Volume 18, Issue 5 - September/October 2014

feature

On Top in Tint
Dealers on the Rise
by Casey Flores and Tara Taffera


What makes a top dealer? It’s not necessarily just sales. It’s growth, strategy and future potential. Whether the company is 40 years old or just starting out, Window Film Magazine’s second annual Dealers on the Rise features outstanding tint businesses nominated by the nation’s leading manufacturers, influencers and magazine editors. Their stories of success are individual and diverse. What works for one company may not work for another. For example, one on our list says advertising is a must while the other has never spent an ad dime. A few of these top dealers started out working from garages and now they are at the top of their game. All of them have individual secrets to their success which they shared with Window Film Magazine.


Striving for Perfection
Absolute Perfection Window Tinting
Sykesville, Md.
Years in business: 12
Employees: 17 full time,
5 subcontractors
Markets served: Commercial,
residential, auto
Window film brands sold: Eastman (80 percent) and CorrectSpec (decorative)
2013 sales: $1.2 million
2014 projected sales: $2.1 million.

At Absolute Perfection Window Tinting in Sykesville, Md., the name perfectly conveys the company’s work ethic, and that work ethic is propelling the film dealer toward doubling its sales in less than a year. Owner Bill Valway succinctly sums it up,

“Half-ass isn’t in anyone’s vocabulary here. It’s about putting out the best possible product each time.”
Valway says marketing is a huge contributor to the company’s growth. “It is ingrained in our culture,” he says. “Everything we do, we promote.”

When Valway witnessed the growth in online marketing, he hired an employee to do digital marketing and manage SEO, pay per click, video, etc. The company now has a full-service digital division, and one of its tasks is producing and promoting high quality videos.

“By adding these videos to our website … consumers see that we worked on jobs such as Dulles Airport, we have almost instant credibility. That’s why we continue to do that and the video has been a huge part of our growth,” he says.
Valway believes strongly in this industry, and that those coming into it can be successful.

“This is a good viable career that can be very lucrative. It takes a level of sophistication that is just not the guy out of his garage.”

Valway started out of his parents’ garage when he was 18.

“From those humble beginnings to now it is awesome to see how we have evolved,” he says. “When I started, I was doing cars and now we have 25 people, including subs, and a full-service auto division, as well as a large residential, commercial and vehicle wrap divisions.”

Valway, however, credits those around him as contributing to his successes.

“I surround myself with people who complement my weaknesses,” he says. “Now I have this strong team of people who are invested in the company and treat it like it is their own. I believe in autonomy—I don’t micromanage, and I allow others to make decisions.”

As for that company moniker, is it really all about perfection?

“I remember sitting there for two weeks asking, ‘What am I going to call my company?’ I thought of Absolute Perfection then wondered if I really wanted to do that. It’s not necessarily about every single thing you do it’s about standing behind your work and making sure every experience is of the highest possible quality—if there is an issue we will stand behind it. If we are going to do it, we are going to do it to the best of our ability. If you can’t say that then take it off and redo it.” —TT



A Household Name
T and T Tinting
Honolulu, Hawaii
Years in business: 32
Employees: 30
Locations: 2
Markets served: Auto, residential, commercial, paint protection (plus a graphics division)
Window film brands sold: Eastman, Vista (Eastman and Vista comprise majority), Llumar and CorrectSpec
2013 sales: $2,860,000
2014 projected sales: $3,200,000

T and T Tinting is a household name in Honolulu, but that recognition has nothing to do with luck. It has a whole lot to do with a commitment to advertising and marketing.

“It is true that everyone who comes here knows me,” says owner Tommy Silva. “It’s because from day one I invested in marketing. I have never done a month of TV here or a month of radio there. This year we are spending 8-10 percent on advertising. We have always spent money.”

“It’s not cheap,” he adds. “It’s not easy and sometimes you want to pull back and say everyone knows us, but we commit to it and keep doing it. Why change something that is working so well?”

Although T and T Tinting may be a household name, that doesn’t mean there isn’t competition.

“There are a lot of great tinters here, many of whom used to work for me,” jokes Silva. “I probably trained three-fourths of them.”

And there is plenty of work to go around. “We have so many vehicles here,” he says. “We are to the point where we are tinting 500 cars a month but really it is still hard to find a car with tint on it. It seems three out of four cars have clear glass.”
The company’s sales are a pretty even mix of auto and flat glass film.

