Obituary: Innovator George Corporaal changed the auto glass business

  • Article by: MIKE HUGHLETT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 4, 2013 - 7:40 PM

George Corporaal

George Corporaal hit the airwaves offering a free box of steaks with a windshield repair, transforming the Minnesota auto glass business in the process — much to the chagrin of insurers and eventually state legislators.

Corporaal, known for his offbeat commercials that touched off the 1990s’ “auto glass” wars, died Feb. 19 in Naples, Fla., at age 68. The cause was heart failure, said Chris Corporaal, his son.

Corporaal, a glass man his entire career, began promoting his Glass Service Co. in the early 1990s on television and radio, offering meat along with auto glass work. By aiming directly at consumers, Corporaal was lobbing brickbats at the industry model.

“You can easily call him a pioneer,” said Edward Iago, a friend who succeeded Corporaal at Glass Service in the early 2000s.

Insurers played the dominant role in choosing an auto glass repair company, not consumers. But independent local companies like Corporaal’s Glass Service claimed big insurers steered business to big auto glass networks.

So, during Thanksgiving in 1991, Corporaal began giving away turkeys with new windshields. He soon switched to steaks, popping up on TV in several guises — a druggy hippie, the Godfather, Charlie from Charlie’s Angels. He looked to “Casablanca” for what’s perhaps his show stopper: The glass guy as Bogie, clad in a fedora and trenchcoat, a foggy tarmac backdrop to boot.

“They were commercials people loved to hate,” said Iago, who met Corporaal on a golf course during Corporaal’s media heyday. Iago said he was struck by what a “normal, quiet, shy” guy Corporaal was compared with his commercial roles.

Raised in northeast Minneapolis, Corporaal graduated from Columbia Heights High School and then learned the glazier’s trade, cutting and setting glass for windows. In 1969, he started his own business, House of Glass, which supplied the residential, commercial and auto glass markets.

Glass Service Co. grew out of that business, and while it also served different glass niches, it made its name in auto glass. The company started with a single Columbia Heights location and grew to eight outlets across the Twin Cities. “George was a very good businessman and he knew his trade,” Iago said.

His ads unleashed a bevy of giveaways from other auto glass makers, giving the industry more power vis-à-vis insurers, Iago said. As George’s son Chris Corporaal said, “he ticked off a lot of insurance companies.”

Insurers fought back, saying the ever-escalating giveaways were driving up auto glass prices in Minnesota, well above the U.S. average. And insurers were paying the added cost.

Many legislators agreed and in 2002 they banned incentives from glass makers, overriding then-Gov. Jesse Ventura’s veto. Ventura believed the ban would restrict customer choices without actually lowering insurance rates.

Corporaal retired within a year after the ban due to health issues, said his son. A routine doctor’s visit ended up with Corporaal having major heart surgery.

Corporaal sold the company to his employees and retired to Naples, where he particularly enjoyed golfing and boating. Glass Service Co. was shut down a few years after he sold it, Chris Corporaal said.

Corporaal is survived his wife, Cori; son, Chris; and three grandchildren. Services have been held.

 

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