Putting a Bow on the 21st Annual International Window Film Conference and Tint-Off™

By Chris Collier

The 21st Annual International Window Film Conference and Tint-Off™ (WFCT) is in the books. San Antonio’s Henry B. González Convention Center played host to insightful seminars, competitions, product demonstrations, the event’s first-ever Career Day, an Industry Hall of Fame induction and more.

Seminars—Day One

Nick St. Denis, the director of research for Key Media & Research, a leading provider of window film and paint protection film (PPF) information, kicked off the day with a market update.

During Attracting the Next Generation of Installers: How to Train an Apprentice, Kyle Fuller, the owner of Tint Pro in Bonaire, Ga., and Matthew Yelle, the owner of Palmetto Protection Films in Myrtle Beach, S.C., discussed the best ways to hire, train and keep an apprentice.

Fuller talked about the difficulties his company has had retaining employees. He recounted a time when a newer employee stopped showing up just months after starting. The loss was hard, Fuller said, because of all the time spent training the employee only to be burned in the end.

Yelle said he looks for employees who are respectful. That’s because his business works in multi-million dollar homes that need to be respected. Skills can be taught but respect cannot, per Fuller.

“Attitude over skill,” he said.

PPFMag publisher Debra Levy kicked off the Opening and Hall of Fame Induction, where Maxpro Window Films president/CEO Joe Cobbe was inducted into the Window Film Hall of Fame.

Cobbe founded Commonwealth Film in 1985 and Commonwealth Laminating and Coating in the early 1990s. Eastman completed the acquisition of Commonwealth Laminating and Coating, manufacturer of SunTek Films, in 2013.

“It’s a surprise and an honor,” Cobbe said. “There are a lot of folks that have been in this business a lot longer than I have and are probably more deserving. I am flattered for it to happen; it’s a great industry with a lot of great people.”

Breaking Out and Breaking Into New Markets saw Nick Blek, the owner of Premier Armor in Corona, Calif., Brian Brown, principal at Exclusive Detail in Charlotte, N.C., and Jay Ka, owner of Modern Elix in West Chester, Pa., tackle the rise of PPF and ceramic coatings.

“How much patience do you have and how much money do you have to burn? PPF is not cheap,” Brown said.

Despite the difficulty with breaking into the business, PPF is worth the investment, Ka said.

“It has transformed our business and it has provided us resources to grow and move us forward,” Ka said.

However, if your goal is just to make money, then you are in for a long ride. PPF is a hard business, Ka said. The people who want this film are inclined to be perfectionists. They’re going to come and find some reason not to pay you for your job.

“It’s a lucrative business though,” Blek said. “Keep that in mind as a reward, a goal. But it’s a hard hustle.”

Ask Your Suppliers Anything saw the following C-Suite executives hit the stage for a Q/A session: Adam Cote, vice president of Ceramic Pro’s Elite Dealer Program; David Kratz, chief operating officer at Huper Optik USA; Jeffrey Plummer, senior vice president and general manager, window film for Madico; Harry Rahman, director of architectural films for XPEL Inc.; Darrell Reed, commercial director, Eastman Performance Films; and Mariana Rodriguez, the vice president and GM of Avery Dennison Graphics North America.

“The planning for potential disruptions has become an essential aspect of manufacturing companies,” Rodriguez said. “… It’s something that is central and critical for us.”

Seminars—Day Two

Learning continued on the International Window Film Association (IWFA)’s Education Day, with seminar speakers focused on hot industry topics pertinent to PPF professionals.

Darrell Smith, executive director of the IWFA, then took the stage for an update. What has the IWFA done to improve its services to the industry in the past year? What can the industry expect in the near future? Smith tackled all of that and more.

Bill Valway, CEO of AP Corp. in Baltimore, began his seminar titled Adding Services to Your Business for the Longer Term by energizing attendees with some imaginary jumproping. The exercise displayed the importance of adjusting one’s state of mind in the battle between positive and negative thinking to allow for capitalization on new ideas.

