Volume 13, Issue 1 - January/February 2009

Middle Men:
A New Group Evolves Beyond the Old Channels
by Les Shaver

Patric J. Fransko, senior vice president of operations for National Glass Service Group, boasts that he has more than 2,000 contacts in his Microsoft Outlook folder. But Fransko doesn’t mention this to show you how many friends he has. He’s doing it to demonstrate his connections. And it seems that those connections have become very profitable for him.

For nine years, Fransko was director of marketing at Performance Tools Distributing in Dublin, Ohio. Over the years, he developed relationships with film dealers, literally, from all over the world. Then he moved on to National Glass Services Group, also in Dublin. There he focused on meeting another kind of person—executives in facilities management and loss prevention managers for major corporations. 

“It’s good, old-fashioned networking,” Fransko says. “I know a lot of different people in a lot of different fields.”

Not only does he know people, but he’s linking them to generate potential business for the window film industry. By finding executives from companies such as Starbucks, for instance, and linking them with film dealers, Fransko is one of a group of specialists in the industry. Others, such as Glenn Yocca, president of U.S. Film Crew in Pittsburgh, specialize purely in film installation. Fransko and Yocca are adding a new element outside of the traditional manufacturer, distributor, dealer path that the industry knows so well, and they contend it will ultimately benefit everyone.

When dealers are confronted with an opportunity that exceeds their capacities, rather than turn that business away, they can link up with providers such as Fransko and Yocca to retain a portion of the overall profit. Installation providers, such as Yocca, can fill in when dealer’s schedules are too tight to fit something in. Additionally, when projects require specific expertise, such as a signal defense or impact resistance installation, a dealer that specializes in other areas doesn’t have to lose that customer’s business. If the dealer can land a contract, he can then line up a contract installer, such as Yocca, to service the project. Similarly, when a dealer or salesperson comes across a prospective sale that they feel is a little out of their league, they can call on a company, such as Fransko’s, to close the deal. In this way, third party providers are helping dealers maintain their piece of the pie. But the referral process also goes both ways. Fransko can draw on his contact base to prospect and generate business, then connect those deals with area dealers. In these instances, the sale has been made and all the dealer has to do is show up.

But there are still some installers who end up scratched from that referral list by not living up to expectations when they get contract work. And, when those people do a bad job, it can lead to ill will toward tinting and the entire industry.

Linking Up
Fransko isn’t humble about his ability to get in the front door at large corporations.

“I can get into the offices and get in front of a lot of people,” he says. “I have the ability to get into a lot of organizations that a lot of other people don’t have the ability to access.”

He isn’t alone though. Wayne Staley, owner of Commercial Window Shield in Blissfield, Mich., has been in the film industry since 1978. “We’re well versed in understanding the federal government requirements,” he says. “I know the answers and the testing agencies and I know the people. We understand the whole thing.”

Once he gets in executive offices, Fransko presents himself as an all-purpose glazing provider. “In essence, we primarily focus on all of the window film solutions that will be at someone’s disposal, whether it’s anti-graffiti, safety and security, decorative or solar control films,” he says. “When I’m talking to someone, I want to have a quiver full of arrows.”

Eventually, Fransko will have positioned himself to get the job when that executive is ready to contract out the work on their facilities. “Corporations such as Starbucks don’t want to work with Joe Solar Control in Massachusetts and Larry’s Sun Control in Texas,” Fransko says. “They want to work with one company that has the ability to manage the logistics of any needs they may have throughout their network. For them, it’s a very simple process. They have one contact (me), one payable, and one vendor, ultimately.” That’s what Staley offers for the federal government (and private companies who need to have safety glazing meeting federal regulations) as well.

“My specialty is finding the work and finding people to get it done,” Staley says. “I know what needs to be done and I can find the manpower. They’re not all going to be my employees.”

Once the corporations give Fransko a list of stores with existing needs, he does site surveys on those locations and gives the client a quote. Once that quote is approved, he subcontracts the job(s) out to existing film dealers.

