National Small Business Week: Owners Share Struggles and Successes

National Small Business Week celebrates American entrepreneurs’ economic contributions. Speed bumps may compose the road to a successful startup, but Tim Ham, owner of Felony Film in Atlanta, Ga., trusted the process. The installer’s record includes 10 felonies inspiring his company’s name.

Tim Ham is all smiles in 2022.

“I started two pawn shops and got into trouble buying a stolen truckload of items that handed me two years in prison and nine felonies,” Ham says. “I also ran a marijuana business for four years. It ended after I was pulled over with 85 pounds of marijuana, which got me another felony and two years of probation.”

Ham was homeless for two years during childhood, dropping out of high school in 9th grade. Ham, whose Instagram handle is “homeless_loser,” uses his past as fuel and embraces the struggle. He founded Felony Film in 2018, which amassed more than $2 million in sales in 2021 and now has four installers.

Felony Film recently applied ceramic coating and PPF to Atlanta rapper Future’s Porsche 911 GT3.

“If I could change anything in my past, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” says Ham, whose business is powered primarily by paint protection film (PPF). “If I were to go back and alter history, what If I were to tell myself I’m going to be successful? But then I go about it the wrong way and keep doing the pawn business versus the PPF business?”

Ham attributes his company’s rise to how he treats employees. He pays team members per car at a high rate, giving “staff members incentive to do 10 cars a day because they will make more money.”

“I’ve failed so many times—it’s about getting back up,” Ham adds. “Maybe you had a bad install or review. Work on your quality, even if it takes you all day. Work on your quality first and get your name out there.”

Running a small business is no easy feat. What are the common motivators, and how do owners maintain their flame for film? Mike Leffler began tinting at 15, admiring how the product transformed cars. Today, current gas prices and material costs compound Leffler’s operations.

“It’s been harder than I thought,” says Leffler, who opened Mike’s Mobile Tint of Shelbyville, Ind., in September 2000. “I just wanted to install film—I didn’t realize how much it takes on the business side.”

Wayne Phillips opened Fade To Black of Marshfield, Wis., in 2017, but he’s installed film since 1994. Phillips wears all of his company’s hats daily, which can be trying. He’s the installer, scheduler, marketer and bookkeeper, but memorable customer interactions make long days worthwhile. “It’s rewarding helping people with something they want,” he says. “Seeing people happy is a great feeling.”

Mike Leffler’s passion for cars inspired him to enter the industry.

The scene is similar at Barry’s Tint Shop in Hammond, La., where owner Barry Duhe rarely has time for reflection. “The misconception is that you clock in and out like you work for someone else,” says Duhe, who entered the industry in 1986 and founded his current company in 2007. “In reality, you have hours of administrative work to complete after shop work is done.”

The journey, not the destination, keeps owner-operators pushing forward alongside palpable pressure. As Leffler reflects on 37 years in the industry, he peers back at his solutions’ continuous impact.

“It feels great to drive by buildings and homes and say, ‘I did that 20 years ago,’” Leffler says.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has celebrated the National Small Business Week for more than 50 years. Click here for more information.

Start Your Engines: XPEL Sets the Stage at Texas Motor Speedway

Texas Motor Speedway features 20 degrees of banking in turns one and two and 24 degrees of banking in turns three and four. The grounds were home to the XPEL 375, a 248 lap, 372.8 mile Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) IndyCar Series race held from March 19 to 20. David Chukhman, president at Tritek Window Tinting in Garland, Texas, kicked off the race by proudly waving the green flag.

Chukhman kicked off the event.

“It was quite the experience to watch the cars go by at 200-plus miles per hour [MPH] right above the race track,” says Chukhman, an authorized XPEL installer. “It was also nerve-wracking because it could be catastrophic if you drop the flag on the track. Plus—I’m on live TV.”

Texas Motor Speedway was repaved and redesigned in 2017 and has produced memorable moments since the series’ inaugural race in 1997. Circuit of the Americas rests 222 miles from the track and played host to XPEL 225, a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on March 26. Protective film and coatings provider XPEL is revving its engine in the hopes of sharing its products with a fresh pool of automotive enthusiasts. Harry Rahman, director of architectural films at XPEL, says, “We want to pull demand and expand the pie for all of our businesses.”

“We’ve connected the dots,” Rahman says. “When a NASCAR or IndyCar fan leaves, they will drive home and park somewhere. They’re going to drive to work the next day, park and sit in an office that may have windows or cubicles. As part of our business-to-consumer (B2C) strategy, we are focused on expanding the industry as a whole … the entire industry benefits.”

XPEL’s team was on hand for the event.

Rahman says XPEL’s cross-selling strategy includes exposing gearheads to architectural films that could benefit their day-to-day life. He also says paint protection film’s (PPF) market penetration is “still very low.”

“I would [estimate] nine out of 10 people [coming to NASCAR events] don’t know the benefits of PPF,” Rahman says. “In terms of architectural film, I would say nine and a half out of 10 don’t know window film is a solution to their problem. They’re looking at better air conditioning, blinds, shutters and replacement windows. The goal is to get all of our businesses equal opportunity in front of this customer.”

XPEL’s presence was felt in the stands and on the track.

XPEL recently announced the expansion of its Vision architectural window film product portfolio and commercial support services. The new films and services are designed to reduce the carbon footprint of commercial buildings by lowering peak-energy demand and maximizing heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) efficiency, according to the company. Rahman says its recent racing initiatives tie all segments together.

“We feel this particular vertical hits home with the type of customer we want to go after—someone who cares about their car, trusts us and then will trust us with their home and their building,” he adds.

PPFMag Wins Silver Award

The American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) presented its awards on April 8 in Washington, D.C., and assistant editor Chris Collier received a silver award for his work in PPFMag. Collier was recognized in the category of Group Profile for his article Installers Assemble: PPF Veterans Rally Rookies Forward, which appeared in the magazine’s Fall 2021 issue.

Editorial director Tara Taffera brought several awards back to the office.

“This is our first nomination for PPFMag, and Chris’ first year with us, so for him to receive a silver award is amazing,” said editorial director Tara Taffera. “We are thrilled to have him on our team.”

Key Media & Research, parent company to PPFMag, received seven additional awards, two of them gold, for USGlass, the Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal, and Door and Window Market magazines.

“It’s a testament to the strong and professional team, led by Tara Taffera, at KMR. I am so happy for Chris and glad he received this recognition,” said Debra Levy, publisher.