Volume 10, Issue 1                     January/February  2006

Add It On

Accessories Can Boost the Bottom Line, but They Come with a Price

by Les Shaver

What do Christmas trees have to do with window film? If you guess “not too much,” you’re right. But that didn’t stop Harvey DeVane, owner of Custom Sun Control in Marietta, Ga., from selling Christmas tress during the formative years of his now-flourishing film dealership. With traffic slow during the winter months, DeVane was just looking for ways to bring in extra revenue. 

Things are different now. Custom Sun Control is a well-established name in the Atlanta area and DeVane has the reputation and clientele to be able to specialize in film. In fact, his single-minded focus on film is one of the reason he thinks his business is so successful. But not everyone agrees with DeVane. Other film dealers and suppliers think, correctly used, side items, like signs and graphics, car stereos and alarms, bug shields and place mats, can draw in customers, add profitability and keep revenue flowing during the slow times for a film dealership.

Products Galore

Xtreme Tinting and Alarm in Spring, Texas, started out in 1984 as just a film dealership. But as time passed and ownership changed, more and more products were added to the company’s inventory. Now, owner Robbie Savacool boasts a product line of film, bedliners, toolboxes, vinyl graphics, bug shields and other assorted vehicle accessories. 
“We started getting into automotive accessories and then we started getting into alarms,” Savacool said. 

So far, Savacool hasn’t looked back. He says some accessories are easier add-ons than others, with the best being those easy to stock and install.

“The bug shields and dent shades are awesome,” he said. “It’s an easy sell and add-on. Floor mats are also an easy throw-in if you have them in stock.”

Chris Weinhardt, director of marketing for Enpro Distributing in Houston, sees many of his customers adding new products to their inventories.

“Dealers have branched out to add paint protection, door Edgeguard, auto electronics, which include remote alarms, video screens and DVD players,” Weinhardt said.

But not every manufacturer welcomes film dealers with open arms. Some stereo and alarm manufacturers won’t allow dealers within the same area to sell their products, leaving some retail shops to seek other products to sell.

“Stereos are area-protected,” said Bill Stewart, national sales and operations manager for Film Technologies International in St. Petersburg, Fla. “Not everyone can be an Alpine or Clarion dealer, but everyone can sell tires. A lot of guys do wheels and tires.”

But they don’t have to install them.

“They sub out the installation of the tires and do in-house financing because the banks will jump all over that,” Stewart said.

The line of products dealers can offer has advanced beyond accessories to signs and graphics. The advent of cutting machines has made this a fairly recent and efficient addition to the product line of many film dealers. 

“If a tinter purchases this equipment [cutting machines], there’s software that integrates to get them into the graphic and vinyl business,” Stewart said. “It’s an easy upsell. They can cut out letters for the windshield. They can do magnetic signs. They can even cut flames out of window film and onto vinyl. And they can do custom vinyl.”

In other words, the possibilities are endless. Some tinters have already started to take advantage of these cutting machines, including Mike Stanfill, owner of Totally Tint, in Havelock, N.C. 

“Someone can give me their business card and I can scan it,” Stanfill said. “Instead of it being vinyl, it can be in the window as window film.”

Chris Robinson, owner of Solar Shades Window Tinting in Woodstock, Ga., offers graphics and residential side items, like stained glass replacement and other items for the window. 

“When we’re tinting a home, we’ll offer blinds,” he said.

The Hassle

While car alarms and stereos, Nerf bars and blinds are nice, they aren’t film. That’s why Stanfill won’t move beyond film and graphics—things he can do with his cutting machine. Instead he sends car stereo business over to the shop next to his. 

“I never did want to get into anything else other than film,” Stanfill said. “When I left the Marine Corps and got into this, I didn’t want to have a lot of side things. I wanted to put my energy into window film. That’s all I wanted to do.”

In essence, Stanfill wants to be a master of window film. DeVane feels the same way.

“I like the benefit of being a specialist instead of being a jack of all trades,” DeVane said. “We better serve our customers as a specialist. Ultimately, that’s who we want to make happy.”

Matt Jobe, president of Gila Distributing in Canton, Ga., sees the same thing from his distributors perch, though he says the decision about whether to sell side items and the success of selling those items lies with each individual dealer.

“Someone could make the argument that if you get someone who does everything to tint your window, he’s not really a tinter because he does things like spray-on bedliners and truck accessories,” Jobe said. “Customers may want the person who specializes in film.”

Privately, some manufacturers and distributors say they don’t like their dealers focusing on side products, though they admit they take this stance for selfish reasons. 