In fact, it recently landed the contract to install Vista Window Film on the two towers of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Hotel & Spa—the largest hotel in Waikiki, says Silva.

This contract was 20 years in the making. “But we now have the job and the Hyatt’s owners will be reaping the benefits of Vista’s energy savings and reduced interior fading for decades to come,” says Silva.

“What sold it this time was the fact that they have new owners again and are spending $300 million to renovate both towers,” he adds. “Now they have a big influx of money and want to protect the new soft goods, carpeting, etc.”

With a job that size, or even with smaller jobs, Silva works to protect the company’s reputation that he worked so hard to build.

“We don’t allow new people to go into someone’s home,” he says. “They have to be with us a few years until they are allowed to represent us.”

Employees at the company tend to stick around: Silva has 32 years’ experience and has three additional employees with 28-, 27- and 24- years of experience each.

“Add in the rest of the management team and staff and we jump to 245 years of combined knowledge,” says Silva.
Like another window film company owner, Bill Valway of Absolute Perfection (see page 34), Silva sees this as a strong and viable career.

“Our newer guys see this is not just a fad. It’s not a stepping stone: this can literally be a career. These people are buying homes, living in Hawaii, sending their kids to private school. It’s not just a job for a little while.” —TT

Keeping it Legal

When asked the one piece of advice he would impart to an up-and-coming tinter, Silva says, “Don’t do illegal work.”

“We have tinted 25,000 cars and never tinted one illegally,” he adds. “We feel comfortable that it is not going to come back to bite us. If an accident happens they sue the driver—and the tinter.”

That doesn’t mean the temptation isn’t there. “Every day at both locations I get requests for five percent film. We have a law. It is being enforced but everyone has a friend who is doing it so they are getting illegal safety checks. We turn them down every single day.”

Silva says he and his employees try to explain the benefits of the newer films and that when going to five percent the consumer is risking liability, danger and fines.

“They go down the road and get it installed,” he says. “If you are getting into this [business], pick the legal path.”


Incubating Quality Installers
ClimatePro
San Francisco, Calif.
Number of Locations: 2
Number of Employees: 12
Markets served: Residential and commercial
Window film brands sold: 3M
2013 sales: $1.7 million
2014 projected sales: $2.1 million
 
Jeremy Dobbins, operations manager of ClimatePro in Encinitas, Calif., says the key to being “On Top in Tint” is keeping his installers happy.

“They’re the most important part of our business … It’s not like doing construction where I can make a few phone calls and [find some] good carpenters anywhere. It’s not easy to get a good window tinter.”

Dobbins explains that it’s a challenge at which ClimatePro has excelled.

“Most of our installers [have been] with us 10-20 years [so we have] a good core group,” he says.

Dobbins says his business operations run smoothly because his company’s systems and processes are clearly defined and understood by all.

“[It’s] really what we’re about. We have systems for our jobs whether it’s one window or [an entire] building. Our team knows how we’re going to handle [each] project. There’s an underlying process for everything. Really, it comes down to
teamwork. Everybody knows their part,” he says.

He also attributes the company’s success to working with a quality distributor.

“The company has always been a big boost for us throughout the years. They’ve just been a great partner … being loyal to one brand has really paid dividends. Their product has opened up a lot of doors and allowed us to work with some great clients … I think that’s had a big effect. [And] to be honest, the 3M name just gives us some authority.”

Dobbins explains that while he may not submit the lowest bids for projects, companies will hire him anyway because of the way ClimatePro handles itself.

“I can think of one situation where we just were honest with [a company] and we told them window film wasn’t going to work for that building. That really impressed [them] and led to a much greater relationship down the road. We still do business with them to this day.”

Though ClimatePro didn’t install for that particular job, other big ones have come through.

“We did the Embarcadero Center —four big buildings in downtown San Francisco … At the time that was the largest project we’d ever done. It was kind of a wake-up call.”

He says that while big jobs are great, smaller tint shops have to ease their way into them.

“I wouldn’t recommend anybody just saying ‘Yes.’ You grow into it,” he says.

He says that handling that much material and installation costs could bring a company down.

“You can’t just jump into that. I’ve seen that happen a lot.”

And when a tint shop takes on a big job it’s not ready to handle, it hurts the entire industry.

“[When tint shops get] in over its head, that could [be to our industry’s] detriment. If you’re just one guy working out of your garage and you’re trying to take on a skyscraper, that could be dangerous to for yourself and also your client. You don’t want [window film] technology to be associated with bad jobs.”

