Volume 14, Issue 1- January/February 2010


Forward Thinking
How One Group of Companies is Clearly Focused on Growth Opportunities
By Ellen Rogers

It’s hard enough to run a business when the economy is good, but try running four businesses when the world has seen better days and you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone more devoted to maintaining success than George Lewis.

From his offices in suburban Columbus, Ohio, Lewis operates four businesses: Performance Films Distributing, an exclusive LLumar distributor; Performance Film Group; Performance Tools Distributing; and the newest, Performance Auto Spa.

Through its distribution branch, Performance Films Distributing has contracts with Solutia through 2011 as a LLumar distributor in 12 Midwest states. Working with its LLumar dealers, Performance Film Group is focused on helping sell large, commercial jobs. Performance Tools operates as a national and worldwide distributor selling to dealers; and the two-year old Performance Auto Spa provides consumers, car dealerships and car clubs with detailing, tinting and paint protection services.

“George [Lewis] had a vision to utilize the film products and tool products and he’s always been a car nut,” says Kevin Ryan, manager of the auto spa. Ryan’s son, Bo, manages the Film Group operations.

“Detailing is the auto spa’s primary business; we get the car completely right and then we protect it by adding on the paint protection to protect the outside and window film to protect the inside and the passengers,” adds Lewis.

“We’re continually expanding our base. Films and paint protection are great, detailing is great and all of these things intermingle into other areas, such as companies doing the upholstery work,” says Dick Austin, sales manager for Performance Tools.

While Lewis admits the past couple of years have been challenging for the film industry, he’s still optimistic about what’s in store. From growing and expanding his businesses to diversifying and looking for new opportunities, Lewis has a clear vision of where he wants to see the companies going.

Lessons Learned
“Everyone asks where I got my business degree, and it was from my dad,” says Lewis, who graduated from the University of Florida as a school-teacher. “My dad was a full-fledged entrepreneur who’d buy anything and everything. They called him the guy with the golden touch, because everything he touched turned to gold.”

Though Lewis never was a schoolteacher, that doesn’t mean he’s not an educator. “I feel I teach the world about window film,” says Lewis, who got started in the film industry in 1975 as a 3M dealer. And education, he believes, is critical. Lewis explains that more often than not he and his employees find themselves talking with customers who simply have no idea what they are looking for when it comes to film.

“I’ve seen good dealers put up bad film and I’ve seen bad dealers put up good film bad,” Lewis says. “Film is more labor intense than it is product intense and the problem is most consumers don’t know what film is all about.” He says years ago film manufacturers would advertise their products in a range of magazines from Golf Digest to Good Housekeeping, but no longer do so. “Consumers [are not getting] that same education.”

And right now is the time when education is most important.

“In a recession, the lower cost films are going to get more attention because people don’t care as much because they are just trying to survive; they are just trying to get the car done,” says Lewis. “This whole last 18 to 24 months have been unprecedented.”

Austin agrees.

“So many of the film dealers are trying to survive and are going to lower-price films and doing whatever it takes to survive,” he says. “What it comes down to is education. As the economy tightens up, these are the times you need your sales people to be out there and pushing the product, but so many companies have pulled back and are not out there.”

New Opportunities
The addition of the Auto Spa may be the newest Performance business, but that’s not all that’s new, as Lewis is continually searching for ways to grow the companies. Austin points to the tools business as an example.

“If you looked at the past tool catalogue you’d see they were focused solely on window film tools. It now includes other segments, such as detailing,” says Austin. “We’re expanding all the time as we try and broaden our base.” And along those lines, in late 2009 Performance formed a relationship with Griot’s Garage, a supplier of car care products.

“They [Griot’s] were looking for a new way to get their products to market and so we became one of their first distributors,” says Lewis, adding that Performance featured the Griot’s product line in their booth at November’s SEMA show, which allowed them another way to expand their customer base.

“Right now we have contact with companies in Canada and India to allow them to take over our name in those countries exclusively,” Lewis says, adding that they are also looking to grow the auto spa operations.

“The idea is to get licensees, those who will take on the name of the spa and purchase the products through the auto spa. It’s a great template for continuation for a company that might already de doing [one of the three services],” says Ryan, who adds he’s already looking forward to spring and summer months, as that’s when many car shows and events take place. “I’ve got a calendar of car events for the spring and summer and already have probably half a dozen car clubs booked so they can have their spring meetings here. That’s going to help bring more people in and expose them to our products.” He says as more and more people come in through the doors it also provides an opportunity for further growth. “They see the line of products and that gives us an opportunity to sell the film and the paint protection … word of mouth is the most popular form of marketing,” says Ryan.

