Volume 10, Issue 5 - September/October 2006

A Different Level
DIY Stays Strong, But Doesn’t Threaten Professional Dealers
by Les Shaver

Walk through the aisles of retail giants such as Lowe’s®, Home Depot® and AutoZone are you bounded to eventually see it—the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) film. It’s marketed as a solution consumers can use to reduce the exposure to sunlight in their cars and even in their homes. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the same pitch professional film dealers use to sell their customers on the value of window tint. But as anyone in the industry will tell you, that’s where the similarity ends. 

“[DIY film] is for the guy [who] watched somebody tint the car and says, ‘I can do that,” said Bill Stewart, national sales and operations manager for Film Technologies International in St. Petersburg, Fla. “Then he heads to AutoZone.”

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for DIY film, though. These big retailers report solid sales (though they won’t provide specific numbers) and CPFilms, a Martinsville, Va.-based film manufacturer says that the market remains strong for the film. Does that make it a threat for professional film dealers? Financially, the consensus seems to be no. But that doesn’t mean the industry might not suffer some public relations fallout from DIY films.

A Strong History
DIY film isn’t anything new. In fact, it’s probably been around longer than professionally installed film. CPFilms’ consumer product division, called Gila Film Products, has been in business more than 25 years. 

“We’re totally independent from what [the segment for manufacturing professionally installed films] do,” said David Kaliser, the business director for GILA Products Group.

Other manufacturers have also had domestic DIY operations in the past, as well. FTI used to manufacture a film product that was sold to companies, such as AutoZone and The Home Depot.

“It was too much and we gave up the market,” Stewart said. “But we kept the Caribbean and it is strong for us.”

Though it won’t share its sales figures, Lowe’s has been carrying DIY film for a while.

“We’ve been carrying the GILA product line since 1998,” said Jennifer Wilson, spokeswoman for the company. “Before that, Lowe’s carried a product called Cling-View for [more than] 10 years.” 

Lowe’s big competitor, The Home Depot has been carrying DIY film for just as long and says the product line is still growing for the company.

“The Home Depot has sold window films for more than 20 years in the conventional window film category [Gila] and approximately eight years in the Decorative Window Film category [Artscape],” said Montsy Stelljes, a merchant the at Home Depot.

Both retailers describe DIY’s selling point as very similar to that of traditional film.

“It reflects summer heat and retains winter heat, enhances home décor, lowers utility bills, protects furnishings from UV damage, reduces glare and increases privacy for homeowners,” Wilson said, when asked what the company’s selling point for film was.

“Both types of window films allow customers to block heat, fade, glare, UV rays and save money on their energy bills,” Stelljes said. “While Gila window films do not block the view out of the window, Artscape performs the same features plus offers a decorative motif that creates privacy.”

Stelljes thinks a recent study shows even more potential for film.

“CP Films/Gila has technical experts [who] just completed a scientific study utilizing the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs RESFEN 3.1 model and found that U.S. homeowners could save an average of $99 on energy bills by applying GILA Heat Control Platinum Window Film,” Stelljes said. 

A Different Ballgame
So the selling points for film in general from both the big box retailers and small film dealers are similar. It’s all about the energy efficiency and reducing sunlight. But beyond that, there are is a sharp turn. The big box retailers herald the consumer’s ability to install film. Many of the manufacturers, distributors and dealers in the industry only acknowledge the customer’s propensity to spoil the application of film.

“GILA Window Films are specifically designed for consumer application,” Wilson said. “In fact, the average window can be filmed in 30 minutes or less.”

To do this, customers need instruction.

“Installing window film is a do-it-yourself project when applied to most standard residential windows,” Stelljes said. “We first recommend spending a few minutes studying the detailed instructions, which are included in the product packaging from both CPFilms/Gila and Artscape. There also are videos on the Gila website and the Artscape website, which shows the process step by step. Both suppliers have developed specialized tools, adhesives and Web sites dedicated to making the process easier for consumers.” 

CPFilms goes to great lengths to cater to the end user as an installer, including providing instructions and online guides.

“We try to teach,” Kaliser said. “We do have steaming video on our website and we have a customer service line. If someone gets tangled up, we can walk them through any kind of a problem they have.”

And customers seem to appreciate this help.

“We do take steps to help the consumer install film,” said Dean Jarrett, a product manager for Gila. “We get a lot of positive comments from the customer service line and over the Internet.”