Finding and vetting dealers to take on such projects may seem like a daunting task. But, once again, Fransko defers to his Outlook folder. Staley relies on a smaller network to work with his project leaders.

“I have about 20 window film business owners that I know across the country that I can draw on to work with my foremen at any given moment,” he says.

If Fransko’s personal contacts fail him, he has a second option—the industry suppliers. “I have a lot of contacts within the film industry with different manufacturers and different distribution centers,” he says. “So, I’ll ask them who they recommend that I utilize.”

Staley depends on his established network. If he’s adding someone new to the equation, he wants proof that the installer could handle the job. “I would have to see them at work and understand their method of working,” he says. “What’s important is if they can solve problems on the job and can communicate clearly with customers in the field or anyone else at my company.”

The Other End

Yocca isn’t like Staley or Fransko, who go into the offices of government officials or corporate titans and sell the value of window film, their expertise and, perhaps most importantly, their network. Instead, Yocca is that network.

“Glen specializes in getting the work done, as opposed to finding the work,” Staley says. And, it’s a job that Staley and others say Yocca does well. He started out as a traditional film dealer doing auto and flat glass, but in 2001 he began subcontracting. “It’s been an evolution for me,” Yocca explains.

Apparently it’s an evolution he has handled well. “He’s done some work for me in the past,” Staley says. “He’s somebody I can trust if I get into a situation and need someone to help me out. I think what he’s doing is a valuable asset.”

Stephen Ullman is the owner of United Solar Tinting, a Laurel, Md.-based installer that focuses on government and commercial work. He calls on Yocca when they have too much work or too few people.

“It may be that someone has never done a certain type of solar film or has been asked to do security film,” Yocca says. “Now, they can hook up with us and feel confident.”

Or, it may be that a film dealership has the expertise but doesn’t want to lose focus. “I was talking to a guy with a high rise project and he needed film removed,” Yocca says. “He has ten installers but doesn’t want to interrupt his regular business. He can’t do his regular business and accomplish this project.”

In this economy, Yocca and those like him should be able to find even more work. “You can’t keep 10 or 20 people on board and pay them for half a year hoping that a job will come along,” Staley says. “They will not keep a full time crew because it doesn’t make sense to keep paying worker’s comp and taxes. When a job does come through, they know they have installation capabilities through Glen’s company.”

But instead, things can go the opposite way as well. Yocca had some bigger jobs pending last year, but those have gone away. Now he’s focusing on smaller ones. “There’s still work out there,” Yocca says. “Film companies are feeling it. They will keep their companies busy first.”

The slowdown has other film dealers hoping contractors will call, even if they’d have to take less for work they’ve done previously at higher rates.

“I probably would entertain the idea of installing film for one of the companies if they approached me with an opportunity,” says Charlie G. Arakelian, owner of North East Tint in Springfield, Mass.

Ullman potentially could be on both sides of the subcontracting equation. He’s shopped jobs out to Yocca and received calls from people like Fransko to take on extra work. But, so far, he’s passed on those opportunities.

“We get calls from those people,” Hillman says. “The circumstances are always different, but typically whatever they’re working on is smallish. To do a Starbucks somewhere is nothing in this business. That’s small potatoes.”

Plus, Ullman is not sure he would get more business if he took one small project, like a Starbucks. “They’re a little more hit-and-miss as far as who they’re getting to do their work for them,” he says. While he’s not getting paid as much as he would on a job he secured himself, and this is an issue for Ullman, though not necessarily the deal breaker. “You wouldn’t make as much as you would doing it directly, but you’re not spending as much either on the sale,” he says. “A deal is either acceptable or it’s not. You just have to expect that you will get paid.”

Arakelian as well has some reservations about the company calling him to do the work as well and says he’d do due diligence before taking a job. “To check out the reputation of the company, I would look at who is being hired, the quality of candidates and their background, as well as do some follow up research online to view the company’s web presence,” he says.