Valway opened his presentation by discussing the importance of creating a vivid vision.

“Allow yourself, give yourself permission, to dream,” he said. “Every single person in this room has dreams. Allowing yourself to take dedicated, scheduled time to engage in that is a completely different process. Most entrepreneurs, most business leaders, have experiences where you had a vision and it started to pull you forward. This vivid vision process is a little bit more in-depth in that you’re going to detail out what the next three, five, 10 years look like.”

During Recruitment and Retention of Employees, Jonathon Thompson, managing partner at Sunsational Systems in Austin, Texas, touched on the fact that the window film industry has faced headwinds when it comes to hiring and retaining employees.

“What we are seeing is a population decline potential,” said Thompson. “We need to get ahead and figure out how to remedy this.”

Mike Rowe Takes the Stage

Autobahn Window Films sponsored the year’s keynote address, which was delivered by Emmy-winning host, best-selling author, executive producer and trades advocate Mike Rowe. Rowe is one of the nation’s most respected leaders of championing vocations through series such as Dirty Jobs, and Somebody’s Gotta Do It. He has held countless interviews speaking about the skills gap and the importance of trades.

Rowe spoke to a standing-room-only crowd to discuss work that makes the lives of people possible.

“I want to tell you about the moment in my life when I realized everything about work was wrong,” said Rowe.

The story starts when Rowe’s mother called him to tell him that his grandfather was soon turning 90 years old and wanted to see Rowe do something that actually “resembled work.”

Enlightened, Rowe went to his boss at his news station in San Francisco and pitched a segment to capture the lives of everyday people and the types of work that they do. Rowe went out and attempted to cover industries not typically known to the common person, like crawling through the sewer systems of San Francisco.

“It takes a minute for your eyes to adjust, but your nose doesn’t take time to adjust at all,” recalls Rowe of his time in the sewers. “The stench gets on your teeth. You’re just stunned … You just stand there festooned in this filth.”

To Rowe, this looked like a place of work. A place that his grandfather would recognize. “My grandfather was going to love this,” Rowe said. “And my grandmother would be so proud.”

The Top Dealers Lunch

All Top Dealers were honored during an afternoon lunch on day two of WFCT. The gathering also saw the audience applaud Maxpro Window Films president Joe Cobbe, the industry’s newest Window Film Hall of Fame inductee (see page 54 of Window Film magazine Sept/Oct 2022 for more). Hall of Famers Ed Golda and Trent Courage were also in attendance and recognized during the lunch.

Career Day

Day three saw the event’s first-ever Career Day in action. There’s no better industry than the automotive industry, Liz Lasa, owner of Window Tinting Queen, told a crowd of 150 high school and vo-tech students.

“It’s a fantastic business to get into,” Lasa said. “There’s money to be made.”

However, it has been difficult to find installers, Lasa added. That’s because most people assume that a four-year degree is the only path to financial success. That’s far from the truth.

“I love building relationships with my customers,” said Roberta Rodriquez, owner of Modesto Window Tint in Modesto, Calif. “Thank them for coming. Make sure that you stay connected with them. Always make them feel welcome in your shop.”

Seminars—Day Three

Day three’s session slate included Cybercrime: How to Stay Safe Against Ransomware Shutdowns and Other Threats, during which 20-year FBI veteran and security expert Jeff Lanza used real-life examples of the latest hacks, security breaches and computer scams to demonstrate how cybercrime occurs and what countermeasures can combat the innovations of criminals.

A San Antonio Showcase

The show floor at the Henry B. González Convention Center was home to dozens of industry suppliers providing solutions for PPF installers.

Eastman, Autobahn Window Films and Avery Dennison

Eastman displayed its Core Cutting Software that offers a comprehensive library of thousands of professionally-designed PPF patterns. Easy-to-use pattern customization features, including Plus One-Click Badge and Sensor Removal, can help save users time and boost productivity. Core is backed by expert support and video tutorials.

