MERRIFIELD -- For Gary Stacken, owner of Lake Side Glass, giving out tins of Spam to people who come to his auto glass repair shop for a windshield replacement is serious business.
He said giving the Spam to customers is symbolic -- a sort of response to other repair shops like his that are trying to lure customers with gifts like a box of steaks, rather than with their work.
"We don't use gimmicks to sell our services," he said. "We use quality work at a fair price."
It might be an odd gift, but it allows Stacken to tell people about his more pressing concern in the auto glass industry -- the steering of customers by insurance agents to big auto glass repair shops. It's a practice that gives little chance for a family operation the size of Lake Side Glass to compete fairly.
Stacken said he started giving away tins of Spam in 1994 as more of a light-hearted joke for people who came to his shop for windshield repair and asked for a box of steaks.
Since then it has taken on a more serious meaning with his message on the problems of insurance companies steering customers to big auto glass companies.
"I'm hoping it opens some eyes up," he said.
He said many big insurance companies have agreements to steer their customers to big auto glass companies.
"Their out for numbers," he said. "That's the way big business operates. Preferred vendor programs and auto glass networks are more in the interest of insurance company profits rather than customers satisfaction, service and quality."
This is what forces auto glass shops the size of Stacken's to offer gifts like a box of steaks, so they can try to compete with the big auto glass companies that have steering agreements with insurance companies.
Stacken is also worried with auto glass safety issues surrounding steering. He isn't concerned with the skill of the workers at the big companies, but he is worried that too many jobs being steered towards the big companies might make them rush their work. And when it comes to safety, nothing can be rushed, he said.
The plight of auto glass repair shops similar to Stacken's was the focus of hearings Wednesday at the State Legislature.
The Minnesota Independent Auto Glass Association, of which Stacken is a member, along with Minnesota Auto Glass Association, gave testimony on several auto glass issues to the Senate Commerce Committee.
Two issues were prominent at the Commerce Committee hearing -- the steering of business and a cap on the dollar amount of free giveaways auto glass shops offer. Stacken, who followed the proceedings closely, said a cap of $35 on gifts was agreed upon by the committee, but the issue of steering reform was still unresolved.
Stacken is in favor of reform on both issues because the steak gifts and other giveaways are a direct result of steering business.
"I think putting a cap on giveaways is a good thing," Stacken said. "In the same token, if the insurance companies weren't steering business to large auto glass stores, smaller stores wouldn't have to give anything away.
"It's the small to medium size auto glass repair shops, that aren't members of these (steering) networks, that are forced into giving away freebies to entice customers."
So Stacken gives out cans of Spam to his customers looking for a gift, along with his views on the auto glass industry. He said that since he and his wife, Jean, started their auto glass business in 1994 they have done about 5,000 jobs, with one-third of those customers receiving a tin of Spam. Though a different approach, the Spam gift has been effective.
"It's funny," he said. "I have had people call back needing repairs, and what they remember is getting the can of Spam."
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