. The work is diffi cult, and the “feast or famine” cycles that never seem to end are maddening. Attracting and retaining qualifi ed help is more challenging than ever, and employee loyalty seems to have disappeared. The traditional supply chain that used to be followed by the manufacturers is long gone, and as you suggest, anyone with a credit card or check can buy product.
No one gets trained well because the distributors don’t offer it, the vocational schools don’t teach it and the typical employer doesn’t have the time or money to invest in it. The norm of the day is “On The Job Training” which means that bad practices as well as good ones get passed along. The smaller shops are lucky if they have more than a couple of really productive technicians, and if even one leaves, the business is in trouble. The younger generation doesn’t want to work as hard as the last, and as I heard one son ask his father a few months back, “do you think I want to do this kind of work for the rest of my life?”
At the end of the day, it’s what you do, and you’re not sure what else you would do if you didn’t do it. And you’re good at it whennot everyone else is. Once in a while you even make a little bit of money. So you’ll work a little too hard, often earn too little, complain too much and hope to one day get out with some money in your pocket. In the meantime, you’ll have paid your bills, made some great memories, met some real characters and have the satisfaction of knowing that you did what a whole lot of other people could not have done. Yes, I think I get it … and I thank you for listening!
LYLE R. HILL has more than 42 years of experience in and around the auto glass industry. At one time he operated 71 auto glass retail shops and a wholesale auto glass distribution business. He is currently the directing manager of Keytech North America, a consulting firm, and is the co-founder of Glass.com®.
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