Volume 17, Issue 1 - January/February 2013
Travis Smith is eager to explain how business will look going forward. His more than 16 years with Eastman Chemical has included several different jobs, including a stint living in China. As of December 2012, the 39-year-old manager was back in the states having settled into a newly purchased home in St. Louis, Mo. But the biggest settling Smith is doing is adjusting to his new role as the vice president and general manager of performance films for Eastman Chemical Co. subsidiary Solutia Inc.
Window Film magazine caught up with Smith for an exclusive interview in late November.
WFM: Llumar has had quite a number of owners
in the past few years. What are some of the assets you see Eastman bringing
to the window film industry?
The second is brand strength. The brand strength we have is rising in all areas. Whether it’s the longstanding Llumar brand or the newer parts of our brand portfolio like V-KOOL, there’s a lot of brand strength in the company, especially in Asia.
And the third piece we see is the strength of our dealer/distributor network in both reach and quality of partnership.
Ultimately our team plans to build on these strengths. Eastman will work to put all three together in a successful way. That is the puzzle we are continuing to solve.
WFM: One of the first and largest concerns
we usually hear when there is a sale of a manufacturer involves its dealer
network. Do you anticipate any changes in how Llumar does business with
The first question we want to answer is “how do we help drive demand in the category?” For example, there’s already a strong understanding of our category in certain countries. Nine out of ten cars in Asia are filmed; only one out of four cars in the United States is filmed.
What are glass technologies doing differently in Asia? Film is put on cars at the point of sale in Asia. Consumers in Asia who buy new cars know they need window film—there’s an understanding of the category there. They come in knowing they will buy it. They put film on the car at the time of purchase.
That understanding is not nearly as common in North America. Not as many people anticipate filming their car; it’s not assumed. So there is a different level of category awareness. Given that, you can either sit back and hope someone else creates that awareness or you can influence it yourself. We need to drive awareness.
We are finding the answers to a number of questions here. How do consumers and channel partners make that decision? What leads them to film a car? What choice do they make and why?
If you don’t start with an understanding of how people make purchasing decisions, then you will not have input into that process nor will you be able to influence it. So we are assessing that carefully and building a foundation for growth.
We’re looking to do some things differently to push category growth.
WFM: Some competitors focus on automotive tint,
while others have positioned their offerings as energy-savers. How do
you plan to position Eastman’s film products?
WFM: It seems there is a fight for the
soul of the window film industry. Some manufacturers continue to sell
it as a commodity product while others are positioning it as a value-added
one, an energy efficient product, etc. What do you think the best type
of positioning is?
The low price point, low quality film market is just not a category in which we choose to compete. It’s not who or what we are and it’s not sold to those we are targeting.
We plan to continue to educate our customers on a whole range of value that our film offers. What you have to do is continue to educate that there is a range of high quality products that deliver more than just a bit of color on a car window. The trends have been, and will continue to be, favorable to quality films. The trend is moving from very low performance to wanting a better performing product.
WFM: Would you say the North American film
market has fully matured, or would you say that there is still potential
Cheap films are out there by the rolls. But I go back to what one dealer told me at SEMA . He said “you know, years ago, when I was using cheaper film I was filming ten cars a day. And I still do that today. But five of them used to be reworks from when I was using the other film.”
WFM: You are the fourth top manager of Llumar
that we’ve had the privilege of interviewing. Trouble is, all four have
been within the past two years. How do manage a company that has undergone
so many management changes in such a short time?
What is interesting is that Solutia chose to keep CP Films while divesting other parts of its businesses in the past and even made a couple of acquisitions—Novamatrix and then Southwall Technologies—over the past two years. We think those pieces [that were acquired] are the right ones and create an exciting portfolio.
Now leadership is a separate issue and the company has faced a lot of challenges in this regard. I am aware of all the changes they have gone through. I don’t expect that to continue. I have 20 years with Eastman and I plan on sticking around awhile.
The staff has been through a lot of change because of this. We plan to be thoughtful and purposeful with any changes in their future. We plan to understand the business and make the right choices. There are some good elements to what [the company has] been through. On the one hand, they have been through a lot of change so we know they have been able to adapt to it. They also have a lot of history of what works and doesn’t work that we can draw upon. If I was on the outside looking in at the company, certainly in the dealer base, any concern about instability would hopefully disappear.
WFM: What would you say are some of the biggest
threats to the window film industry?
The emergence of new competitors is also always a threat. As long as they occupy the low-end space, I don’t lose sleep though.
I’d have to say the biggest difficulty we as an industry have to overcome is category perception. That’s a big challenge. Too many people think of window film in terms of the poor quality tint job they may have received in the 1980s and not in terms of high performance. We have not been able to get the right education to consumers. In order to grow, we will need to do so.
WFM: What true growth opportunities do
you see in the North American window film market?
WFM: How do you measure success personally?
Just the Stats: