Change – From A Dealer’s View Point

September 22nd, 2011 | Category: Mark My Words

During my time with Solar Gard, the company and its dealers endured all the changes resulting from two ownership changes. When I started we were Solar Gard International – we soon became MSC Specialty Films and a few years later we were acquired by Bekaert. During my eight years as the marketing director for Solar Gard we had three different owners and a whole lot of change.

Recently we hear there is soon to be a new owner of Solar Gard, a company called Saint-Gobain. I am not picking on them, but dealers are talking about it because supplier ownership change affects their world—so why not get it out on the table?

Ownership changes have become common in our industry – almost like a corporate version of musical chairs. From a dealer’s view point, these changes range from confusing to comical—almost always resulting with a degree of dilution in brand loyalty. Don’t think so? Well, I remember the day when a dealer proudly wore a film suppliers’ t-shirt because they were a loyal advocate of the brand. Today it’s more likely they’ll wear the shirt only because it’s free.

If you still don’t think brand loyalty has been diluted, go into just about any shop and count how many different brands of film the dealer has on the shelf. For fun I went to a local shop and found Llumar and Solar Gard dealer stickers on the front door. The dealer was wearing an old faded Global shirt, and when I walked around to take a look at his film inventory shelf, I saw boxes of Sun Gard, Solar Gard, SunTek, Global and WinTech— there were even a couple of white boxes—probably Sun Control, I could not tell for sure and I didn’t even want to ask.

Ownership changes in our industry have not been exclusive to Solar Gard. Over the years similar events have taken place with just about all of the top tier film suppliers, often leaving dealers wondering how it may affect their business.

Supplier changes that negatively affect dealers also include those in top management positions and with some companies there seems to be a revolving door in the big man’s office. Regardless whether the changes are ownership or management related, resulting reformulated objectives and elevated performance expectations almost always change the landscape and culture of the company. Unfortunately, what follows is a degree of confusion and disruption with the very people who control our industry’s success—the dealers.

My career roots are in franchising, which is a very stable and effective business operating system that is structured around partnering for profits. The franchisor and its franchisees depend on each other’s performance, support and loyalty to achieve mutual success and segment domination—what a concept huh?

When I entered the window film business I had many years of automotive aftermarket franchising experience that helped make it clear to me that the relationship between a film supplier and its independent dealers was not much different than that of a franchisor and its franchisees – or at least it shouldn’t be! 

I have always believed the winner in the film supplier business will be the company that actively, sincerely and consistently supports the day-to-day selling and marketing challenges of their independent dealers, because it is their success that determines the supplier’s destiny. 

Window film dealers are a unique breed – fairly described as artistic rebels. These folks are down to earth and real and they simply don’t care how many thousands of employees their supplier has, or how many countries they have branch locations in. What dealers care about is whether or not a familiar voice will answer the phone at 4:59 so they can place an order trusting they will get their film delivered tomorrow for a job they just sold today. 

Supplier owners and managers have come and gone, but the one constant in our industry is the people who make it work – the dealers. I’ve seen many changes in supplier owners and top level managers, often because they overlooked a simple formula for achieving success, which is to build their company around treating dealers like partners. 

Some of the greatest success stories in our little industry have come from the dealer programs like Vista and Panorama, and as the creator of the Panorama program I’m a huge fan of selling programs versus products. So here is the punch line about change, dealer programs and Solar Gard. 

I applaud the Saint-Gobain acquisition because I do believe this is a great change for our industry, and mostly because there are product and market synergies that will position Solar Gard for growth. In fact, if Saint-Gobain comes up with the right formula for selling dealer programs through glass and glazing shops, our industry may soon have a new number one.

 

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  1. Mark you right!
    I have been in the window film business for two decades as well as you and have been involved mainly SunGard and more recently with SolarGard. I have seen ownership changes multiply specially in recent years and I think this is bad news for the industry and primarily for the aquiered company. I agree that Dealer’s loyalty decreases since at the end you don’t know who you will be dealing with.
    Finally we do business with people and changes in ownership will sooner than later mean changes in managment. Most distributors and dealers prefer long term relationships and stability that bring about loyalty

  2. This is even more reason why I left Bekaert as a Panorama dealer and took the invitation in 2009 to be a Vista dealer. Things have been incredibly better ever since. Maybe this new ownership will realize that a big corporate mindset does nothing but create hostility for its dealers. Listen to your dealers; don’t just tell them what they should be doing and threaten them if they don’t make the “numbers.” The dealers know their marketing areas better than the old people did in San Diego or wherever they were when they would call. A perfect example is when I wanted to expand my marketing territory into Cincinnati along with my current Dayton area. The Dayton area has declined due to its own demise and economic factors. Broadening my area was the only way I could maintain a good business. Bekaert refused to open their eyes to see that my current limited area was deteriorating and couldn’t let their Cincinnati area dealer have someone else on his turf. I left and went to Vista and as a result, they lost a good dealer that has increased his sales since because…well…I have Cincinnati and Northern KY as well. Bekaert lost because of their policies. I left for many other reasons as well, including lack of research and development to create new and better films. My distribution center in Connecticut and sales representative were reasons, too. There were shipping issues, attitudes, and I had to pull teeth to get a return phone call. It doesn’t surprise me at all for the change of ownership, and it will be interesting to see what the future holds. In the meantime, I’m proud to do business as a Vista dealer in all of SW Ohio and Northern KY.

  3. Jason, I think you jumped from the fire into the frying pan.

    I have delt with most of the American window film maufactures over the past forty years and the one that let be down the most were the Llumar boys.Them and their distributors have a bad attitude of being superior to every other manufacture. They think they have the best probucts, but at our testing station some of their film have broken down badly over yearsand Ihave news for them..

    Sun Gard products have stood up the bestby far. All these manufactures are interested in doing,is loading their distributors with enormous amounts of film and calling for greater volumes every year. More effort need to be put into helping them find ways of getting the film onto the windows.
    In my experience if the order is big enough manufactures will sell to anybody,never mind if you have an exclusive arrangement. They have many ways to skin a cat. To them the business is business

  4. On second thought I think Saint-Gobain have something else up their sleeve. They will use the window film technology to laminate the film between two pieces of thin glass to manufacture shafferproof high performance
    glass for the automotive industry and then their will not be a need for film to be appied to car glass in the future

    Let the window film manufactures be aware,as we might see some of them going back into chapter eleven again.

    Also they need to keep a close eye on the Koreans as they are selling film at 40 percent cheaper than the USA Manufactures , and let me tell you they are making very nice products and I should know as i have been in this business your the past forty years.
    Check my web site out ,over 380 pages of window film information wwwklingshield.co.za if you think I dont know what I am talking about. Regards Leon Levy.

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