Houston’s Automotive Film Specialists sits three miles from a Rivian delivery center and works on one to two trucks each week. General manager Mike Norng, whose company owns three Teslas for promotion, believes “if you want to dominate the Rivian consumer, then you should own a Rivian.” This January, the company wrapped its very own 2022 Rivian R1T in ULTRAFIT XP BLACK CARBON paint protection film (PPF).
Courtesy of Automotive Film Specialists
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The paint protection film (PPF) segment wasn’t quite a behemoth for the automotive aftermarket in 1996. Window tint applicators like Greg Powell, owner of Protective Film Solution in Cumming, Ga., didn’t see the value in it. But an encounter with a 1996 Lexus LS 400 shifted his outlook.
“What is the Technique?”
“It was very challenging back then,” says Powell, who protected the Lexus’s hood, fender and mirrors with PPF. “Learning solutions, how to tack and how to stretch. At that time, it was all hand-cutting. There was no software—you were just making it happen.”
Based in Roswell, Ga., at the time, Powell’s team was tinting 10 cars each day when a Lexus dealership requested the PPF installation. The product caught his attention.
“I had to slow down and learn,” Powell says. “What is the technique? What is the solution? I had to play with it. What squeegees would I use? I more or less slowed down. I tried to be above the competition then—trying to show the customer how good that product was for their vehicle.”
The following years included many moments of learning by trial-and-error, but Powell broke through a barrier after a meticulous customer delivered a yellow 2002 Ferrari 360 Modena for protection.
“Once I got the seal of approval from that guy, I knew I was onto something,” Powell says. “I knew I could go further with this and make a career out of it. I didn’t look back. That’s when I knew. It took a long time.”
“I’m Up For Any Challenge.”
“I started tinting windows in 2013,” says Tyler Jenkinson, CEO of Tint Wrap Protection Plus (TWP Plus) in Evans, Ga. “My previous boss was doing PPF, and I saw how difficult it could be. He got aggravated with it. I was like, ‘This is something I want to do.’ Working with PPF and understanding it and how it works is like a big puzzle.”
Jenkinson picked up PPF in 2015, taking on a towering 2015 GMC Yukon Denali for his first installation. His takeaway? “You can mess up a lot of money real quick if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“We did the hood and the bumper,” he adds. “We’re all human, but I look back, and I’m like, ‘Wow, I could have done this differently. I could have had less contamination in this panel.’ It was a panel we had to rip off and re-do.”
Though Jenkinson’s PPF journey started in 2015, it wasn’t until a November 2019 Avery Dennison Supreme Wrapping Film Training session that the product fully clicked.
“The wrapping helped me learn how to PPF better,” Jenkinson says. “Learning how to bulk install versus doing a pre-cut kit. It’s more like a puzzle piece. With a bulk install, you’re just going at it.”
Perfectionism and PPF align, and it’s a good thing, too. Jenkinson takes pride in overcoming obstacles in the application bay.
“The challenge is to make sure the job is as perfect as humanly possible,” he says of his greatest pleasure in the PPF industry. “I’m up for any challenge.”
“You’ve Got to Follow the Film.”
“My full-time gig is law enforcement, and I’m finishing up my career,” says Rob LaBuff, owner of Buff Works Ceramic Coating, PPF and Detailing in Freehold, N.Y. “Throughout that time, though, I’ve always been passionate about cars and customizing vehicles.”
LaBuff is used to working with his hands, having studied the art of auto body repair at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y., in the early ‘90s. He founded his company in April 2022.
“It was a BMW 3 Series,” he says of his first PPF project. “It was a good neutral color—silver. That one didn’t rattle me much at all. A couple of things I’ve learned since is that temperature and humidity are huge.”
LaBuff and his team completed a 32-hour PPF training course in June 2022, knocking out 12 PPF installations over the next four months. The company began 2023 with four booked appointments. His wife, a beautician since 18 with more than 30 years of experience, joined her husband in the new adventure.
“One of the things I learned in the course was that it’s like an even flow,” LaBuff reflected on his trajectory in the business while ceramic coating a vehicle. “You’ve got to follow the film. You can’t force the film to go places it doesn’t want to go. It’s got to be like a relationship you develop—it’s more than just slapping film on a car.”
Nearly a year into business ownership, LaBuff reflects on pursuing a dream he first had as a teenager.
“It was scary coming into this and taking that big leap into PPF,” he says. “I’m proud to be where I am—and I’m not here alone.”
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