Push to Start: How Did You Get Yours?

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.”

Greg Powell, owner of Protective Film Solution in Cumming, Ga., works on a Lamborghini Huracán.

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.”

Tyler Jenkinson, CEO of Tint Wrap Protection Plus (TWP Plus) in Evans, Ga., first took on PPF in 2015.

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.”

Rob LaBuff, owner of Buff Works Ceramic Coating, PPF and Detailing in Freehold, N.Y., opened his business in 2022.

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.”

With the launch of the Focus on PPF/CC newsletter comes a new platform for storytelling. Please reach out to editor Chris Collier at ccollier@glass.com for potential coverage and advertising opportunities.

PPF Projects: The 2022 Ford F-150 Raptor

The 450-horsepower 2022 Ford F-150 Raptor is one of many shiny toys rolling into paint protection film (PPF) shops these days. Former National Hockey League coach Mike Babcock brought his truck into Lingenfelter Auto Spa in Brighton, Mich., for a PPF project handled by installer Matthew Celotto and 22 pieces of XPEL Ultimate Plus PPF.

I look forward to covering a variety of PPF projects in the future.

WF: What would you compare this vehicle to in terms of installation difficulty?
Celotto: This truck was fairly simple. I would compare it to a Ram TRX—simple but time-consuming and awkward. The height and width of the truck cause issues with the ability to reach parts comfortably.

WF: How does this truck rank against others, difficulty-wise?
Celotto: This is one of the easier trucks to install [PPF]. The hood is made easier due to the hood scoop towards the back, allowing you to feed film there to reduce the amount of tension you need along the front edge. The bumper is much easier than any other trucks the big three [Ford, General Motors and Dodge] make. It doesn’t have any deep valleys and is much less convex towards the edges compared to the regular F-150, Rams and Silverado/Sierra.

WF: What was the most challenging part of the installation?
Celotto: The most difficult part for us was the fender flares, not because they were super hard but because of the harsh valleys they have surrounding the side markers. It made installing film on them very tedious and time-consuming. On this Raptor, the owner had the flares and hood scoop painted and color matched after the fact, which means we had to make sure there was little to no tension on the film in the valleys of the side markers, mainly because we risk pulling the paint. So in this situation, we laid the valley with no tension as far over the radius as we could then cut a relief and persuaded the film throughout the rest of the flare where we had more surface area for the film to bite to reduce the chance of the film and paint failing.

WF: Can you share tips and tricks for those tackling the truck for the first time?
Celotto: Your biggest issue will most likely be dirt management. When we installed the film, we removed as much as we could. We removed the fender vents, which pull off unbelievably easy, and we removed the hood vent.

WF: Did you plot or hand-cut for this vehicle?
Celotto: I did a mix of both. On the bumper and more intricate/small pieces like the headlights, grill and mirrors, I used the kit, but the hood was completely bulked. The fenders and flares were customized kits that we edited to get the coverage we wanted.

WF: What tools did you use?
Celotto: MMM X-Style large and medium squeegees; spray tank from Dirty Tools; NT Cutter Pro; 30° Carbon Blade (Japan NT); electric spray bottle from Amazon; and a Fusion Pink Clean Squeegee.

WF: Which sections did you tackle first?
Celotto: In order—hood, fenders, front fender flares and then the rear, mirrors, headlights, grill and bumper

Please contact me at ccollier@glass.com if you’d like to participate in this new series. And check out the series’ first entry below.

PPF Projects: The 2022 Toyota Tundra

One Million Reasons Not to Reinvent the Wheel

My name is Gabe Fletcher.

Follow these ten core ideas and find yourself on the road to success.

As the owner of Ceramic Pro Pottstown and Detailing Growth in Pottstown, Pa., I know that success in the automotive detailing industry is about more than just offering professional services with certified products. Our business did more than $1 million in paint protection film (PPF), ceramic coatings and window tint sales in 2022. We do this by following ten core ideas—and without reinventing the wheel.

1. Offer Professional-Only Products – This should make sense, right? You want to offer a certified professional product that consumers can’t purchase. This can increase the perceived value of your services as well.

2. Boast Yourself as Insured – There are plenty of fly-by-night detail services. If you can prove that you are insured, this will provide a sense of legitimacy and trust.

Showcase current projects on social media to boost engagement.

3. Showcase Your Facility – Your clients want to know that you are a professional business. Take photos of your finished projects in an area of the shop that is always clean and well-lit. This helps to nail home that you are offering more than just $150 wash-and-wax detailings.

4. Create Content – You must become an educator in your market. If you aren’t creating video and educational content, you will lose to the competitor creating that content. It would help if you were syndicating that content on all of your social media, reels, TikToks, Google listings, YouTube and embedding it into your website. Our “What’s in the shop?” posts are often some of the most popular.

5. Offer Vehicle Pick-up – This is often how I can charge 35% more than everyone else. I offer to go and pick up the vehicle from the client at their home. Having the correct insurance allows me to offer this. The most significant value for clients looking to spend $5,000 or more with you is their time. If you save them time, they will find more reasons to work with you.

6. Offer an Immediate Follow-up Appointment – We offer our clients a two-week follow-up appointment where we will look over the vehicle and ensure everything is doing what it is supposed to be doing, such as sticking PPF edges. This lets the client know that we care about their vehicle and want to ensure they have a great experience.

