In celebration of National Small Business Week, glassBYTEs.com spoke with small business owners about why they got into auto glass, why they stay and what they think of the industry’s future.
Innovation and Calibration
Intermountain Auto Glass opened in Boise, Idaho in 1997. Owner Rick Valentine had worked briefly for someone else before starting his own auto glass shop. “I’m outgoing by nature and can relate to my customers and enjoy being out in the field,” he says of the reason the auto glass industry appealed to him, along with the opportunity when he was young to try his hand at auto glass.
The company’s name comes from the fact that Valentine and six technicians provide auto glass, repair, replacement and recalibration in the mountain regions near Boise. “We have a lot of mountains around us,” Valentine says. Open Monday through Friday, Intermountain technicians perform 25-30 jobs per day. Some of the technicians, including Valentine, go mobile. The business also operates a seasonal mobile home windshield service in Quartzsite, Ariz. “You always have to be open to do new things,” Valentine says of operating a small business.
Valentine says he is always looking for opportunities for his business. “I think it’s very difficult to start up a glass shop, especially with new technology and insurance billing [requirements],” he says. But Intermountain is doing well and Valentine still enjoys what he does every day. “I enjoy the current change in technology,” he says of calibration. He enjoys learning new technology and embraces the changes that are sure to come in the future for the industry. “It complicates things so it creates a higher barrier to entry into the industry.”
Growth Comes with Hard Work
Jared Harris started 1Glass Auto Glass in Savannah, Ga. Just 2 ½ years ago with $2,600. At the end of that year, 2019, he had earned only $130. But, at the end of 2021, his revenue was in the six digits. Harris, who has been in the industry since 2011, says he shocked himself at the end of 2021 after 2020 was a rough year. “I noticed growth,” he says of last year.
He says that growth is because he is personable with customers and does his best to understand their budget and what they can afford. During and after the COVID-19 pandemic, Harris learned to adapt to the changes in the economy. “All of us are pretty much struggling out here from what’s going on,” he says.
But owning a small business is not easy. Harris works day and night, including weekends, repairing and replacing auto glass for his customers. “I have a lot of repeat customers.” The day he spoke with glassBYTEs.com, he replaced the door glass in a woman’s car whose father-in-law had Harris replace a windshield a few months ago. Some customers call once a year for chip repairs.
The summer he was 16 years old, Harris says he helped replace and repair windshields for a local auto glass company. When he was 19, he obtained a full-time position with Safelite AutoGlass where he stayed a few years. Later he ventured into a different industry a couple times, but always found his way back to auto glass. “I just decided to try it on my own,” he says. “It was kind of a risk. I just really decided to risk it.” Now 31 years old, Harris says he prefers to work for himself and see the profits of his work. “It’s more enjoyable doing it myself. There’s a little more pride in it.”
At the end of 2019, he says he felt frustrated and wondered if he made a mistake starting his own business. But, he built a good customer base, weathered the pandemic in 2020 and is now flourishing.
The business’s name comes from a random thought Harris had one day about what to call his business. “I don’t have a brick-and-mortar [location] yet,” Harris says. A lot of his customers prefer mobile.
Harris says the future includes getting into calibration, which he began a month ago with the purchase of calibration equipment from Autel. Before, he referred calibration services to local dealerships.
Last year, he attempted to hire a technician, but he did not work out. “In the future, I want to try to get two technicians.” Harris says the two technicians would be mobile, while he stayed at a brick-and-mortar location of 1Glass Auto Glass.
Decades of Installation
Dwight Lopez Sr. opened Dwight’s Glass & Tint in Arizona in 1986. When he was 14 years old, his son, Dwight Lopez Jr. started helping in the shop. “I was mostly just helping out with the auto glass.” When he was 16, Lopez Jr. started installing glass on his own. “And never stopped.”
Lopez took over the business, which now has three locations in Tucson and one in Green Valley, in 2002. His father is still involved in the business. Lopez says he enjoys today’s technology with auto glass, whereas before he only installed glass. Now there is Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) technology. “That’s been pretty exciting seeing that evolve,” he says.
Lopez enjoys learning new aspects of the auto glass industry, and says he thinks the technology is only going to get more complicated, and members of the industry will have to adjust. The business recently celebrated the opening of its fourth location near Tucson and the addition of two mobile vans.
Owning a small business in the United States is tough right now, Lopez says. “It’s hard to find workers. That’s been our biggest problem.”