Here Comes Clairus
By Tara Taffera
Uniban Canada and P.H. Vitres D’autos Inc. have their sights set on entering the U.S. auto glass repair and replacement market as a part of their expansion strategy. The Canadian companies have forged a partnership with Charlotte, N.C.-based private equity firm
Ridgemont Equity Partners to launch the Clairus Group, a vertically-integrated auto
glass and claims management provider in North America. The Clairus Group, headquartered in Laval, Quebec, provides auto glass repair, replacement and recalibration services with on-demand claims technology. Currently, the company has 18 distribution centers, more than 220 in-bay service centers and 300 mobile units.
Ridgemont Equity Partners is a middle-market buyout and growth equity investor and focuses on investments of $25 million to $125 million. The amount of the investment made into the Clairus Group was not disclosed. AGRR spoke to Marc Desmarais, CEO of Clairus to learn more about the strategy of this new U.S. player.
AGRR: Why is now the right time to enter the U.S.?
Desmarais: It is the logical continuation of the growth and expansion from last year when we added Go Glass, Star Auto Glass, Docteur du Pare-Brise and we renewed our claims management agreements with major Canadian insurance companies. This provides a solid foundation and a conducive environment for our growth strategy going forward. The market is very fragmented with one big player followed by regional chains and then the smaller independents. It’s like a decade ago when the needs of the industry weren’t being fulfilled in Canada. On top of that, many fulfillment and insurance providers are seeking alternative providers in the U.S. The goal is to transform the traditional solutions and address the larger challenges of the industry, including technology changes surrounding ADAS. Our goal is to consolidate the marketplace.
AGRR: What is the biggest challenge you will face in the U.S. market?
Desmarais: You need patience when you enter a new country, and we know we have to take the appropriate time to enter the market. We need to remain cognizant of our commitment to transform the marketplace, and we know this will include acquisitions. We have 420 employees and team members, and beyond our financial objectives, people are a crucial link in our success.
AGRR: What can we expect in terms of acquisitions?
Desmarais: It’s safe to say we are partnering with Ridgemont to advance our growth strategy through organic growth and acquisitions. We are looking at a lot of different things, and love the model we operate in Canada. We have a proven track record there and want to build off that.
AGRR: When will things start to happen in the U.S?
Desmarais: We are actively looking for partners, so as quickly as possible. But we also want to make sure we do it with the right people who breathe our passion. There is also a strategic component to your question. It’s safe to assume we are looking at growth close to the Rust Belt, which is close to our existing operations from New Brunswick to Western Ontario. We are also reaching out to insurance carriers seeking an alternative choice that want to join a company who wants to transform the journey.
AGRR: What is the company’s philosophy on repair versus replacement?
Desmarais: Our company has always prided itself on state-of-the-art repair and replacement calibration services. We built a really strong reputation on repair first that includes ongoing field training. We also have a great dealer certification program, and have backed our repair and replacement glass services with a lifetime repair warranty that is free as long as the customer remains as owner of the vehicle. We are focused on reducing costs for our insurance partners.
AGRR: You mentioned calibration before, and this seems to be an area of success for your company in Canada. Here in the United States, I’m sure it’s been challenging, would you agree?
Desmarais: Calibration took the industry by surprise. The changes and the technology were not well supported by car dealers and service providers who didn’t understand how to service the vehicle, so initially there was a very chaotic moment in the industry. We looked at what the best system was in the marketplace, and we wanted to make sure we provided the industry with all the knowledge it required. We installed calibration systems in all of our distribution centers. The dialogue I hear is that what we bring to the table is very different and refreshing.
AGRR: How difficult will it be to enter the U.S. and face the industry’s largest player?
Desmarais: I can sum it up by saying it’s not foreign to us as we had the same challenge in Canada. At one time, there was only one dominant player, and the industry was very fragmented. Since 2004, we built a vertical integrated alternative. We have been really focusing not on the competitors but on what our value proposition is and how we approach the marketplace. You asked me before what we do differently on the claims management side. That was instrumental in us signing the largest companies in Canada. We have become the leading claims management company in Canada because we do things differently and move away from the traditional TPA business that was not bringing the industry somewhere else. Did it cost us market share? Yes, but we felt it was a smart move to allow customers to manage their own claims. We want to continue to be innovative and create better ways to support the industry as a whole. This is not foreign to us as we have gone through it before.
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