ClimatePro also invests heavily in marketing.

“We’re very heavy on Internet advertising, constantly trying to improve our website and trying new advertising methods that are coming out … we hired someone to blog for us to help with marketing,” Dobbins says. —CF

Won’t Take No
for an Answer

Advanced Window Solutions
Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.
Years in business: 14
Employees: 5
Markets served:
Commercial and
residential
Window film brands sold: Llumar,Vista and CorrectSpec (decorative)
2013 sales: $925,000
2014 projected sales: $1.3 million

Partnering with energy service companies (ESCOs) has put Advanced Window Solutions (AWS) of Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., on the map. Owner Marc Vitaliani says approximately 85 percent of AWS’s business comes from this sector and that connections at these companies are not the easiest connections to make.

“We just kept knocking on the doors. If you knock on enough doors, eventually somebody opens one … [Like people who] have children. If you tell your kids ‘no,’ they just keep asking. They don’t hear ‘no;’ and that’s what you have to do. Keep pestering them until they give you a shot,” Vitaliani says. “We pitched [using window film to save on energy bills] to them and it took a while. When they gave us a shot [after two years], we finally did a project. Over time we became preferred partners.
It’s just the relationship that evolves between companies.”

At first, these companies provided AWS with jobs that were much larger than what the company was used to.

“We were small and we really leaped into the deep end. We pulled it off [but] it was very overwhelming,” he says.
But completing a big job with an ESCO was the jolt the company needed.

“We started to do some bigger commercial jobs and it’s like a snowball. You start picking up referrals that can refer you to bigger projects and now we typically do projects anywhere from 10,000 to [130,000] square feet,” Vitaliani says.

All these jobs come from an atypical business model. AWS doesn’t spend a dollar on advertising as most of the company’s leads come from the ESCOs, that book the work for them.

“We actually have projects that are booked out two years [in advance]. We’re booked this year, next year and we are booking into early 2016,” Vitaliani says. His job is maintain the relationships.

Since many ESCOs have large networks, the company doesn’t work close to home very often. “We typically drive at least an hour a day each way … We average anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 square feet every day so for us it’s worth it to have a van out there [driving] a couple of hours [which equates to] about 250,000 to 300,000 square feet of film a year,” he explains.

Those are impressive numbers to post in New York, a state that Chief Executive Magazine calls the second worst for business.

“[Taxes and the cold winters] are choking us here … We have to offset [them by installing] more square footage of window film,” he says.

Vitaliani has some advice for smaller tint companies that want to grow.

“People need to step back, hire people to [install film] and then go out and get the jobs. And they’re going to take a pay cut for a year, two years, possibly more. Then, as the business builds, all they’ll be doing is selling while they have installation crews out there handling it,” he says.

Though he realizes selling isn’t everyone’s strongpoint. He says, “for [more introverted business owners], if [they’re] a better installer, hire somebody to sell. They need to hire people who complement their weaknesses.”

Vitaliani has one more place where he feels like tint shops are limiting their growth potential.

“I really think the biggest weight that holds most dealers back is that they’re afraid of big projects and to they’re afraid to ask to get paid. They want to give it away and they’re afraid to ask for what it’s worth. If you’re a good window tinter and you have a good product, you’re worth a certain amount, you don’t have to give it away. So many people will walk in and give a discount before the giving the customer a chance to say yes.” —CF



Portland’s Finest
Film Shop

Pacific Window Tinting
Portland, Ore.
Years in business: 16
Employees: 7 FT and PT
Markets served: Residential,
commercial
Window film brands sold:
Solar Gard
2013 sales: $900,000
2014 projected sales: $1.3 million

Pacific Window Tinting in Portland, Ore. has almost doubled its sales since 2012. Company vice president Jason Gray says in order to post such numbers, he goes out of his way to get in front of the competition and build brand awareness.

“I did a lunch-and-learn today and had 45 architects at it. We promote spec-heavy and we get our face out in front of people. We don’t sit and wait for the phone to ring, we try to go get [business] … we’ve built relationships [so] it’s a lot of repeat business and a lot of good people to work with … Our [employees] are quality ... They know what our expectations are and I hold them to it. From the top down, everybody knows what’s going on. We have a good team.”

Boasting your tint shop as the city’s “most respected window tinting service” is a bold move to make. But Pacific does just that.