“Distributors and manufacturers aren’t fond of it because it takes time away from pushing the products we sell,” says one distributor.

But there are also very practical reasons for dealers to think twice before they step into accessories. The most notable are personnel issues.

“When I hire an employee, all I have is tint, so I’m not training him in different things or worrying about how I will cover an area if I ever lose a man,” Stanfill said.

A single-minded focus on film can also help keep their installers eyes on the ball, so to speak.

“It keeps the installers focused on being skilled film installers,” DeVane said. “They don’t go rusty from installing car stereos instead of film.”

In addition, dealers who do car alarms may need to spend even more money on employees, which may bite into any extra money they make from accessories. If you get into 12 Volt car alarms, for instance, you need a specialist. 

“Twelve volts need to be done the right way,” said Mark Johnson, a partner in Artech, a film dealership in Irving, Texas. “It’s definitely going to take the right person and he comes with a price.”

Then there are simple overhead issues. The more products a shop sells, the more room it needs.
“My overhead is lower by just selling film,” Stanfill said.

Stewart says accessories can also drain valuable installation space. One example of this is spray-on bedliner installation.
“You’re limiting your shop,” Stewart said. “You almost have to be like a spray booth.”

In the long run, a film dealer needs to decide if adding extras, especially accessories, justifies the additional time spent on them. Lately, that’s become a tougher decision to make. Johnson has seen competition in auto accessories grow over the years. 

“Through the years, we’ve scaled back some because there are so many people doing Nerf bars and profit margins are so thin,” he said. “It’s becoming less profitable to do that sort of thing.”

Upsell Central

Despite scaling back, Johnson plans to keep offering more than just film. That’s the way it’s always been at Artech. Johnson started out selling car alarms along with film. As the years have passed, he has not only kept his car alarm business, but also added other products. He still sees an advantage in offering this diverse product line.

“It’s an advantage if you can keep it going,” Johnson said. “You have to keep on top of things. We don’t advertise as much as we do with window tint. Hopefully, if people come in, they’ll see what we offer and buy something else for their cars and trucks.”

Savacool sees the same things. Once a customer comes in, he hopes to sell them things like floor mats and Nerf bars. That increases the average ticket per customer.

“The accessory end is a great add on because it gives you a one-stop shop,” Savacool said. “People with new cars, especially, will buy add ons.”

Balu Patel, owner of Super Tint in Houston admits that accessories aren’t as profitable as film. But selling them beats the alternative.

“We have to sell something other than window tint,” he said. “The accessories aren’t as profitable as film, but they help pay the bills.”

This is especially true during the winter.

“The winter time is my down time,” Patel said. “The accessories help out a little bit. It’s better to do something than sit around and wait for the window film customers to come back.”

Jobe see this with some of his customers.

“A lot of dealers have branched out into different products,” Jobe said. “It’s another avenue for window film dealers to bring in money during the slow months.”

Keeping the cash flowing is important. That’s one reason why Weinhardt sees many of his customers add accessories to their business. 

“It’s rare that you find a strict window film dealer anymore,” Weinhardt said. “We’ve had quite a few dealers branch out. I see it as a positive. As the market diminishes, they’re finding it less profitable. They’re trying to survive.”

Les Shaver is a contributing editor to Window Film magazine.

Things to Remember

Yes, adding that car stereo or alarm line seems profitable, but before you add those new products to your business, be sure you know what you’re getting into. Here’s some advice from those who’ve gone through it:

1. Know Your Limits: If you’re starting a new line, don’t overextend yourself. Robbie Savacool, owner of Xtreme Tinting and Alarm in Spring, Texas, installs car stereos, but he knows his limits. 

“I do basic installs,” he said. “I don’t do custom things, like boxes. You have to have separate areas for cutting. That doesn’t go well with film.”

2. Know The Business: In order to be competitive in each business you jump into, you have to read about the trade, go to the shows and know what’s going on. “You have to keep up with the trends,” said Mark Johnson, a partner in Artech, a film dealership in Irving, Texas,. “You can’t get into it half way.” 

3. Find Your Niche: It seems like everyone and their brother is offering some sort of auto accessory. “If you want to get into the truck accessory business, there will be four other guys around the corner like you,” said Mark Johnson, a partner in Artech, a film dealership in Irving, Texas. “Whether it’s service, workmanship or something else, you will have to do something to set yourself apart.”

©2006 Key Communications Inc. 385 Garrisonville Road, Suite 116, Stafford, VA  22554
Phone: 540/720-5584, Fax: 540/720-5687 e-mail: film@glass.com