Volume 13, Issue 5 - September/October 2009

Now More Than Ever:
Image Matters
by Drew Vass

We all do it. Often it’s done unconsciously, but we all make judgment calls based on impressions. And while you might not allow these decisions to dictate whom you befriend or sit next to on the subway, business is another matter. No one wants to hand his hard-earned cash over to a business that looks like it’s just passing through.

“I think [image] is of the utmost importance,” explains Dick Austin of Performance Tools Distributing in Dublin, Ohio.

“I guess there are exceptions to every rule, and there are people who have no problem dropping their car off with someone who’s operating out of a hole-in-the-wall shop; but that’s probably based on the fact that he’s been there for ten years and people know and trust him. In general, I think the nicer the shop—the more at ease people are leaving their vehicles.”

Austin also says a “hole-in-the-wall” doesn’t demonstrate a commitment to one particular location or business. He says the more a dealer invests in his shop, the more likely he is to be around in ten years, which is something any customer picks up on—consciously or unconsciously.

Like it or not—image matters. And no industry should understand this better, perhaps, than the window film industry. Once a person has witnessed purple, bubbly film, it can be very difficult to convince them that all film doesn’t look like this. And anyone who has worked or lived in a building plagued by old, dingy window film will prove a difficult if not impossible sale.

It’s true that there are a fair number of dealers who can make a good living working right out of their trunk, or perhaps a tent. But those that want to graduate to the industry’s most lucrative markets will likely need to upgrade. No one understands this better than Chris Brooks, of Kauff’s Tint in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

“I had roll-down, clear sides on an awning and that’s where I started,” Brooks explains. The operation was attached to the back of a local carwash, where Brooks says he made a good living at the time, frantically tinting any and everything he could. That was then. Now, Brook’s front office looks like something out of Caesar’s Palace. Brooks’ skills as a tinter have remained the same—top notch. In fact, he was the second-place winner of the International Window Film Tint-Off™ in 2008.

A Change of Heart
“Twenty years ago, I was a window tinter with long straggly hair and a couple of earrings,” Brooks says, who now sports a close cut and business casual attire. For the new Chris Brooks, “Image is Everything.” In fact, it’s his company’s slogan.

“Before, I didn’t really look at image,” he explains. “I could care less what I looked like and would show up just like the average window tinter would. I’d do my job, be all dirty and go home at the end of the day.”

How has the new “image first” strategy worked out? Where he once used to pounce on every customer rolling out of that carwash, he now picks and chooses. “Now, I try to go slow and I pick and choose the cars I want to do,” he says.

Brooks says he understands that any dealer who continues to install film (personally) can’t exactly do so in a white collared shirt and tie; but that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to show up with tattered jeans and an old worn out t-shirt. “When someone walks up to you, it’s that first appearance that matters,” Brooks says. “And they’re going to say, ‘There’s no way I’m leaving my car in this shop.’ Then they walk off and they leave.” Which is not the case with Kauff’s. “Ninety percent of customers who enter our shop do not leave,” Brooks estimates.

Austin concurs. And he says he has discovered that the nicer the shop, the sweeter the customers. Recently, his company decided to push this concept to its utmost by designing a high-end automotive boutique.

“I think appearance breeds confidence,” Austin explains. He says, since the redesign, luxury car owners have been coming out of the woodwork.

“When I was told about this idea, I thought ‘Yeah right,’” he says. “I mean, I thought that dressing the place up was a good idea, but I never dreamed that it would attract so many high-end vehicles. I thought that it might happen occasionally, but apparently there are so many high-end car owners out there just waiting and looking for a place they feel comfortable with and can trust.”

And Austin says the shop must come first.

If You Build It, They Will Come
“It’s kind of a self-perpetuating problem,” Austin explains. “If you don’t have the fancy shop, they’re not going to show up,” he says of his high-end customers. “It’s sort of a ‘if you build it, they will come’ situation. And it has certainly worked for us.”

The same has held true for Cedro Rodriguez. Rodriguez is the owner of A Different Shade, a Kennewick, Wash.-based window film dealership. Last fall, he and his wife Tiffany were planning an overhaul for their tint shop when the two stumbled across Bekaert Specialty Films’ booth at the SEMA Show. The company assembled what it labels the “Ultimate Tint Shop” as an example of its retrofitting program offered to Solar Gard dealers. Parked inside this bright and shining display was an approximately $250,000 Aston Martin—a hint of what might roll in following a makeover of this type.

“I knew that we needed to update our image,” Rodriguez says. “We really hadn’t done anything to make our shop standout and to set ourselves apart from the competition, aside from being great installers.” When he and his wife Tiffany saw the Ultimate Tint Shop, Rodriguez says they were star struck. “I saw it and said, ‘Boy, that would be great to win,’” he says. But whether the drawing fell in their favor or not, he says a makeover was inevitable.

Bekaert collected entries each day and held a drawing after the show. Rodriguez was the lucky winner, and he says the resulting makeover has made a huge impact on his business.

Brooks, Rodriguez and Austin all agree that window film dealers may have to put up a little extra effort in the image category, when compared to other industries. They believe the industry has something to prove.