7. Always Tout That Quality is Your Most Important Core Value – I often remind my clients that I will ask for more time if I am unhappy with how something came out or was done. They can always appreciate that I am willing to redo something and take my time versus shipping out lousy work.

8. Have a VIP or Referral Program – I am open with my clients in telling them that we will pay big bounties in cash for certain vehicles sent to our shop. This usually consists of big jobs on McLarens, Ferraris and other supercars. People are happy to spread the word when they know they are getting paid.

9. Simplify Your Packages – If you are trying to sell a bunch of different detail packages on your website, it isn’t very clear. Simplify the packages and make them easier to understand. The easier you can make it for your client, the easier it will be to make a choice and get them to book with you and get them on the schedule.

10. Always be Willing to Help the Client Solve Problems – This is one of the most important things you can do as a business. Focus your services on solving problems rather than pushing them into services they don’t want or need. This is the best way to build client loyalty.

If you embrace these ideas, you’ll be on your way to growing your business and doing it better and faster than your competitors.

I look forward to sharing more.

Calling all Customers—Film Companies Cook up Leads

Precision Window Tinting Co. of Clovis, Calif., spent a combined $20,277 on Google Ads in May, June and July 2021. Today, an estimated 75% of the company’s leads are generated from the online advertising platform during summer months. Owner Jeff Spraetz says the ads shift with local happenings.

For Culp, Facebook is the place to be.

Where to Spend Money

“They have an event called ‘BIG Hat Days’ where everyone wears a big hat,” Spraetz says. “People are already searching for that. We make an ad and [adjust] the meta titles, so we’re grabbing that audience as well.”

A meta title is text displayed on search engine result pages and browser tabs to signify the topic of a webpage. Spraetz, who entered the industry in 1984, says his company reached more than 200,000 people in October 2020 thanks to Google ads. The veteran plans to open a second location in Fresno, Calif., thanks to his advertising push, which began in 2017.

“I had the old-style mentality—get a shop in front of everybody on the main road,” Spraetz explains. “The traffic will stop, they’re going to come in and you’ll sell window tint. That might work a little, but customers could still find me on the internet if I moved off the main road. You have to direct them there.”

Sun Stoppers Greeley in Greeley, Colo., generates more than 30% of its leads through local social media initiatives. Tint specialist Charles Culp lists window tint as an item on Facebook Marketplace, posting to 20 buy-sell-trade groups. Culp posts the product at $79, the price of two-front windows on a truck or an SUV. It’s a non-ceramic option that isn’t covered by warranty, but it reels in customers.

“The big thing is getting their contact info and getting in touch with them,” Culp adds. “They come in and see the heat box. They’re able to see the benefits of ceramic and the upsell becomes quite easy.”

Vision Window Tint is located in Ottawa, Ontario, and most of its business falls in the flat glass category. Owner Keith Shand worked in auto glass repair and replacement in 1986, transitioning to the glass and glazing industry in 2000 and the window film industry in 2006. 75% of the company’s leads are generated from glass and glazing industry connections.

“I was lucky because I’m also a licensed glazier,” Shand says. “I had lots of connections that way. When I left that glass company, they ended up subbing out all the film [work] to me. For 10 years, I had all their film business. It was a little luck and learning.”

Letha Miller Lasiter, owner and operator at The Tint Diva in Gadsden, Ala., Auburn, Ala., and Palestine, Texas, employs a unique method to generate leads. She drops off potential proposals at interior decorating companies. If those companies come across a client that needs tinting, Lasiter is their referral. Lasiter pays companies $1 per square foot if the job comes to fruition. The strategy led to her tinting the home and guest home of JJ Watt, defensive end for the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL, in 2018. The project involved 700 square feet of solar film.

“I got that from a blinds company,” Lasiter says. “They were at the house to install window blinds. There was a couple of rooms where he said, ‘I don’t want to cover the window, but I want the privacy.’ She replied, ‘I’ve got a tinter.’”

Tips and Tricks

Culp focuses on value, not the dollar sign.

Film dealers don’t fit into a single box, and many aim to fortify their lead generation techniques. Culp says it starts with emphasizing value.

“Don’t make price your main priority,” Culp says. “Get in contact with a customer on a personal basis first. The biggest thing for lead generation is finding out what the customer needs and meeting that, as opposed to making it about any specific [price] up-front.”

Shand entered the film business with a pool of commercial connections, but his initial techniques involved a hands-on, personal approach. “January and February tend to be slower,” Shand says. “I would get online, find other shops or small contractors in town and start driving and touch base with them.”

For those without established glazing contacts, Billy Aiton of Pro-Tech Window Tinting in Scottsdale, Ariz., recommends hitting the pavement and making the first move.

“Don’t get stuck in the shop—get out there and start cold calling,” Aiton advises. “Go to your glass companies. Drop a card off and be regular; visit at least three times before accepting a no.”

Tintbid Inc. in Sisters, Ore., focuses on residential and commercial work and had $350,000 in sales in 2021. Owner Jon Rumgay recommends Google Advertising, which he invests $2,000 into each month. His digital advertising efforts began in 2011.

“I think guys think they don’t need to advertise,” Rumgay says. “You need to use Google as a platform, pay money and advertise. It costs money to make money—period.”