Yocca won’t just check up on the company offering the job. He’ll study each job in great detail. Since he tries to achieve maximum efficiency by keeping his staff to a minimum, this study takes on even more importance.

[SUB] Poor Perception

Unfortunately, some customers don’t know they can count on Yocca or anyone else in the film industry for that matter. That’s because they’ve had poor experiences with film contractors.

You can count the administrators at Capital District Psychiatric Center in Albany, N.Y., among this group. Years ago, they hired a subcontractor to apply 15 mil security film to the center’s windows. Unfortunately, the subcontractor hired an auto tinter to install the film, which was both difficult to cut and squeegee.

“They just couldn’t get the film laid in correctly,” says Yocca. Yocca came in and removed what the first installers had incorrectly applied. Fransko has also seen what can happen when a film contractor mishandles jobs. He had a situation where another film company botched an installation with a wet-glaze attachment system. Needless to say, the corporate client wasn’t happy.

Walt Goode is director of installation sales for Aegis Applied Films in Atlanta, another company that relies on contracting jobs. He admits he’s had problems with installers he’s hired for specific jobs in the past. “The window film industry is no different than any other,” he says. “For every Glen, there are ten that are horrible. They don’t do what they say they will do and they do poor work. You check out references and they say they have done this and that, they have this amount of experience and they’re horrible.”

Goode says cleaning up after a poor installer’s work, whether he’s subcontracted the work to him or he’s been brought in by another company, can be time consuming. “You have to go back and redo it,” he says. “That’s the main thing that happens.” But sometimes there’s even a bigger hassle. “You have to strip off the film they laid,” Goode says. “The worst case scenario is they go in and damage something or damage the windows, or this or that. They can do damage over and above the film itself.”

Because of these issues, he said he won’t subcontract out jobs unless it’s absolutely necessary (or unless it’s to Yocca, who he has had good experiences with in the past).

“I’d shuffle around my existing personnel to get it handled,” Goode says. “I would never send anyone I don’t know to do anything. I’ve been under this rock too long to do anything like that. That would just be suicide. If I don’t know the person, they don’t go.”

When these fly-by-night operators pose as legitimate film installers, it doesn’t just affect that one job, though. After a job at one of their facilities is mishandled, an organization like a psychiatric center or a giant retailer may think that film doesn’t work and that its contractors aren’t credible. And, that could be the worst.

“It doesn’t help us at all,” Yocca says. “It’s unfortunate when this happens.”

Broader Effects
Supplier Silence: 

For years now, film manufacturers and even distributors haven’t just been able to supply their loyal dealers with film; they’ve also sent jobs out to their dealers. So, it stands to reason that these suppliers wouldn’t be too happy to sees companies like National Glass Service Group finding and sending jobs out to their dealers.

But if they did have issues with the companies that secure jobs and contract them out, you wouldn’t know it. CPFilms, Commonwealth Laminating and Coating, Johnson Window Films, Madico, and Gila Distributing didn’t comment for the story. Most of these people had the same reason.

“We have no experience with these liaison companies,” says Paul Panarisi, marketing manager for Madico in Woburn, Mass.

And, that leads to mystery. “It’s still a relatively unknown segment of the business,” said Matt Jobe, president for Gila Distributing in Canton, Ga.

But Patric Fransko, the senior vice president of operations for National Glass Service Group, says suppliers have been “very positive” with him. “When we’re in their corporate offices and specifying a solution, the manufacturers want me to think of them as I specify,” he says. “Ultimately, if I send a job to their [film dealers], they will order film from their distributors.”

Fransko claims that he shouldn’t be seen as a competitor, simply because he says he goes after business that the industry hadn’t yet tapped. “I’m not trying to go out there and carve a little piece of the window film pie for myself,” he says. “I’m going out there and trying to cook a brand new pie. A lot of people aren’t aware of what window film can do. I expose them to that and generate interest."

Les Shaver is a contributing writer for Window Film magazine.

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