The Glass Guru
Restore, repair, replace
Business View Magazine interviews Dan Frey, President of The Glass Guru, as part of our focus on best business practices of American franchise companies.
The Glass Guru, based in Roseville, California is one of the fastest growing companies in the glass, window, and entry door markets. Founded in 2004, with a single service in the greater Sacramento area – foggy window repair – the company, which began franchising in 2007, now has 80 locations across the U.S. and Canada.
Recently, Business View Magazine interviewed Company Founder and President, Dan Frey, to find out more about this top franchise operation. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.
BVM: Dan, can you begin by talking about how you started The Glass Guru and how it has grown over the past several years?
Frey: “My wife, Joy, and I started the business in 2004, with a single service: foggy window repair. We had come out of the investment business and were looking for an opportunity for ourselves. We had no experience in home services, and I’m not the most technical person, myself. But we did have a foggy window in our house and paid a local glass company some good money to replace it with new glass, at one point. We talked to some friends in the real estate business and asked them if this was a common problem, and the more we researched it, the more we found that window seal failure is actually the biggest problem with windows and doors across the entire United States. Basically, every dual-pane window is destined to have this issue at some point, where it leaks and gets moisture between the panes. We knew that if there was a less expensive way to repair it, it might be worth exploring. We had learned about a unique process just being commercialized in Canada that we recognized that it could have huge potential down here in the States.
“The more we researched, the more we saw that if we didn’t offer this repair process, somebody else, at some point, probably would. So we decided it was a golden opportunity to reinvent ourselves and try something new. It was a big gamble; we didn’t know if it was going to be successful or not, but we didn’t have anything to lose. At the time, we were the first company in the area, the first in the state, and the first in the entire country. Nobody had ever offered a repair method for failed dual- pane windows up until that point. When we first starting getting the word out that this new repair was available, we very quickly got calls from homeowners who were hearing about it and who had the problem, but were sitting on it; or from people who were selling their houses and getting tagged by home inspections with this issue, getting quotes for glass replacement, and looking for alternatives.
“But as the word really spread within the real estate community and the home inspection community and the window cleaners – the type of people who deal with this issue every day in their professional careers. That’s when things really started picking up for us. We became the go-to referral source for everything to do with foggy windows in the Sacramento area, and we got very busy, very fast.
“We did nothing but foggy window repair for our first year of business. We offered a single service and got really good at it, and we were well-recognized for it. But, while we were getting into a lot of homes in that year and we were doing a lot of repairs, we were also passing up a lot of opportunities for more traditional services that glass shops did, but we didn’t do, ourselves. We got to a point where we were seeing that we were passing up as many opportunities as we were capitalizing on, if not more. So, the foggy window repair, for us, was more than just an introduction to the industry, because more than anything in that first year of business, it exposed all the other potential opportunities to take care of our customers in different ways.
“So, in our second year of business, we started expanding into the more traditional services you find offered at most local glass shops: glass replacement, screens, mirrors, table tops. Ultimately, that led to us doing larger jobs and more complex things like showers. And that led to us getting into window and door sales and offering complete window and door packages.
“It was a process for us; adding these additional layers and services. We didn’t have anybody teaching us the industry; we had to teach ourselves and hire good people to do those additional services. But as we added them, we continued to get in the door through the foggy window repair service, which acted as the fuel for our growth. We found that having this really unique service that nobody else was offering was a very unique marketing approach.”
BVM: Is that what led you to franchising?
Frey: “Yes. Recognizing that a lot of the success that we were having was due to foggy window repair, which was our unique approach in the industry – not being glass people, but people with a marketing background – after just two-and-a-half years in the business, we started setting the stage for our franchise program.
“In January 2007, we changed our name and relaunched as The Glass Guru. And at that point, we shifted gears from just running our own shop to recruiting and teaching others how to do the same thing. We put our shop under management and my wife and I started focusing on promoting and selling the franchises and bringing people in and teaching them how to do what we had done.
“Franchising was a whole new business for us and we had just as much to learn about franchising as we had to learn about glass. But we matched ourselves up with some good owners, right off the bat – people who did a good job executing our model with our help. And we learned, over time, the ins and outs of supporting new stores, doing good marketing to attract the right types of individuals, and we really honed in on our ideal candidate, figuring out who the right type of person is for this business. We’ve been franchising, now, for 13 years; we’re just shy of 80 locations across North America, with five in Canada and about 75 in the U.S. We’ve become the largest residential glass provider in North America; really being the only franchise focused on the residential and commercial space.”
BVM: What type of individual is an ideal candidate for a Glass Guru franchise?
Frey: “We actually prefer that they don’t have glass experience. If they do, that’s okay, but, generally, we are not looking for glass people – we’re looking for people with good business skills. We’re looking for people who either had previous business experience or maybe they’re coming out of corporate America and have good management skills, or can execute a good marketing strategy. We look for people that are not planning on doing the installations themselves, but rather those who can build a team of people and run their business by the numbers.”
