As California continues the slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down many businesses last year, new $600 state stimulus checks have begun arriving in the bank accounts of residents who earn up to $75,000 annually, to help them get back on their feet. The state distributed approximately 600,000 direct payments worth an estimated total of $354 million, according to Daniel Tahara, a spokesman for state’s Franchise Tax Board.
Window film companies know that business is booming—because many shops are as busier as ever. The data bears that out as well, even though research shows that consumer sentiment still has some recovering to do. Nick St. Denis, director of research at Key Media & Research (WINDOW FILM magazine’s parent company), discussed demand and trends in the window film and paint protection film market during a recent presentation held during the International Window Film Conference and Tint-Off™.
St. Denis noted that consumer sentiment in the U.S., according to the University of Michigan’s longstanding survey of consumers, in the second and third quarters of 2020 was at its lowest point in nearly a decade.
“Consumer sentiment is a strong indicator to look at regarding aftermarket accessories and alterations to vehicles, as well as improvements to a home or building,” he said. “When consumers are comfortable with their financial standing and the economy in general, they’re more likely to spend on discretionary things such as PPF for their vehicle or window film on their home.”
The Index of Consumer Sentiment, which measures this, has partially recovered as of the second quarter of 2021 but still has a ways to go.
Fortunately, several other indicators closer to the industry—including personal consumption expenditures of motor vehicles and parts, as well as retail sales of automotive parts and accessories—have been booming since late 2020 and through the first quarter of 2021. Additionally, new vehicles sales have improved to start the year.
St. Denis discussed data related to residential improvements. He said that despite the economic downturn last year due to the pandemic, homeowner improvements and repairs remained strong throughout 2020, improving nearly 6% year-over-year with a similar expected increase in the year ahead. This, he said, is a good sign for architectural window film.
St. Denis wrapped up the session discussing some anecdotes from articles and qualitative research by KMR and Window Film magazine, looking back at the pandemic’s impact. “For many dealers in the industry, elevated sales in the first quarter of 2020 and a rebound in the third and fourth helped offset the downturn that mainly impacted the second quarter,” he said. “But those in areas with stricter restrictions had a more difficult time making up for losses.”
Some dealers also reported an uptick in demand due to nearby competitors shutting down. “There was a general increase in residential work with people working from home, he said. “And businesses also took the opportunity to upgrade with window film while employees were away.”
Looking ahead, a rise in sales of vehicle accessories and residential improvements should bode well for window film, and continued increase in consumer awareness along with an increase in new car sales provides opportunity in PPF.
“Security film for downtown businesses may be a strong prospect for dealers moving forward,” he added.
“As a business we’re pretty much functioning as we were [prior to COVID] with a bunch of modifications,” explained Jeremy Dobbins, CEO at Climate Pro. “We’re here, doing well and thriving.”
Chris Robinson, CEO at the Tint Guy, had a different experience with the coronavirus in the beginning, as he pointed out that Atlanta, Ga. didn’t have as many restrictions early on.
The pair along with Jeff Franson, president and CEO at Window Film Depot spoke about how their businesses were impacted by the coronavirus, some of the changes they implemented and what they see going forward in a COVID session. The session was moderated by Window Film magazine’s editorial director, Tara Taffera, and was included in the WFCT Preview Day held Tuesday January 14. The event gave its virtual attendees the opportunity to get a sneak peek of what to expect during the live show in June.
Although all of the panelists said they had safety procedures in place, COVID still found its way into their businesses. Two even contracted it, which changed how their companies were run.
“I contracted it [COVID] back in October on my 50th birthday,” explained Robinson. “I had it for a couple of weeks and I made light of it. I had flu symptoms and headaches, but never lost [my sense of] taste and I continued to run the business.”
Over the past few years Robinson has taken a back seat to a lot of the company’s day-to-day operations. Because of this he said it was easy for him to continue running the Tint Guy remotely, but things started to change as he remained sick.
“At about two weeks in I started having respiratory problems, and long story short, my oxygen level got really low, I passed out, my wife called an ambulance and I was taken to the hospital where I stayed for seven days,” said Robinson. “It took me about a week to get over that, so it was about six weeks of me being sick. I don’t think the business was affected though.”
According to Robinson, he contracted the global virus from his sales manager, and with that employee being out of work it impacted the business, as more remote bidding had to be done.
“We never experienced anyone contracting the virus, but we’ve had a lot of close calls, and had to have testing done, along with having to take people out of work so that they can get testing done,” explained Dobbins.
“I don’t think anyone has a contingency plan for a pandemic but I think I automatically had a contingency plan for myself because I always wanted the business to run on its own,” said Robinson.
“I never really thought that I needed to plan for pandemics,” echoed Dobbins. “In the area that I live in we do have a lot of experience with wild fires and our team is experienced with sudden changes and having to reschedule work and dealing with the effects of a disaster. This [pandemic] showed me that [my company] does need to have contingency plans.”