Bad Wrap
“I think, in the window tinting industry especially, there is somewhat of a stigma with the general population,” Rodriguez explains. “An unrespectable percentage of the population desires this product. People come in and first impressions are everything.” He says shoppers might drop in for an initial quote, but they’re not going to return if you don’t make them feel comfortable. Brooks and Rodriguez agree that their high-end appearances not only draw customers in, but keep them coming back. “Since having the ultimate makeover, there are very few customers, maybe I can count them on one hand, who have not come back in,” Rodriguez says. “When they see what our shop looks like—the cleanliness and organization, and a showroom that allows us to demonstrate the product—they are very impressed. We are not the most inexpensive shop in town, in fact I think we’re probably the most expensive, but they see the image that we’re projecting.”

Kathryn Giblin, vice president, global marketing for Bekaert Specialty Films, is one of the masterminds behind the company’s ultimate tint shop concept. She says the success surrounding Rodriguez’ makeover helps prove a point pertaining to image.

“As our Solar Gard Ultimate Tint Shop Makeover winners, Cedro and Tiffany will attest—business has grown and their new look has enabled them to close approximately 95 percent of the business that walks into their shop,” Giblin says. “This is because customers experience a retail environment that exudes professionalism.” And Giblin agrees with Austin, an ultimate tint shop doesn’t mean the installer is any better than the rest; but the installer who gives a bad first impression may never have the chance to prove his skill.

“Even when another window film installer quoted lower prices, Cedro and Tiffany won the business,” Giblin explains. “This is because customers felt more confident in their installation abilities due to the appearance of their shop.”

But she is quick to point out that a salon-like appearance isn’t everything. In fact, she says that a professional image stems more from the individual than from bricks and mortar, leather and paint schemes.

“There is a gentleman who operates out of the parking lot of a shopping mall [in San Diego],” she says. “He has three or four covered parking spaces, right outside of a Nordstrom’s, and it’s beautifully clean.” The unnamed dealer is taking a similar approach to that which Brooks used when he initially started out. “He used to offer just car washing,” Giblin explains, “but now he offers Solar Gard window film. He has a beautiful banner and all of his employees are smartly dressed. I’ll tell you what—I’d leave my car with him. And he’s always busy when I go by there.”

Giblin feels that consumers are more discriminating when it comes to spending their money these days.

“Today we’re facing a new customer, and one who wants to visit someone who’s professional and can discuss the value of what they’re investing in,” she explains. “Today’s consumers are asking, ‘If I’m going to spend this money, what sort of value am I going to get from it?’ No one has any money to throw away anymore. People are being much more careful about how they’re spending.”

Rodriguez agrees. And he says window film dealers can no longer get by on offering the lowest price.

“I would say to other shop owners around the country, you really need to consider your viability in the market place,” he says.
“If that’s what it’s going to take—investing into the image surrounding their businesses—then that might be what it takes. People are very careful with their money these days. They want to do business with places they feel will be there several years down the line.”

“I think, in the window tinting industry especially, there is somewhat of a stigma
with the general population … People come in and first impressions are everything.”

—Cedro Rodriguez, owner of
A Different Shade in Kennewick, Wash.

Who’s Who?
But Bekaert’s “Ultimate Tint Shop” raises an important question pertaining to image and branding. While it includes everything from predesigned paint schemes and layouts, to product displays and sales tools—all are branded with the company’s name and logo. CPFilms holds similar offerings for its LLumar FormulaOne dealers. This raises the question: When dealers are redesigning their shops, what comes first—the name of their manufacturer and supplier, or that of their own company? While many feel comfortable drawing on the nationally recognized brand names associated with various manufacturers, not all agree on this approach. Jeff Gluchowski, owner of Action Window Tinting in Fredericksburg, Va., says that dealers need to remember their own brand name in the process.

“Just over the past couple of years, I’ve realized the benefits and importance of [self branding],” Gluchowski explains. “When we first opened, I typically wore shirts provided by whatever window film supplier we used. I didn’t even think much about our company or logo, and our own shirts.” Gluchowski’s business also has undergone a makeover in recent years. These days, Action’s logo appears on everything from its vehicles, to collared shirts, baseball caps and belt buckles. “We’ve done so much to get [CPFilms’] Vista name, and we’re proud of it, and the shirts are nice, but we work so hard at our [own] shop,” Gluchowski says. “We want to push our name out there and be proud of us. I’d like for when people simply see ‘Action,’ for them to know that it means Action Window Tinting. And there are a lot of ‘Actions’ out there, but we have designed our logo and our ‘A’ especially to look different.”

Gluchowski wouldn’t have a difficult time convincing Brooks of this matter. But he would have a difficult time competing with him in this department. There are few angles from which you can view Palm Beach, Fla., without seeing a Kauff’s logo or sign. The company has branded every inch of its vehicles, including trailers, rv’s, four wheelers, pickup trucks, radio-controlled vehicles and boats to name merely a few. And every inch means every inch.

“The entire roof is done too,” Brooks says pointing to his primary vehicle. This might seem a little excessive, but not from where he’s standing. Palm Beach has a lot of high-rise buildings. If those potential customers can’t look down from their balconies and see the Kauff’s brand name, Brooks says that’s a piece of the pie that’s missing from his company’s image. WF

Drew Vass is the editor of Window Film magazine.

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