The Sun Stops Here: Mike Burke Finds his Team

Mike Burke’s first car was a 1984 Ford Escort Station Wagon, a four-speed, family-hauler that puffed black smoke at the onset of second gear. The 16-year old creative leaned into stenciling, drawing and airbrush work during his high school years—and it’s a good thing, too. He channeled the imaginative side of his brain to shield his wagon from the world.

Mike Burke didn’t limo-tint his 1984 Ford Escort Station Wagon for style—he did it for privacy.

Do Not Disturb

“I went to Pep Boys and bought a roll of window film,” Burke says. “Under an oak tree at my mom and dad’s house when I was 16 years old, I tinted my Escort Station Wagon with limo tint.”

Burke’s overall goal was privacy, privacy and privacy. But his shaded secret wasn’t kept for long.

“When my friends started dissecting the window tint, they realized there were light-gaps everywhere,” he says. “I went and bought another roll of film and tinted the windows with two layers of limo tint. I made the second pattern bigger to cover up the light gaps of the first one.”

Charlotte, N.C., was home to only one tint shop in 1988. Soon enough, Burke’s desire for solitude transitioned into unexpected dollar signs. He had tinted 50 cars by the time he was 17-18 years old. His schedule was stacked in college, but he still made time for his Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers at Western Carolina University.

“I had a passion for making money, and I had a passion for people where there was a need and I could feel that want,” Burke says. “When somebody has the need and they go, ‘Hey, Mike, I heard you tint windows—can you tint my car?’ I don’t like to disappoint people, and I like it when people need me for something.”

After graduating with a marketing degree, Burke sold cars at Scott Clark Toyota in Matthews, N.C. He sold three cars during his first day, and within a month and a half, he was the number one salesman each month for seven straight months. The gig set his current career’s tone.

“When I showed up to work, I don’t make a dime unless I produce,” Burke says. “Right then and there, I was 21 years old, living at home with my parents, and I had learned one of the most valuable lessons in the world—you’re paid off performance.”

Burke founded Lightning Mike’s with a chip on his shoulder.

The Search

But Burke says he didn’t know himself in 1995. The three-year college graduate had $19,000 in the bank, a Chevrolet pickup truck, a Yamaha VMAX and a desire for more. He founded Innovations Auto Tinting and Detailing in Myrtle Beach, S.C., waiting tables at Quincy’s Family Steakhouse. He returned home a year later with -$300 in his bank account.

“I didn’t know how to manage money; I didn’t know how to manage my time,” Burke says. “I was mad at my father. My father looked at me and said, ‘I didn’t pay for you to go to college to be a window tinter.’ I had a chip on my shoulder down at the beach. I started partying, drinking and not living up to my father’s expectations of what he thought I could be.”

After a brief career in car financing, Burke then founded his mobile tinting initiative—The Tint Man. For three years, he freelanced his way in and out of auto accessory shops in Charlotte. After building his reputation, he opened the doors to Lightning Mike’s Window Tinting. The shop offered wheels, tires and stereos in addition to tinting. But Burke was moving too fast, working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. A heart attack forced him to shelf his industry run.

“I burnt out, and I sold Lightning Mike’s,” he says. “We had our first child and I retired for two years. I built a house, had a baby and started an advertising agency called Pinpoint Advertising. I did websites, T-shirts, branding and [hired] a full-time graphic designer. I went around and did branding and marketing for companies.”

Burke leans on his Sun Stoppers squad for support.

Reenergized
But Lightning Mike’s new owner was struggling to manage the business Burke had sold him and ended up defaulting. Burke rebranded, renovated and re-opened as Sun Stoppers in 2004 after the swift ownership shift. He credits his stint in marketing to 80% of his current-day success.

“While I was traveling around selling advertising, we would meet clients at Caribou Coffee and Starbucks,” he says. “I designed my showroom in Sun Stoppers to be more inviting—nice hardwood floors, furniture and display walls. When I came in as Sun Stoppers, everyone thought I was a national franchise from day one.”

Today, the Sun Stoppers Group has 48 locations and 50-plus employees. Burke’s creation amassed more than $9 million in revenue in 2020. 70% of the group’s work is automotive, with 15% residential and commercial, respectively. Burke’s business reached its full potential when he relinquished absolute control.

“The reason I sold Lightning Mike’s is because I was a control freak,” Burke says. “I was doing everything—the accounting, the payroll, the ordering. I didn’t let my staff do anything because I thought everybody in the world would [mess] it up. I did not delegate any responsibilities.”

Through teamwork, Burke has found more than fiscal success.

“My biggest accomplishment is [helping] people that are broken,” Burke says. “[Some were] delivering pizzas, working as a lot attendant—and through my assistance, help and coaching, have bought a house, a car and make $100,000 a year tinting windows under the brand. I took a kid that was making $15 an hour and now makes $100,000 a year. I’ve done that about a dozen times—taking someone from nothing and turning them into something.”

