Volume 10, Issue 6 - November/December 2008

Packing It In
Auto Glass Shop Owner Finds Success with Window Film

Doug Shaw has what many may call the classic entrepreneurial spirit. When he sees an opportunity, he takes it, as is evidenced by his growing business, Doug’s Windshield Repair and Replacement in McGehee, Ark. But there’s certainly more to his business than the name might show; though he still offers both windshield repair and replacement, he now spends the majority of his time applying window film.

The Beginning
Shaw got his start working for the United Parcel Service (UPS), where he served as the local branch’s windshield repair technician. And then one day he had a realization: that he could open his own business doing repairs. But he worried in his small, rural town, windshield repair alone might not be enough to pay the bills—so he learned to handle installations as well.

Three years after he opened the business, though, he started to realize the climate was changing, and it was difficult to survive on auto glass alone.

“There’s no way doing five or six windshields a week, unless you keep your expenses really low—there’s no way to make it,” Shaw says. “I’m kind of like a lot of other installers out there. I focus on quality.”

Shaw realized he needed to add a new service to his business in order to survive. This was in 2002, and his product of choice was window film.

At first, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

“I started out hand-cutting window film, and I bought $1,000 worth of stuff,” he says. “I had nightmares about it—I would spend a whole day on a car. I had a friend and I sold my window film tools to him right away. But then, a few months later, I had people calling all day and asking if we did window film, and so I’d give them his number. Then I realized I could be making money on it.”

Having had such a tough time applying the product before, Shaw decided to take a different approach this time around. He searched online for a course in applying window film, and found one in Florida.

“The instructor taught me how to hand-cut film, but he also had a computer- cut machine. So I came back from school and thought, ‘Man, that’s the way to go,’” he says. “I looked it up on the Internet and found I needed a plotter and software, and I spent $6,500 [on it].”

Shaw adds, “I did all this and the first two weeks after I returned to the shop, I never got a call.”

But now he knows it wasn’t all for naught.

“Since the end of 2002 to now, I’ve tinted a few more than 2,700 vehicles trucks and cars included,” he says. “I even tint residential and commercial glass.”

Today, Shaw tints about 10 to 12 cars and trucks a week; he installs five to seven windshields in the same time period. In addition, he and his wife, Karin, who works with him, have taken on graphics. They make signs, lettering, etc.

“There’s never a boring moment,” Shaw says. “We live in a town of 3,500 and we rely on surrounding towns as well, so you have to do everything. I feel sorry for those who only do windshields—they’re going out left and right.”

Today, the company brings in approximately $280,000 in annual sales; approximately $90,000 of that comes from the original auto glass repair and replacement business, and $70,000 from the film side of the business. The remaining $120,000 comes from the company’s graphics business—which includes signs, truck lettering, individual decals and t-shirts.

Inside Tinting
Of course, tinting and installing glass are very different, but both have something in common: a need for attention to detail.

“I want to do good work,” Shaw says. “I don’t want customers coming back to me and asking, ‘why’d you scratch my car?’ I take a lot of pride in what I do.”

However, this has also made it hard for Shaw to find employees.

“I started out with two employees and then went down to one,” he says. “I’ve had people helping me tint windows before, but I’ve had a hard time finding people as particular as me.”

With his attention to detail, Shaw has been able to persevere.

“It’s aggravating at first,” he says. “ … But the main thing is the cleaning. There are just steps you follow and you work slow at those steps until you get faster and faster, and after a while you don’t even think about it.”

While Shaw notes that both installations and tint jobs are labor-intensive, he says the tint profits are much  higher, as the materials involved canbe purchased so cheaply.

“It’s really worth the trouble,” Shaw chuckles.

Less than a year ago, Shaw took his diversification a step further—into tinting flat glass.

“I’ve only done three or four jobs, but they’re the simplest,” he says. “Again, the cleaning is the main thing.”

Of course, keeping up with two vastly different businesses isn’t always easy. Shaw has found scheduling to be his biggest issue.

“If I have several windshields, I try to keep those on one day and tinting on another,” he says. “But I have done it, though—there are days when you have to do both.”

His main reason for alternating between the two is for the organization of his shop, since the tools involved in each service are so different.

He also still does about 12 to 15 repairs a week—though he’s shied away from mobile work in recent years, dropping this down a bit.

“It’s hard to get me out of the shop to do a mobile job, but I occasionally will,” Shaw says.

With four services under his belt—from auto glass installs to film to repair to graphics—what might be next for Shaw? At this point, his docket might be full, he says.

“I don’t think I have time to fit anything else in,” says Shaw.

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