BVM: How do you support your franchisees, both initially and as their businesses grow?
Frey: “When somebody signs a franchise agreement with us, we typically go through a six- to ten-week onboarding phase, where we plug them into our learning management system that is comprised of dozens of videos covering all areas of the business from the technical side, to operations, to estimating, marketing, and pricing. We start them out with the ABCs, and then, ultimately, get into more advanced topics. Then, there’s a week-long training they have just prior to their actual launch, where we review all of those topics and go through final preparation before their grand opening. We also are involved in helping them select a location, getting a couple of vehicles equipped and wrapped, and, typically, lining up their first couple of employees. We typically start out with just three, owner included.
“Once we launch, our support and development team is highly involved and very proactive in working with our owners on a weekly and monthly basis to continue to coach and guide them in the various aspects of the business, with a primary focus on the numbers, the infrastructure, and the marketing. We have a dedicated support team of a dozen individuals here at our headquarters, with about a third of them doing direct coaching and support. Another third of my team is in the marketing department; we do all the heavy lifting in the digital marketing management – the website, SEO, pay-per-click – if it’s internet-related, we pretty much manage all of it from our headquarters. We also do all of the design and content and production work, with our great in-house marketing team, for all the traditional forms of marketing that our franchisees employ. Then, we’ve got another three or four employees dedicated to internal operations and administration for our franchise operations.”
BVM: Are franchisees required to work with a specific set of vendors, or do they have some local control?
Frey: “We act as a matchmaker for our franchisees; we introduce them to all the vendors that they need. We get them started with a list of all the suppliers in their area to choose from. Typically, we’ll have discount pricing that has already been established with regional or national vendors they would have access to. Given that we make our money on those sales and service, it behooves us to set them up with the best vendor relationships possible. And we use the same vendors that everybody else in the industry does; we just have more purchasing power that often allows us to establish preferred pricing.”
BVM: How does The Glass Guru stand up against the competition?
Frey: “The glass and window and door industry is very fragmented, overall; it spans a tremendous amount of services, when you look at the scope of it: glass, screens, showers, windows, doors, hardware, and everything. You find that there are a lot of specialty providers who focus on just one or another of those verticals. So, you have glass specialists; there’s a whole franchise just dedicated to nothing but screens; there are other outfits that might do nothing but showers; and others might just do commercial windows or doors. We’ve consolidated the entire range of those commercial and residential services under a single umbrella, so we offer one-stop-shopping convenience for our customers. A single phone call can do it all. So, whether it’s a single piece of broken glass, or missing screens, or they need an entire house or business full of windows or doors, we can offer it all.
“Ninety percent of the services that we provide, on average, are those traditional services that we have competition for, whereas, about ten percent of our revenue comes from our signature services, such as foggy window repair, where we have no competition.
“And we’ve actually got a number of those signature services – foggy window repair is the big one. But about six years ago, we introduced another one that we’ve had great success with. That’s our in-glass and in-screen pet doors. We put pet flaps right in people’s existing glass patio doors – right in the glass. So, these in-glass pet doors are very unique; in most markets, we’re the sole providers of those. We do mirror frames, which is also a unique service – custom-framing on existing wall mirrors and vanity mirrors. We have a unique process for wood windows that have wood rot; we have a unique restoration process to rebuild those windows for a fraction of the cost. We also do water stain removal on showers and other glass surfaces that have water damage. So, altogether, we’ve got five signature services that vary from location to location – some of them are more regional than others – but it’s that ten percent of things that we’re doing uniquely in the industry that makes all the difference in an industry where everybody else is the same.”
BVM: What lies ahead for The Glass Guru?
Frey: “At the store level, we want to continue working with our owners from the starting point, which often has them working from the field as an estimator as they start their business, to building the proper infrastructure in order to transition them out of estimating and into full-time management for the long-term growth of their business. That’s at the local level.
“On the national level, we’ve got about 200 or so markets left to fill across North America. That means aligning ourselves with another 200 partners over the next five to ten years. So, we’re focused on identifying those future franchise partners that are going to help us fill those remaining markets as we saturate North America and look for other countries beyond that. We have had a fair amount of international interest, but our focus, at the moment, is North America.”
BVM: Why would someone want to become a Glass Guru partner?
Frey: “Glass is a product that’s all around us and our franchise program in an entry point into a great industry that has a perfect storm of market conditions taking place within it, right now. It’s got increasing demand and fewer and fewer providers, which are great ingredients going into any industry. We’re providing a proven model with all the training tools and resources already in place. It’s kind of like a vehicle that’s gassed up and ready to go. It just needs great drivers.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: The Glass Guru
WHAT: A franchise company in the glass, window, and entry door markets
WHERE: Roseville, California