Franson said his company has been very fortunate and hasn’t had anyone [employee wise] contract the virus, but he and his family contracted it but everyone was asymptomatic.
Dobbins said that in the beginning of COVID’s impact he shut his business down for about five weeks and then started to see which clients were willing to let his company work. “We started to analyze what kind of work we could do,” he explained. “Then we started putting feelers out on the residential projects we had to put on hold. For the most part most customers weren’t really fearful in the beginning, most wanted us to finish what we started and it was positive, but we had to be careful.”
Dobbins came up with a safety plan, put it on his website and alerted his customers so they were aware. “Our policy are our policies and we had no issues with customers, but we did have a line in there where if the employees felt unsafe at a job they could excuse themselves,” said Dobbins.
Franson found customer responses to be varied, as his business operates in a variety of markets and each had different state restrictions. He mentioned that Atlanta, Ga., was pretty open relatively speaking. “We had maybe two to four weeks where there was a pullback but nothing like what Jeremy experienced,” said Franson. “The guys in our Southern California office are having a completely different experience than what we have experienced in Georgia.”
Robinson said his company immediately pulled teams out of vans and didn’t let them ride in the same vehicle, as well as communicating with his customers early on. “Some [customers] even vacated their homes so we could work,” explained Robinson. “We disinfected everything, everywhere where we came in contact with and we did the best we could. For a while we didn’t let customers wait in our waiting rooms.”
He also said he and his employees tried not to touch anything that they didn’t have to, like keys, but if they did his team would disinfect it. “We did the best we could and we made it to October before anyone got sick,” said Robinson. “I think that was because we started to let our guard down. Pretty much everyone here in Georgia thinks it’s [COVID] is a hoax and they stopped wearing masks and we weren’t going to demand that they wear a mask in our waiting rooms.”
“I’m really bad at making predictions, but I think there will be people who will still have concerns and we will still have certain procedures in place,” said Dobbins.
Several window film businesses have changed how they gather to celebrate the holidays and honor their staff this season, as COVID is still impacting the country. Window Film magazine recently conducted a poll to see what percentage of industry shops would be open, have reduced hours, host a holiday party and more.
When it comes to holiday gatherings our poll results showed that 66% of film businesses will have a small socially distanced party this year, according to the poll. The poll results also showed that 33% of window film businesses will have special holiday hours.
Michelle Clark, president of Carolina Premier Window Films, Inc., in Rock Hill, S.C., says her company will be going to dinner to celebrate the holidays with her staff. She also noted that her company will not be open this weekend or next weekend, as Carolina Premier Window Films, Inc. only focuses on flat glass window tint installations.
Tommy Silva, CEO and president of T&T Tinting Specialists, Inc., located in Honolulu, Hawaii, said recent gathering restrictions are preventing his company from holding a holiday party this year.
“Unfortunately because of Hawaii’s current COVID Tier System we can only gather in groups no larger than 5 people, so we cannot celebrate together,” said Silva.
For the first time T&T’s in 39 year history, it is not having a company-wide Christmas celebration, according to Silva, which usually involves all 30 employees plus their guests. “This year I just sent a personal Christmas card to each employee along with a dinner gift certificate for each to go and enjoy with their families and a few custom T&T face masks to remember the year by,” said Silva. “We will get back to doing it all again next year!”
Silva’s company is also planning to close at 2 p.m. on both Christmas and New Year’s Eve, as well as closing on the holidays.
Fusion Tools is following in a similar style, as this company is also not having a company gathering. “We are not doing a big celebration this year, but we never do,” said Jordan Campbell, vice president of Fusion Tools, located in Maryville, Ill. “Maybe we will in the future, but for now everyone is happy just to have the time off to spend with their families. We do get our employees Christmas gifts and they seem to appreciate that.”
If you were thinking about hosting an in-person gathering at work for your company, The Centers for Disease Control does have a page on its site designated to “COVID-19: Holiday Celebrations,” which covers everything from social distancing, limited attendance, staggered attendance and more.
Tell us about your how window film business is celebrating the holidays in the comment section below.
FilmTack developed an anti-fog face shield visor film that, according to the company, has additional protection against bacteria. This new film is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
K. H. Poon, FilmTack director, sees the company’s new product as an improved material for face shield visors that provide protection against aerosols and mucous membranes for high-risk groups such as healthcare workers and students.
“Research institutions around the world have been focusing on the development of anti-microbial chemicals but lack the capability to move forward and incorporate these coatings onto face shield visors correctly and efficiently,” said Poon.
With simple sterilizing, the functionality of the visor film is expected to last about 10-14 days, according to the company. US and Korean personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers have generated interest in the material, according to FilmTack.