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May 16, 2008

UK: Screen idol

Given the complexity of shape and design of today’s windscreens and glazing systems, installing glass is no longer as straightforward as it used to be, writes Matthew Beecham. Glass surfaces are becoming larger and incorporate an increasing number of added-value features such as rain sensors, heated wires, special coatings, integrated antennae, etc. Consequently, glass repair companies must ensure their fitters are kept informed of the latest technologies and have the right tools for the job.

Given the complexity of shape and design of today’s windscreens and glazing systems, installing glass is no longer as straightforward as it used to be, writes Matthew Beecham.  Glass surfaces are becoming larger and incorporate an increasing number of added-value features such as rain sensors, heated wires, special coatings, integrated antennae, etc. Consequently, glass repair companies must ensure their fitters are kept informed of the latest technologies and have the right tools for the job. 

In demonstrating how it stays ahead of the game, this week Belron brought together 25 windscreen technicians from four continents to battle it out for the coveted title of ‘Best of Belron 2008’. This biennial competition covers all aspects related to customer service, safety and accuracy – the areas required to make a top windscreen technician.

Belron is the world leader in auto glass repair and installation.  Belron is the parent company of Carglass in Europe, Autoglass in the UK and Safelite in the US.  Belron’s annual sales have increased from €822m in 2000 to more than €2bn in 2007, partly thanks to its recent acquisition of the Safelight Group, the largest vehicle glass and replacement business in the US.  Today, Belron employs 19,300 people in 28 countries across four continents. The company operates 1,600 service centres and some 7,100 glass repair vans.

The competition featured finalists from 20 European countries, Australia, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand and the US. Each competitor had already pitted their abilities against technicians in their own country and won both the regional heats and national finals. 

This year’s final held at MIRA’s technical facilities in Nuneaton, UK, involved contestants spending two days in competition. The tasks included fitting a windscreen to the new Ford Mondeo, replacing glass from a side door and repairing a chipped windscreen using the company’s proprietary best practice tools and equipment. The final also tested each competitor’s customer service skills, requiring them to explain the basic tenets and outcomes of the procedures that are used, results and possible risks with emphasis on what to do after a repair is completed. The contest officials played the part of customers. Every step was scored, according to degree of difficulty, by a panel of master installers.

For the contestants, the all-expenses-paid event itself was not only an opportunity to meet some of their colleagues in Belron’s global empire but also sample the delights of England.

Nick Nieuwenhuize from Holland was crowned Best of Belron 2008.  Based in Ede, Nieuwenhuize joined Belron in August 2006. His prize included a year’s salary. In remarking on his tactics at the start of the competition, Nieuwenhuize said:  “It will be a tough competition with the best technicians from the Belron countries.  I’ll try to remain calm and do the best job I can.”

There were four runners-up from France, New Zealand, Australia and Norway. In addition to finding this year’s winner, the event itself was a powerful showcase of Belron’s skills and capabilities to some 750 international delegates from the insurance, fleet and lease sectors.

In addition to the main show, there were a number of side attractions which caught our eye, including a live mini call centre demonstrating how Belron’s staff responded to customer calls.  We felt that the sheer logistics of relocating high-tech call centre equipment using fibre-optic technology from Bedford to a tent in the middle of a field was worthy of an award in itself.

This year’s competition marked the fifth time that Belron has staged such an event. Previous finals have been held in Germany, Holland and Belgium.  In 2006, the name of the competition was changed from Eurofitter to Best of Belron, reflecting the company’s increasing international presence. 

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