Grant Fehrenbach got an opportunity to start his own automotive film shop. It came four years after the installer had started working in the tint industry and began with an unusual request.

“Here is everything I can give you to make it successful,” these would-be investors told him. “Make it successful.”

That stranger wasn’t a banker loaning him money, a loved one or a friend supporting him. It came from partner at a private equity (PE) firm called Exos Partners.

“I did one of their guys’ cars at my old shop,” he says. “They have their hands in other things around the car industry—sales, financing—and he said ‘I don’t know anything about the wrap business. You do,’” and, in that moment, Ghost Labs AZ in Scottsdale, Ariz., was born.

“This opportunity by the private equity group is unheard of,” says Brendan Tolman, who co-founded Ghost Labs and shares minority ownership with Fehrenbach; Exos Partners is the majority owner.

PE investors tend to want to exit their investments in about five years’ time and usually want a 15% annual return. Already a year into operations, the owners of Ghost Labs brand aren’t building the business to have and to hold, but to be sold—and soon.

“In the back of my mind, I’m always thinking ‘how do we make it more profitable?’” Tolman says. “Our goal is to be multi-state, a national brand and nationally recognized for the PE group so that it can be bought out.”

No pressure.

Besides scaling locations (they’re hoping at having three to four across multiple states located in affluent areas), Tolman and Fehrenbach are on the constant hunt for bigger returns while maintaining stellar customer reviews. They keep day-to-day operations under a microscope to eliminate operational and product waste while keeping customers happy.

“We plot 90% of our jobs because it increases efficiency,” Tolman says, mentioning they use Eastman Performance Films’ Core software. “The software we use is updated every week or so and I have the ability to annotate what I’m cutting. If I’m plotting a Corolla GR windshield pattern, they don’t have the center cut out accurately. So we did one and now we know and I’ve saved the pattern. And on the Porsche Targa, the back glass is insane. Most shops won’t touch it. I have noted in our system exactly how we did it to make it come out perfect.”

Beyond that, the pair aspires to private label some of their offerings, including ceramic coatings.

“There are 20 companies creating a very good products,” Tolman says. “Who can we talk to that develops one at a wholesale rate that no other shop has?”

With just one shop for now, sourcing that might be a heavy lift, but a supplier might see Ghost Labs as worth the risk if their company reviews are an indication of Tolman and Fehrenbach’s staying power. A 4.8/5-star Google rating is quite the feat.

“Only a handful of times have we asked anyone to leave us a review. It’s all natural,” Tolman says.” Our biggest goal is making sure the customer is happy and no one leaves upset. We do everything in our power to make sure the customer is happy, profit margin aside.”

That includes offering a one-year installation guarantee from Ghost Labs that’s separate from products’ warranties.

“If my job can’t hold up for a year, I did something wrong and I take care of it,” Tolman says, but it comes with a catch.

“For all jobs that need a cure or bonding period, we mandate a two-week, post-installation inspection,” he adds. “So if the customer wants us to honor our word, I need to see the car and make sure it’s holding up. If they don’t show up, then it voids the 1-year warranty we offer.”

With Ghost Labs entering its second year in business, the clock is ticking for some returns—but Fehrenbach is confident they’ll succeed.

“PE guys know that Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he says. “There have been moments of pressure, but the dynamic that Brendan and I have relieves that pressure. We complement each other—Brendan strengths and my weaknesses. We work together very well.”

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