Eastman also demonstrated its LLumar Valor PPF and SunTek Reaction PPF. LLumar Valor combines the features of paint protection film, the sought-after advantages of ceramic coating and Eastman’s powerful Tetrashield protective resin system technology to produce a durable film. Re-designed for improved stretch and tack while maintaining easy repositioning for the smoothest installation yet, Valor aims to elevate the standard in paint protection, according to the company.

Company officials say SunTek Reaction PPF merges all the qualities of self-healing paint protection film with highly desired benefits of ceramic coating. Also utilizing the proprietary Eastman Tetrashield protective resin system technology, Reaction delivers the next level of PPF performance in the SunTek line. Increased stretch, improved adhesion and ease-of-repositioning help assure more efficient installations.

Autobahn Window Films sponsored the event’s Keynote and provided a Lounge for competitors to use for relaxation prior to and following their competition heats. On the show floor, the company displayed its PPF products.

“Now we have a matte, a smoke and a gloss black,” said Justin Mercier of Autobahn Window Films. “Attendees are able to get hands-on and see what the products actually look like.”

Avery Dennison was on the floor in San Antonio showcasing its PPF products.

“On the PPF side, we have our Supreme Defense Matte film, our Supreme Defense Gloss and our Neo Noir, which is a gloss black PPF,” said David Korvah of Avery Dennison.

XPEL and TRÜ Spray Systems

XPEL, a specialist in PPF, window films and coatings, had no shortage of products on display at the show. Displayed products included chemical line ups, ceramic coatings and numerous versions of PPF and window films.

“The common question people always wonder is how difficult is paint protection film, because that’s an art; it’s not 1+1=2,” said Chris Hardy of XPEL. “You have to have a really artistic mentality in order to make that film look the way it needs to for a customer to accept it.”

Attendees also wondered if the company has developed any new technologies, such as coated films, to which the answer is yes.

“This is something we developed this year where ceramic coating is embedded into the film rather than putting a ceramic coating on top as a separate object,” Hardy said. “The benefit there is it reduces the install time.”

TRÜ Spray Systems offers an electric airless spray system that keeps spraying pressure at 90 psi all day. Users can even change or adjust the water solution dilution without carrying an air compressor. You can even run the tank from full to empty with the lid off.

“You can use your keg and you can attach this system to that. There are no more air compressors. There’s no more loss of pressure. It’s an on-demand, ready-to-go system out of the box. The system can be used for PPF, graphics, tint and detailing,” said Bruce Slavich, president.

Champion’s League

Meet the Paint Protection Film Competition winners of the 21st annual WFCT.

Gold: Kyle Murdock
Oz Braz, Gilbert, Ariz.
“I always think the first part—that full fender—is the hardest for me,” Murdock said. “Once I get to the bumper, I’m good. It’s something with the first easy part that’s the hardest for me.”

Silver: Sergey Yakobchak
New Layer Customs, Troy, Mich.
“It was my first time competing at WFCT, and I am very surprised at how much this competition is focused on quality rather than speed,” Yakobchak said. “I truly prefer it this way. Honestly, I didn’t expect to even get into the finals, let alone get a Silver Medal. I am very proud of second place, especially considering I was competing against well-known guys, previous winners and guys who compete regularly.”

Bronze: Craig Bledsoe
Elite Clear Bra, Huntington Beach, Calif.
“What it means to me to participate in the competition and to place third is a pretty humbling experience to see the talent that’s out there and to be privileged enough to be able to place in the top three,” Bledsoe said. “However, I would’ve preferred to have gotten first place, so hopefully next year I’ll be able to do a little bit better and get first place. It’s pretty cool to see how much the industry grown over the past 20 years that I’ve been involved in this business.”

Chris Collier is the editor for PPFMag. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Facebook.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

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