What Matters Most
But whether adding a new product line or developing a new business, Lewis says success comes down to his three S’s: sales, service and support. For example, through the Performance Film Group, the company works with dealers to help them sell commercial jobs. Lewis explains that they are providing 100-percent support to help dealers win large-scale projects.

“We’re going to help small dealers as they go to the local vendor, making them look bigger than they are,” says Lewis. “I feel the concept is to be a third party, because when you are working with a dealer on the building, that’s just one entity. But, if you come in as a third party, like a consultant, it has a much greater impact that you’re there supporting that individual.”

“Small dealers don’t necessarily have the image or the money to go after those big jobs,” agrees Austin.

“When I first started in this business the hardest thing was getting that first large building,” says Lewis. “ But if you can help someone sell a job you’re also supporting them to service it. If I can help a LLumar dealer sell a job and he gets it, then he buys through us, we are also helping sell it, which we’ll do through a joint venture, and we’re supporting and servicing to get that end result.”

“Every local dealer sees that big skyscraper in town and believes one day that can be [his territory],” says Austin. “George’s concept is to work with that local guy to help him get the job.”

Beyond Price
Like so many others, the window film industry is struggling through a troubled economy; the market has become even more competitive and the influx of imported products is continuing to grow. It is times such as these where it becomes increasingly important to be able to sell on more than just price.

Lewis says customers look at three elements: the manufacturer/product name; the person who is servicing them; and price.

“Choose two, because you cannot have all three. And the problem is, everyone goes to the low price. We are one of only two independent LLumar distributors that have independent sales reps. Everyone else becomes price sensitive and they are only servicing by the square foot of film, and anyone can sell a square foot of film,” says Lewis.

“Everyone is trying to survive, but price is not the only thing,” says Austin. “I hope people are wise enough to look for the quality and stability and not just the cheapest price.”

“Survival in the next five years is going to be critical,” agrees Lewis. “Our biggest challenge is that our entities—home sales and new car sales are the worse to be hit. The film industry is often viewed as more of a luxury than survival product. So that’s a huge indicator of going greener and showing how film can help save energy and the environment.”

So, after more than 30 years in the film industry, Lewis says he’s learned a lot about the business and attributes much to the lessons from his own life. He says the employees at the Performance companies are not just businesses; they are family.

“You try to be a good person in life because it’s such a short time you’re here,” says Lewis, who gives a lot of credit to living with five women—his wife and four daughters. “I have raised my family and businesses the same and I treat my employees the way I do my family. It’s patience. A lot of people have told me that I’m lucky to have four good kids; I’m also lucky to have four good businesses. The same way you nurture your home is what you do in business. It all goes back to the golden rule: ‘treat people as you want to be treated.’”

Lewis adds, “I’ve heard people say we live in such a video world; if you lose just start the game over. But that’s not the way we grew up—hard work, a lot of hard knocks, tough love. My kids and my employees know exactly where I come from … it’s how you treat the world.”

A Place of Their Own
After sharing space with its parent company for more than ten years, Performance Tools Distributing moved into a space of its own last summer. Since 1994, the tools distributor shared a space with its parent company, Performance Films Distributing, in Dublin, Ohio, but the company has since separated from the film division and relocated to Plain City, Ohio.

Performance Tools new space features 16,000 total square feet, including office space, warehousing, training facilities and an automotive spa that the company launched recently.

“We’re only utilizing roughly 4,000 square feet for tools,” explains Dick Austin, sales manager. “A third of the facility is dedicated to offices; another third is a showroom for Performance Auto Spa; then we have space set up as a classroom as well. Four thousand square feet are dedicated to tools, which leaves a lot of room for paint protection, window film and detailing products, which we just picked up.”

Austin says the company expanded into other areas in recent times, including automotive detailing supplies and custom-made shop cabinetry. Austin is a fairly recent addition himself, as he joined the company in August of 2008 as its new sales manager. He has 31 years of experience in film sales and installations, including owning several tint shops, working as a sales representative for film manufacturers and an independent film distributor, and serving as sales manager for Pentagon Protection USA.

Ellen Rogers is the editor of Window Film magazine.

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