It’s a scene straight from a horror movie. Invoices, film cores, worn squeegees, unread emails, and a crammed calendar surround your field of vision. You’re a business owner, and it’s time to bail. What’s your exit plan?
Where’s the Off-Ramp?
“I would love to get a key player on the team that I groom for management and to take over eventually,” says Brad LaCross of Legendary Auto Salon in Queensbury, N.Y. “But if that situation never arises, the next option would be building the business to be appealing in structure and [employee] numbers for acquisition.”
Tyler O’Hara of Newbury Park, Calif.’s, American Wrap Company entered the industry 14 years ago at 17 years old. The owner found continued success at the International Window Film Conference and Tint-Off™ (WFCT), winning gold in the Paint Protection Film (PPF) Competition in 2016 and 2018. His successes drummed up dominance, but the champion also leans on his squad.
“Everyone wants to deal with just me,” O’Hara says of his WFCT winnings. “I’m focusing on branding the team. Customers will realize I lead it; I may not be the one doing the work, but the work is always done to my standards.”
Zac Leroy signed a 10-year building lease at the end of 2019. The 18-year veteran owns Tri-State Elite Window Tint in Wexford, Pa., and told his wife, “That’s the last lease I’m signing,” during the transaction. “I was working 120 hours a week, and my youngest child will be 18 at the end of the lease. Me and my wife will be in a position where we can walk away,” he adds.
Leroy tried his hand at the Pennsylvania Lottery on September 17, 2020, snagging $3 million from a scratch-off ticket. He invested the after-tax total of $1.8 million into his retirement efforts, which project him signing out of the industry in November 2029.
Strategizing Today, Selling Tomorrow
LaCross has owned his business since 2018 and manages three team members. PPF generates 60% of sales, with ceramic coatings, paint corrections, and window tint comprising the remaining transactions. “I designed my shop where we have a window that you can look into and see work performed on your vehicle,” he adds. “We want it to be experience-based for the client first, so we’re not seen as a commodity.”
O’Hara aims to upgrade from his 2,200 square-foot location, adding value to a potential sale in the future. The current site allows his team to work on four vehicles simultaneously but he desires more expansive space; specifically, a 5,500 to 6,500 square-foot headquarters for purchase.
“I’m looking to streamline efficiency and break my team into individual [units],” O’Hara explains. “The PPF installers will only apply PPF—they won’t have to worry about prepping cars or cutting kits. They’ll be handed the kit, a cleaned and prepped car, and go. I want to set it up like an assembly line to maximize efficiency with as few employees as possible.”
On the Horizon
LaCross, O’Hara, and Leroy’s roadmaps are detailed, but many owners are at the starting line. Leroy says newcomers can take steps to ensure financial freedom down the road.
“You need to start looking long-term,” Leroy says. “Especially in today’s market—the car shortages, demand, and supply issues. I’ve been there. Years ago, you made money, and you went out and spent it. Start putting money away and getting out of debt.”
O’Hara says he wishes someone would have warned him how challenging business ownership would be. But the owner of four years echoes the importance of driving away from excessive expenses, not towards them.
“Don’t incur a lot of debt,” says O’Hara. “I didn’t learn with Kranzle pressure washers. I started with a Home Depot pressure washer and a 2½ gallon Husky air compressor. Scale everything a little at a time. Prove you can make this work before you scale up everything.”
LaCross says it’s vital for newcomers to center their scaling efforts with a customer-centric rather than a competitor-centric focus.
“There’s a reason your client is there,” says LaCross, who aims to ramp up the tinting portion of his business. “Understanding and listening to them will give you a clearer path to where you need to head.”