“We’re a family business so our reputation is held to what it is … we are Oregon’s largest and most respected window tinting company … we still hold true to that and I hold my guys true to that … [We go by] the age-old theory: When somebody says ‘window tinting,’ in Portland, I want them to think of Pacific Window Tinting,” says Gray.

Now a top dealer, the company was started by what he calls “a fluke.”

“My brother-in-law owned an auto glass shop and [Solar Gard] came to the shop and asked them if they wanted to start window tinting … he [then] had a falling out with his [business] partner and when he did that, that’s how we started up the window tinting company.”

Recently, the company has performed installed film for some noteworthy organizations.

“We did the University of Oregon Casanova center for football,” Gray says, which involved installing the graphics throughout the complex. A recent Sports Illustrated magazine cover on which the university was featured now takes up the facility’s weight room wall.

The company has achieved all it has mostly without venturing into the world of automotive tinting.

“[We did it] for a very short period of time … It’s not our niche. Somebody will [tint a car] down the road for five dollars cheaper. I just got sick of it … we just wanted to focus heavily on flat glass.” —CF



UP AND COMING: Southern Success
SouthernStylez Tinting
Wilmington, N.C.
Years in business: 2
Employees: 1
Markets served: Auto
Window film brands sold: Maxpro, Huber Optic
2013 sales: $30,000
2014 projected sales: $45,000

While not quite big enough to be an official top dealer (yet), up-and-comer Ethan Waller is determined to make his business stand out through excellent customer service.

“Tinting is one of those things that people don’t really expect good customer service and when you give it to them—you answer their calls and texts, you sit there and you spend 20 minutes talking with them outside— they actually realize you actually care about your job and you care about them,” says Waller.

And it seems to be working. In just his second year of business, he was nominated as a top dealer by Maxpro.

“[Waller] went on his own a few years ago and thinks outside the box and has become a preferred installation company in Wilmington.  Ethan has customers come as far as two hours away due to his reputation,” says Elizabeth Dillon, vice president of sales and marketing at Maxpro. Because of this, the company is sponsoring Waller as an automotive tinter at the 2014 International Window Film Conference and Tint-OffTM held October 7-9 in Baltimore.

It also helps that Waller shares a shop with his brother, who does automotive repair.

“My brother has owned his own automotive shop for several years now. When the opportunity arose for me to go out on my own, it seemed like the perfect idea to pair up the two shops, and it was. The business relationship and strategy are perfect. [We] feed off of each other’s customers and pride ourselves on offering each customer a full automotive experience. By splitting overhead costs, it has allowed us to expand greatly over the past two years in ways that [we would not have been able to] alone.

He also doesn’t invest in advertising.

“We simply use social networking sites and other free forms of advertisement to get our name out there as well as word-of-mouth by customers … We feel strongly [about] taking care of customers and pride ourselves [on being] able to run a fully-functioning business without any typical business strategies or paid advertisement,” he says.

Waller and his brother started in a 750 square foot shop, quickly moved to 2,200 square foot shop and have now upgraded to a shop that is 4,400 square feet.

Waller started tinting with one of our other top dealers, Absolute Perfection Window Tinting & Graphics (see page 34).

He says Bill Valway was definitely a major player in his development as a tint professional. Absolute Perfection expected much of him, which inspired him to produce quality work.

Waller then left Maryland for North Carolina to be closer to family and has since opened his own shop, SouthernStylez Tinting in Wilmington, though he has not forgotten what he learned at his previous film job.

“I would like to be just like them, honestly, because I learned so much from them and saw their business grow so significantly in such a short amount of time, they’re kind of my inspiration in how I run my business.”

Waller’s success doesn’t surprise Valway either.

“I kept telling [his boss], you better get a non-compete, he’s going to go out on his own … and a few years later he’s out on his own … he’s a good guy,” says Valway.

Though for now Waller only has one employee (himself), he doesn’t see that lasting long.

“I see me having installers in the future,” he says, but doesn’t want to get so big to where he would not be a part of the installations. “I care about quality so much that I [would] definitely want to be around,” he says.

For those aspiring to be On Top in Tint, Waller says, “If you want it, all you gotta do is go get it. Just keep trying.”

WF

Casey Flores is the assistant editor and Tara Taffera is the editorial director of Window Film Magazine. They may be reached at cflores@glass.com or ttaffera@glass.com.



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