The film Gila provides, however, isn’t the same as what it sells to its dealers.

“We use different adhesives, different metals and different base films,” Kaliser said.

The DIY film FTI sells in the Caribbean also varies greatly from the film it sends to its distributors and dealers in the States.

“We have a totally different process and different equipment,” Stewart said. “It’s not a professional-grade product. It’s not the same film rolled in a DIY box.”

Dealer Interactions
Stewart vividly remembers his days as a shop owner in Georgia, when customers would try to get him to install DIY film. 

“They would bring those boxes to us and want us to do the installation,” Stewart said. “They would get them at Home Depot and Wal-Mart and we would turn them down because we wouldn’t want to be hung for warranties. If I’m putting product on the car, I’m going to put my product on the car and do it the correct way. I’m not going to put some DIY product on.”

But that wasn’t the only scenario he faced. 

“When I was an installer, customers would walk in and ask why we wanted $150 to do a car, when they could buy film at Wal-Mart for $6 a box,” Stewart said. “We gave them our card and told them to install the product and then bring it in and we would fix it. Unless you’re a tinter, you can’t do it.”

The lesson: Just because manufacturers provide film and instruction, doesn’t mean the job will be done right.

“You have nonprofessionals installing the film who do not possess the right training,” said Cody Forbes at Johnson Window Films in Carson, Calif. “Ninety-nine times out of 100 they will install the film incorrectly leading to contamination and other problems.”

Eventually, film dealers will have to fix these problems. 

“A dealer will normally look at the DIY as a chance to re-do of the film after it has been installed by a DIY’er,” Stewart said. “After the customer has installed the film and realizes it does not have the look they are trying for, they will bring the car to a professional dealer and have it redone. This does not happen all the time but it does happen more often than not.”

There are dealers out there who agree with him.

“These films aren’t high quality and this is a more complicated procedure than just ‘hanging tint,’ says Nick Ferry, owner of Window Film Specialists in the Green Bay suburb of De Pere, Wis. “Some of these films aren’t even supposed to used on thermal pane glass and don’t have any warranty to back them up. It’s more costly to have the film removed and then professionally applied by us. A home is a person’s largest lifetime investment. So who are you going to turn to when the DIY doesn’t cut it?”

So, a poor DIY job can lead to increased opportunities for professional installers. But overall is DIY good or bad for film dealers? The answer depends on who you ask.

Count Ginny Kubler, business director of Window Film for CPFilms in the category of these who see DIY film as helpful.

“DIY products help sell professionally-installed film,” Kubler said. “Generally, someone tries DIY, likes what film does and how it performs, but realizes they did a poor install. Their next opportunity they get professionally installed film on their home or car.”

Kubler actually tells her dealers that DIY can be a selling point for them.

“When consumers complain about the price of window film, I tell dealers to tell them if their only consideration is the price, then they should go DIY,” Kubler said. “When they realize what is involved in installing film they rethink their priorities.” 

Stewart thinks that DIY film doesn’t really pull business from dealers, but it could have some negative effects.

“Some people don’t seem to care what the end result looks like as long as tint is on their car,” Stewart said. “That is a problem for the professional dealers is the general public assumes that is what tint looks like. So, in some cases, it actually backfires on the manufacturers and installers. This is not a huge problem, but it does happen.”

Forbes sees similar issues. 

“Any time there is a competing product in the marketplace, it will always have an effect on your business,” he said. “But the real problem with DIY films is that it only hurts the industry as a whole in the long run. The quality of film is sub-standard so you tend to get a lot of fading.”

Chris Weinhardt, director of marketing for Enpro Distributing in Houston has similar thoughts.

“I believe that DIY’ers pose a minor threat to dealers but not necessarily monetarily,” Weinhardt said. “Window film technicians are a very crafted and talented group of artists. Not everyone can do it well. The job might not look that good after a DIY installation. Therefore the industry’s reputation could be damaged. It’s like all the quality dealers having to fight the perception of film being the stuff that bubbles and turns purple.”

But savvy dealers can use those examples of bad tinting to sell their services.

“I do think that once consumers are educated of the benefits of a professional installation they will decide on having a professional technician install it,” Weinhardt said. “It could be that higher performance films are offered through professional dealers and it makes it more enticing for the consumer to give them the business.” 

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