A strategy with vision – starting an automobile windshield repair company – column
A Strategy With Vision
Entrepreneurs seem to grow from a combination of job dissatisfaction and willingness to take advantage of happenstance.
Back in 1981, when I was 21, I had a job that paid $250 a week. The pay was all right, but I found I wasn’t happy with what I was doing.
I had studied marketing in community college, and I went to work for Florida Power & Light after graduation. It was a good company with good benefits. I started out as a bill deliverer, putting bills in plastic bags on customers’ doors. The I was promoted–first to meter reader and then to collections.
But at that point I was dissatisfied. I had problems dealing with families that were having financial troubles and weren’t paying their bills for electricity.
I had told friends in my bowling league that I was not happy with the work I was doing. A fellow in the league came up to me and asked if I’d like a job making $700 to $1,000 a week. My first reaction was that he was talking about something illegal. But he explained that I could make that kind of money by working for the company he owned, repairing windshields for car dealers and rental-car companies on their own lots. All I had to do, he said, is fill cracks and holes and buff up scarred places without removing or replacing the windshield.
I told him I liked FP&L’s benefits. He said: “Benefits don’t put food on the table or give you the better things in life. If you make the money, you can buy the benefits.” It made sense to me: Benefits are good, but they are not a reason to work.
So I decided to give the business a try. During my two-week vaction from FP&L, I worked for his firm and made $1,800 doing windshield repairs for rental-car agencies, insurance companies, and car dealerships. After the vacation, I gave Florida Power & Light two weeks’ notice.
Working full time for the windshield-repair company, I was doing well. I made an average of $900 a week in 1981. But the company began to have cash-flow problems, and sometimes my paycheck would bounce. When I complained, I was told that the firm was having financial difficulties, and if I couldn’t handle having some of my paychecks bounce, I should go back to work for Florida Power & Light.
At that point I began to think there was no reason why I shouldn’t go into business for myself. But rather that run a repair crew, I decided to make the materials, train others to do the work, and let them set up their own operations.
So in 1982 I started my own company, The Glass Mechanix, Inc., in a two-bedroom condominium. I offered a kit for starting a windshield-repair business. Each kit contained the tools, hardware, and resin for doing repairs, plus instruction and marketing materials and a video on the whole process.
At the beginning, I repaired windshields during the day on my own–I was still contacting car dealers and rental agencies–while my girlfriend answered calls to our 800 number from potential buyers of the kit. I returned these calls in the evening, and we started selling.
As the business slowly grew, I worked with chemists to improve the resins and machinery. It took me about two years to put the kit together the way I liked it. Now we advertise in about 21 national publications that specialize in entrepreneurial and added-income opportunities. We have more than 4,000 customers–those who have bought the kit and now buy materials from us. One customer, in fact, is the fellow who first hired me to do repairs. We also have customers in other countries, including Spain, Ireland, and Mexico. In 1990, my company grossed about $500,000, and five people work for me.
If our advertising generates a number of inquiries in a particular town, we go there and give a seminar about all aspects of the business. We’re not selling franchises; there are no royalties or licensing fees. We charge $4,500 for the training, the machines, and materials for 500 windshield repairs, and we give a lifetime warranty on the equipment. After that, we make our money by selling the materials. Down the road, I’d like to offer customers a package in which they would come to our headquarters to share their ideas with one another.
A repair takes about 15 minutes, and the average charge is $35. The technician pays about 50 cents for materials. Most of our customers make $200 to $300 a day for themselves. I tell them, though, that windshield repairing is a business opportunity, and you’re not going to set the world on fire. Some days, if the weahter’s bad, you make nothing. But don’t give up.
In some ways, starting a company was a gamble. On the other hand, a lot of people gamble in other ways, Throwing their money away without a return. If you’re going to sit at home and wait for a business to happen, it won’t. If you go out and work and chase what you want, you’ll get what you want.
At my age, I had nothing to lose, and I didn’t want to end up with regrets because I had not tried. In the end, I’d rather be able to say that at least I tried to start a business than have to say I had never tried at all.
Ken Einiger is president of The Glass Mechanix, Inc., in Sunrise, Fla.
Readers with special insights on meeting the challenges of starting and running a business are invited to contribute to Entrepreneur’s Notebook. Write to: Editor, Nation’s Business, 1615 H Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20062.
COPYRIGHT 1991 U.S. Chamber of Commerce
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group