Marco Cazorla: The Traveling Trainer

Trainer Marco Cazorla spends his work weeks at XPEL’s headquarters and training facility, helping others harness skills he began sharpening in 2004. The building sits on the edge of Sunset Road in San Antonio, Texas, and it’s where tinters learn how to take on the trade. It starts and ends with patiently trusting the process.

Cazorla (right) trained Anthony Magana (left) of Denver Auto Shield in Denver, Colo.

Marco’s Auto Repair

Automobiles served as Cazorla’s second home during childhood. His father worked in auto repair and made sure he and his twin brother contributed to the family business. Repetitive tasks transformed into a career that began in 2004 at Steve’s Professional Glass Tinting & Auto Security in Upland, Calif.

“He would have us clean every single one of his drawers and his toolbox,” Cazorla says. “We would help him clean the shop. It mirrors what I did at Steve’s Glass Tinting when I first installed [film]. We would help with brakes, tires, oil changes and transmission [work]. It seems like my whole childhood is coming back.”

Today, Cazorla leads a five-day introductory course with two fellow trainers. The program begins with theory, tool usage and shrinking methods. The ideal audience knows next to nothing about window film when they arrive.

“In my training, I’m highly critical,” Cazorla says. “I tell [trainees] straight-up—’This is going to be an intense week, [but] we’re going to have fun; I’m not a boring teacher. The one thing I ask is that you do not quit on me because we all signed up to be here right now.’”

Outbound

The course’s onset aims to lay the foundation for what the group will accomplish during their week together. Trainees won’t be removing door panels, but they will learn the importance of two-staging. It’s an initial introduction to the world of window film that Cazorla packs for carry-on.

Cazorla trained the team at Rides Guatemala in Santa Catarina Pinula, Guatemala.

“I [also] go to the customer in their environment,” Cazorla says. “I struggle with what they struggle with, and I adapt to the environment so they can become a better installer. [I] prepare them for their next level of installation abilities.”

Cazorla plans to take tinting techniques to Spain, Morocco and Dubai once COVID subsides. He traveled to Rides Guatemala in Santa Catarina Pinula, Guatemala, in November 2020.

“We were working on Porsches, G-Wagons—all high-end cars,” he says. “I learned that, specifically in Guatemala, the passion for learning this trade is extremely high. Anything I said, they were taking notes. They were more eager. It’s like their life depended on it financially because it did.”

Corrections and Reflections

Cazorla trains 200 people per year on average. He hones in on the details, emphasizing realistic expectations when taking tinters under his wing. “This trade is not something you can learn in one week. You can’t speed up the process with window film; the probability is not there. Someone coming out of training is not going to hit a home run, be at my level or the level of someone who’s been in the industry for more than ten years. That’s why you can’t quit—you have to continue on the path, and you have to keep going.”

Cazorla teaches tinters-to-be, striving to open up careers for those who don’t have one. But his purpose is multi-layered.

“Yes, I know how to do window tinting and paint protection film (PPF),” Cazorla says. “But I enjoy changing peoples’ perspective on this industry, changing their trajectory in life, really getting to know them and building relationships. You don’t know what that [person’s] going through, so you need to approach it from a different angle.”

Gilbert Greatness: Andrew Garcia and Matt Somerville Win Big at WFCT

Nine winners were announced at the conclusion of the 2021 International Window Film Conference and Tint-Off™ (WFCT) this June. Two of the three Paint Protection Film Competition winners spend their work days at Oz Braz in Gilbert, Ariz.

Matt Somerville (left) and Andrew Garcia (right) celebrate their podium finishes at WFCT 2021.

“It’s not the first time we’ve done it,” says bronze medalist Andrew Garcia, owner of Oz Braz. “But it’s always cool, even taking just one home.”

2021 was a repeat of 2017 when the shop had two installers place in the top three of the competition, with Garcia being one of them. Oz Braz’s Matt Somerville earned a silver medal at this year’s competition, continuing the trend of podium finishes for the company.

“This was my second time competing,” Somerville says. “And it was actually kind of cool to be one of the people that comes home with something.”

Somerville placed ahead of his mentor Garcia, but the shop prides itself on friendly competition.

“I’m okay with taking a loss to my guys, and I think that’s what every owner and trainer would want is for their trainee to surpass them,” Garcia says.

Somerville says placing ahead of Garcia is a testament to the company’s training.

“It was mind blowing to me,” Somerville says. “Once we got done with our heat, all 10 finalists were talking to each other and talking about how hard it was. Everyone seemed pretty close together in difficulty and finishing. So it was just kind of mind blowing to me that I actually got second over Andrew.”

The duo plans to compete at WFCT 2022 next September. Stay tuned for event details.