PPF Veterans Rally Rookies Forward

By Chris Collier

Each industry gifts its professionals the opportunity to polish and progress their craft every single day. It’s a gift that hasn’t gone unused across the paint protection film (PPF) industry. From Alaska to California, North Carolina to Pennsylvania, veteran installers are combining wisdom with tools to propel rookies forward.

More Than a Price Tag

Working on top-dollar supercars is a dream come true for many installers. But for Kaval Vilkhu, president of Make it Shine Detailing in Ontario, Canada, sticker price isn’t everything.

“In the beginning, it is easy to get hung up over the car you are working on,” Vilkhu says. “But brands and price tags do not always equate to you being a better installer. A few weeks ago, we had a 488 Ferrari Pista Spider and a new Toyota 4Runner in the shop. The headlights and front bumper on the 4Runner were far more intricate than the Ferrari’s. And yet the Ferrari was worth significantly more money. There are a lot of ‘normal’ cars out there with more difficult panels than a supercar.”

Brian Brown, principal of Exclusive Detail in Charlotte, N.C., attacks projects with consistent processes, no matter the price tag nor the work being done.

“What I have done from early in my installation career is to view no car as any more challenging than the other,” Brown says. “That is not the reality. But if you have the mindset that one car is going to be more difficult than the other, you’re already setting yourself up for failure. I just say, ‘It’s film, it’s automotive paint and I’m protecting it.’

Vilkhu recommends installers focus on geometry and distance themselves from brands and rarity.

“Look at every panel as just that—a panel,” Vilkhu says. “Employ your techniques to the best of your ability and focus on consistency. It should not be that you do better work on an exotic or supercar versus a daily driver. One could argue that better work needs to be done on a daily driver because it will be exposed to more elements that test the quality of the install and film.”

Nick Blek, owner of Premier Armor Inc. in Corona, Calif., placed first in the PPF Competition at the 2021 International Window Film Conference and Tint-Off™ (WFCT). He’s noticed a recurring trend when training novice installers.

“The one thing that I tell all the guys I’ve ever trained is that being nervous will destroy an install,” Blek says. “You have got to approach every car with a winning mentality. The thing that’s not going to help is you worrying about the fact that it’s a $300,000—or even million-dollar—car. Some of the best guys in any profession have [that] level of calm and cool about what they’re doing, and that’s what allows them to be great.”

Polishing Your Process

Chris West, owner of CCA Motorsport in Anchorage, Alaska, snagged gold at WFCT 2019’s PPF Competition. He recently wrapped a Ford GT for Post Malone at his home in Utah.

“When I hire and start to see if the new hire will be a good trainee, I don’t look for aptitude or skill,” West says. “I look for character traits, because if you don’t have patience then you’re not going to be able to spend an hour on a hood having to go to pick out a little piece of dirt or hair. I find that usually is what makes a good installer is that they will take the time and patience to redo a piece.”

Dave Ball founded Oregon’s Roadrunner Protective Films and Graphics in 2001. His operations were mobile operation for the first 15 years of his career, a challenging introduction that paid off in the long run. For Ball, growth is about getting uncomfortable.

“If your mindset is one of wanting to be above average, the only way to get there is to try to wrap shapes that you’re uncomfortable with in a single piece of film,” Ball says. “It teaches you how to plan a few steps ahead and not just hyper-focus on what is directly in front of your eyes and hands, because stretching the film in one area affects the entire piece of film you’re working with. That was one of those “Aha!” moments I had early on that shaped my entire career.”

Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, but for Jay Ka, owner of Modern Elix in West Chester, Pa., paint protection is the exception.

“I’m training somebody right now,” Ka says. “I tell him, “Watch me and watch how I do things, but don’t ever try to be me— [especially not at] the speed I go. I keep telling him, ‘You’re going to start messing up easily if you start moving at my speed.’ Take your time, slow down your swipe and let the fluid move around. Just take your time. It’s not a rush. It’s not a race.”

Finding Equilibrium

Installers achieve focus and rhythm through a variety of means. For Brown, concentration comes from music.

“We invested in an audio system so that we can have Bluetooth music piped through the shop,” Brown says. “And my go-to through the course of the day is jazz or classical for the reason that it’s not dropping beats all day long. You’re not having high-energy music. With the classical and the jazz, it just creates a mellow atmosphere. Calming music has been very resourceful for me.”

Vilkhu’s preferences vary depending on the time of day.

“I love listening to music—anything from trance/house/80-90s dance to rap/hip-hop to alternative and rock,” Vilkhu says. “Just something to keep me going and my energy up. If I’m in the shop working late, I will put on more trance or house music with no lyrics but a good beat. Podcasts are a great tool to keep you engaged with more strategic thinking, and looking more to the future while spending some time to reflect on your life.”

About That First Time . . .

We’ve seen those PPF pros at their present peak, but what about their inaugural installation?

Kaval Vilkhu, Make It Shine Detailing

“At my initial training, we ended the week with the opportunity to put PPF on our own vehicle or the vehicle of someone we knew. My dad brought his Civic Si and I installed a front bumper kit. It went quite well aside from some small debris that leaked out from the upper grill. It was a good learning experience to anticipate where debris can come from, and also limiting where you spray your slip solution. That install is still good after six years and terrible winters.”

Chris West, CCA Motorsport

“My first PPF install was a 2003 Lexus RX 350 in a guy’s garage after work . . . partial hood, fender, mirror and bumper that took me eight hours to do. I can do that car in probably 45 minutes now.

Jay Ka, Modern Elix

“I’m positive it was a Porsche 911 Carrera 997. To be honest, it was a nightmare, and I probably never wanted to do it again.”

Dave Ball, Roadrunner Protective Films and Graphics

“It was a Porsche 993. The stone guard—their pre-cut kits at the time were pretty skimpy and didn’t require a lot of stretching. It went fairly well. But back then, we didn’t have a slip solution. We were installing it with just alcohol and water, so it was a little bit of a struggle.

Nick Blek, Premier Armor Inc.

“My first car was a 2010 Mercedes C2230, and the rest is history. I did that triangular fender piece using 3M Scotchgard. I felt like it was kind of a ‘gotcha’ because those  fenders are pretty easy. Once I got hired, the next car that I did was a Lexus RX 350, and it was a partial kit. I tried doing the fender on that one. If anybody remembers doing the partial fenders on those RX 350s—they have a top, finger piece and then an S-shape to it that squiggles down and it was a nightmare trying to figure out how to get the wrinkles down without leaving behind a stretch mark. So what normally takes me five minutes now took me four hours then.”

Brian Brown, Exclusive Detail

“It was a BMW 3 series, and it belonged to one of my neighbors in our business park. Back then, there were a lot  of partial front kits. I remember doing a partial front kit  on that car. I remember not wrapping edges. The first one didn’t go as smoothly as it does now. It was a struggle— the patterns weren’t as great as they now are. Looking at where we are now, and the knowledge and experience I’ve gained since then, it’s like night and day.”

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

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