Precut PPF’s Evolution
By Mike Burke
I ran into a competitor of mine at the International Window Film Conference and Tint-Off™ in Virginia Beach a couple weeks ago. This guy came from the body shop industry before he got into paint protection film (PPF), so he was very good at taking cars apart. He’d take off fenders, door handles, take the lights out and built up a good following several years ago making YouTube and Facebook videos bragging about his craft and telling everyone that this was the proper way to install PPF.
Know Your Product
It drove me a little crazy at the time because these videos were feeding some of the we were misperceptions we were already dealing with from the vinyl wrap industry in which the materials are much thinner than PPF and customers are used to all the edges being wrapped. So they would come in asking for every edge to be wrapped and we would educate them on why this material isn’t meant to do that. Then here comes a guy all over social media who’s new to the industry saying “Yes you can—and should— wrap every edge!”
The problem is that unlike vinyl, PPF objectively isn’t meant to be installed this way. First, it’s intended as a sacrificial layer. It’s not indestructible—PPF just takes the abuse instead of your paint, so eventually the film will sustain enough damage that you’re going to want to peel it off and replace it. Do you want to have to disassemble the car again every time you get a rock chip and have to replace one panel? Also because of the thickness and self-healing properties, when the film is wrapped with too much tension or around edges that shouldn’t be wrapped, those edges come loose every six months. This brings the customer back to the shop asking us to trim something and ever more suspicion that the longevity of the material isn’t what was advertised. In reality, the “perfect, artistic” install was incorrect.
Back to Basics
So it was awesome to run into this guy a could weeks ago. He came up to me, gave me a hug, and told me that he’s stopped disassembling cars for installation. He now does it the way we and the way most shops across the country do. It wasn’t profitable for him to take four times as long to do a car. (Also, we were banging them out so much faster that we could afford to charge far less and he was losing business to us).
A Fitting Pattern
I think this can show how the PPF industry has evolved and how the supply side is finally catching up to customer expectations. Years ago, computer cut patterns were awful and didn’t fit, giving rise to a lot of shops bulking to have a better end-product. My competitor mentioned above took that to an extreme, but he wasn’t completely in left field. Over the past several
years, patterns have gotten a lot better and the software has improved to where you can now extend certain edges and modify the patterns to suit your style, so bulking is becoming less necessary.
Having a team of people putting on pre-cut patterns is the way to maximize profits in this business. After watching the marketing, manufacturing, sales and installation tactics for this product change over the past 15+ years, it’s really cool to see it come full circle.
Mike Burke has worked in the window film industry for 33 years and is a 2023 inductee into the Window Film Hall of Fame™. His company, Sun Stoppers, has more than 71 locations in 28 states and offers residential and commercial tint and decorative film services as well as automotive tint, paint protection and ceramic coatings. If you have a question for Burke to tackle in a future column, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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