Steve Harmon is trying to shake his reputation of being the “Windshield Guy at the Mall.”
After nearly 15 years of fixing an estimated 20,000 windshield cracks in the Vancouver Mall parking lot out of a van under a canopy near the west entrance, Harmon was asked to relocate Yellow Dot Windshield Repair to a different part of the lot; his lease was about to expire, and development plans are in the works. A Vancouver Mall spokesman wouldn’t confirm what is being planned, exactly, but said that they are in discussions to host a new tenant.
Harmon, a Seattle native who lives in the Salmon Creek area with his family, is using the opportunity to rebrand, instead of moving to a different area of the lot. Now in a nearby warehouse, he won’t have to operate at the mercy of Mother Nature.
Windshield repair is one of those services that doesn’t exactly cross one’s mind until that moment of extreme frustration: a rock or some other debris comes out of nowhere — hitting the window at full force. It might start out as a chip, but unattended, it can spider out, causing safety concerns. The windshield helps protect riders for a number of obvious reasons, but is especially important for protection in a rollover accident. And, not to mention, Washington drivers can be ticketed for driving with a cracked windshield.
But when do you choose a repair versus a replacement? Harmon will repair cracks up to 14 inches, contrary to practices of other major companies, such as Safelite AutoGlass, which recommends replacement based on a “dollar bill rule,” meaning if a windshield has a crack longer than 6 inches — or the length of a dollar bill — it should be replaced. There is division in the industry over that standard, and especially over how it’s advertised to consumers. Windshield repair company Ultra Bond, which is the manufacturer that Harmon goes through to operate his business, complains that companies like Safelite are harming their business by directing consumers away from the cheaper option of repair versus replacement when they file insurance claims, for instance.
Colorado-based Ultra Bond and its founder, Richard Campfield, are in the midst of a legal battle in Ohio federal court with Safelite over the dollar bill rule. Ultra Bond claims that Safelite’s practice of referring consumers to windshield replacement if cracks are longer than 6 inches is false advertising, and argues that repaired windshields are actually safer than replaced windshields.
“When you fill a rock chip, that area of that rock chip is actually stronger than when the rock hit the glass,” Harmon said.
A February story on the case by Law360, a legal news service, reported that Safelite had asked the federal court to toss the lawsuit. Harmon, for his part, hopes the suit pushes through, however. He said he successfully repaired an 8 1/2 -inch crack last week.
Name: Steve Harmon.
Residence neighborhood: Salmon Creek.
Business name: Yellow Dot Windshield Repair.
Location and contact information: 5601 E. 18th St. No. 304; 360-931-0420.
Online: yellowdotwindshieldrepair.business.site; Facebook and Yelp.
Educational/professional background: I grew up in Seattle. I finished community college at Shoreline Community College. I got a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Central Washington University. I have about 16 years of retail experience, and then after that it’s more into the windshield repair business. I’ve got about 14 years of grocery, a year or so with retail management with K-Mart, and about six months or so with KB Toys. I worked here in Clark County at Safeway for about six to seven years.
How — and when — you got started in your business: I was introduced to windshield repair when someone came to our house to fix my wife’s car; my wife had a chip in her windshield, in 1998. After that, I did a lot of research on windshield repair, and identified it with something I’d be interested in. I was kind of fascinated about the process. It looked really easy to do, so I didn’t do it right away, but after about five years, I saw an opportunity down at the Portland Expo Center to work out of a 10-by-10 tent doing windshield repair. So I went up to their place and trained for a couple of days in April 2003.
Personal/business philosophy: Pretty much kind of do it right, do it well, or don’t do it at all. So when people come in to me, I will evaluate if it’s something that I can do. And if I don’t think it’s something I can handle, I won’t do it.
Most rewarding part of job: I enjoy meeting the variety of people I come across every day and kind of helping them save their time, versus replacing the windshield. I kind of have a saying: I get to meet everyday Joes to CEOs. You get to meet everybody.
Most challenging part of job: Right now, it’s overcoming the reputation that I have. It’s marketing and overcoming the reputation of the “Windshield Guy at the Mall.” No one knew my business name. At the mall, I have the drive-by traffic. They could go into the mall and shop, and go to a movie and go eat. Now I don’t have that visibility. Now I’m having to actually go out and talk to different businesses and let people know that I’ve relocated, and get accounts. So the biggest thing right now is the marketing and visibility for my business.
Something surprising about your work: What can actually be done. I’m probably one of the only people in the county who can do cracks up to 14 inches. Contrary to marketing that a lot of people see on TV and through insurance agents, they’ll say that only 6 inches is allowable. So they say some cracks to the edges aren’t repairable — that’s not true.
Best feature of the Clark County community: My wife and I have really liked it, the small-city feel versus like, Portland. We have kids, so the schools are great. And it’s still pretty easy to get around town. Clark County is a great, comfortable place for us.
What would make your community a better place: Well, with the growth and stuff, housing has gotten really expensive, which is really leading to a lot of the homeless, which is leading to a lot of trash. And then the last couple years, especially the last year, graffiti is starting to pop up.
Favorite travel destination and type: Well, we don’t really travel a whole lot. The last vacation we took was about nine years ago to Disneyland.
Favorite restaurant/pub/coffee shop/store: Our soft spot is Killer Burger. I like to go have a burger and a beer. We split, actually. We like the peanut butter pickle bacon burger. I was like, “boy that sounds gross,” but after a couple people said to try it, I really liked it.
Hobbies: I don’t have a lot of hobbies now. A lot of time when I’m home, I’m an introverted person, so I kind of prefer to stick to home and let my brain slow down. So I watch sports: the Timbers, Blazers, Seahawks. And my youngest son plays soccer for Salmon Creek, so we go to soccer games and tournaments.
Most enjoyable book in the past 12 months: I’m just reading a book (for the first time) in forever — I’m a magazine/newspaper reader. I’m reading “Crushing It” by Gary Vaynerchuk.
On your music playlist: I’m a child of the ’80s, so I prefer the hair metal. The Def Leppard, the AC/DC, Metallica. We’re going to go see Def Leppard and Journey in September at the Moda Center.
Something you’d like to do this year/within five years: Well, really right now my focus is rebuilding my business, so getting that awareness right now. I really enjoy helping people so if I can accomplish that in the next year, I’d be super happy.
One word to describe yourself: Ethical.
Person you’d most like to meet: Honestly, I don’t think I have anyone. I don’t aspire to meet Bill Gates or anyone like that.
Advice for people interested in entering the field: There’s a couple of parts. Training. I would highly recommend training from the manufacturer of the windshield repair kit. Practice, practice, practice in your garage after training, and keep your day job until the business can support you.