A parking lot concept makes for unique specialty retail, adding to centers’ ancillary incomes and creating a successful business as a result.
DECO Windshield Repair is a Canadian company that fixes chips and cracks in windshields from tent kiosks located in parking lots. It has seen rapid growth since first arriving on the scene around eight years ago.
A small hole is drilled into the part of the windshield that’s been chipped and filled with a high-quality resin. The average repair takes around 15 minutes. Transactions are processed with an iPad and an invoice is emailed. Customers also get a small business card with two clear “chip-saver” stickers that they can place on any new chips. These “chip-savers” keep dirt and moisture away while they await repair.
DECO was founded by Canadian National Team snowboarder Matthew Horne in 2005. At the time, Horne was looking for summer work to fund training and travel costs. His wife Laura, who is the company’s marketing director, says while windshield repair had been done from a tent before, “no one had taken it to the next level, with proper branding, clean appearance and an aggressive expansion strategy to capture a large market share.”
One of the company’s goals was to deliver the service in a convenient setting. “Customers have busy lives and they don’t want to drive to a glass shop where they need an appointment and possibly lose their car for a few hours,” says Horne who notes too, that those getting a repair at a mall location, can go about their business while the windshield gets repaired.
Another “pillar” for the company was to educate people about the issue of windshield repair sustainability. Turns out, windshields can’t be recycled which means most of those that don’t get repaired and are instead, replaced, end up in landfills for years. Additionally it costs around $30 to repair a chip (additional chips cost less) whereas replacing an entire windshield can be significantly more expensive—from $300 to $500.
Based in Calgary, Canada, the company owns and operates 140 tent kiosks, 80 of which are in mall parking lots. The rest operate from home hardware stores and supermarkets.
Business is weather dependent, with average set-up season running from March to October. Depending on its location, a DECO tent sees anywhere from 10-40 customers each day.
DECO groups its tent locations together by region and calls them PODs. Each POD has a manager. Students who start out as a site operator, often get promoted to POD and regional managers.
Part of the company’s branding strategy is to bring some fun to something that is relatively boring. “We have a great mascot, DECO-man, and we provide kids color books onsite to keep them entertained, in case a parent shows up with kids for a repair. Our marketing efforts are almost exclusively online and we have a great following and engagement on all our social media channels,” Laura Horne says. She adds that feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
Since DECO calls convenience one of its business priorities, the mall locations are an especially good fit. Shopping center parking lots are busy but large enough that they can easily lease up to three spots at the far perimeter of a parking lot without taking away customer parking. DECO pays for a lease at every location and in some cases even meet percent rent requirements. “Especially in the months that may not be as popular with specialty lease managers—such as summer—we provide great revenue towards the specialty leasing budgets,” Horne says.
In the beginning, Horne says DECO had to be pioneers for this type of specialty retail and overcome stereotypes that a lot of people have about parking lot set-ups. “We realize that often parking lot set-ups can look grungy and sloppy so from the start of the company, we made sure that DECO was going to be different,” Horne says. DECO refreshes its bright orange tent tops every year to keep them looking crisp and clean.
DECO is looking to continue expanding its model across Canada in the near future, and is discussing launching U.S. operations in the long term.
For more information, please visit www.decorepair.com.