Volume 12, Issue 6 - November/December 2008

The New Sandbag

Ike Brings One Texas Dealer a Flood of Opportunities
by Drew Vass

When meteorologists begin predicting a possible hurricane landfall, property owners in coastal areas begin taking precautionary measures. Sandbagging, plywood over windows, moving furniture to second and third levels—any possible last-minute measures are taken in an effort to prevent a worse case scenario.

It now appears that film has made the list.

“A week before the hurricane hit, we were inundated with requests for [impact-resistant] film,” explains Eddie Russell, owner of Sunset Glass Tinting in Stafford, Texas. “Of course, we’re typically scheduled out approximately three weeks, and that’s just for solar film. I told our installation manager, ‘You need to move every solar i n s t a l - lation project. Call them and apologize; tell them we will give them a discount; but we have got to move them.’”

When others were out stacking sand bags, Russell’s company was frantically installing impact-resistant film. And he says it was about much more than just capitalizing on a business opportunity.

“Yes, in a situation like this, the business could go away instantly if the hurricane changed paths, but it’s about more than that,” he explains. “On the flipside, if it doesn’t change paths and these folks want to protect themselves, we have got to get it on for them—no matter what it takes.” Russell’s crews worked practically around the clock.

“My crews and I went down to Galveston and we laid so much film it was amazing,” he explains proudly. “Everyone was exhausted, but we kept on trucking. Every single person who purchased hurricane film from us prior to Ike had their film installed before the storm got here. We didn’t miss one square foot.”

Lowering energy bills can be gratifying, but potentially saving lives and enormous property losses is simply tremendous, Russell says. Ike wasn’t the first storm his company faced. Sunset Glass Tinting has been in business for 20 years now. But he says Ike had a larger and more direct impact on his company than any other storm to date. It brought more than just round-the-clock business; it also wreaked havoc on the area surrounding his business.

“Our office is just a hundred yards across the city limits from Houston,” he explains. “Everything lost power. Gas stations were out of gas. There were trees down in the streets. We still don’t have most of the traffic lights back on. It’s a nightmare.”

Success stories from past clients brought a ray of hope to otherwise miserable conditions.

“One of my hospital clients got hammered by Rita, then again by this hurricane,” he says. Russell began trying to call him immediately. “I wasn’t able to get him on the phone for a week, but he eventually called me and said, ‘Man, that impact film didn’t work worth a darn!’” Russell’s heart sank in a mire of disappointment. After a pause, his client continued, “Well, we had 60 windows break, but not one of them was punctured!” Luckily he was only fooling Russell at first. The client was exceptionally pleased and so was Russell.

“Nobody even had to leave the hospital,” he explains proudly. “And we’re talking about occupied hospital rooms—in a hospital that you evacuate to, not that you evacuate from.”

Post Storm Emergency
With Ike well out of the picture and not another storm in sight, it was time for Russell’s life and business to begin g e t t i n g back to normal. That is, until the phone rang.

It was Sunday evening. Russell’s potential new client was frantic, and it was a big one—one of Chevron’s high-rise, corporate offices. In order to fulfill, his crew would have to work 12 hours straight, starting at 5 p.m. that very same evening.

“I wasn’t awarded the project until about 3 p.m. Sunday,” he explains. “We had to install just under 10,000 square feet of translucent film on 39 floors of an office building by 5 a.m. the next morning.”

You may be wondering, if the storm is gone the damage is done, so what was the cause for such urgency? And translucent film? It seems Russell stumbled into a unique and g o l d e n opportunity.

“We were installing the film so that employees who arrived to work Monday morning wouldn’t have to see the damaged and broken glass,” he explains.

The Chevron building Russell’s crew feverishly worked on is equipped with double-pane, insulating glass. The outside lites were broken, while the inside lites remained in tact. Employees could return to work Monday morning, but they would be facing a potentially intimidating view of broken glass and a stark reminder of what they had just lived t h ro u g h . Russell says it was mainly a matter of psychological well being.

“It wasn’t my idea,” he admits. “It was the client’s idea. They asked, ‘Can you?’ and the minute I said yes, we were on the job. I didn’t even price it for them—still haven’t.”

The 12 hour scramble was successful. But the opportunity wasn’t over. Russell saw another opportunity for film in the making.

“I took a peice of 3M seven-mil security film to my glass company client and said, ‘Look if you’re having a tough time handling this glass, you can put this on the glass dry, or even wrap it around the window frame; it’s like masking tape on steroids; it’s the ultimate for sticking things together quick.’” This was a foreign concept for the glass company. It was a foreign concept for Russell too, before he thought of it. “They said, ‘Well ... we don’t know,’” he explains. “They had 400 members from the ground floor up, to about 50 floors up, with the perimeter glass in tact and the middle all broken out on the exterior pane.”

Russell says it just made safety commonsense to him. He just had to show them it would actually work—thus the sample.

“So I asked them, ‘How are you going to get the glass out?’” he says. “You can take it out a piece at a time, but what if one of them falls? What if you’re on the 50th floor and a piece of glass falls out on the 38th floor, acts like a Frisbee, flies across Houston and collides with a school bus?’”

He finally got through. And a potential new niche was born.

“We’ve now cut them 15,000 square feet of seven-mil clear film,” he says. “They just take the liner off and apply it to these giant sheets of broken glass all around the building. It will all come out attached.”

Success on Both Sides
There are, however, some severely unfortunate homeowners in the area that no window film could have helped. Russell says t h e coastline has receded more than a hundred yards in places.

“A guy that was once six, seven houses from the beach—when he rebuilds his home, he’s now on the beach,” he explains. “The other houses are gone. The sticks are gone. There’s nothing. It’s like placing all the houses in a Monopoly game on the game board and then swiping them off into the trash. They’re gone.”

Russell says Ike brought more than an onslaught of urgent business to his company. His staff was also affected, but fortunately no one was injured.

“Everybody on my staff lost power,” he explains. “A couple of people lost roofs and everyone lost fences. We’ve got one employee in a hotel, because his house is damaged so badly, but he hasn’t missed work once.”

Russell says this does not surprise him. His crew is incredibly dedicated and his company has never missed a day of work, storm or no storm.

“We worked and installed window film the Monday after the hurricane,” he says.

His company does strictly residential and commercial flat glass projects—at about a 50/50 mix. Sunset Glass Tinting is the 2005, 2006 and 2007 Dealer of the Year award recipient for 3M.

Russell says he hopes his company will never face a storm like Ike again. No amount of opportunity can outweigh the risks and devastation. But, should that unfortunate opportunity come, he plans to meet it in every way possible.

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