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.

A Way Out: Owners Detail Exit Plans

LaCross’ next goal involves window tint expansion.

It’s a scene straight from a horror movie. Invoices, film cores, worn squeegees, unread emails, and a crammed calendar surround your field of vision. You’re a business owner, and it’s time to bail. What’s your exit plan?

Where’s the Off-Ramp?

“I would love to get a key player on the team that I groom for management and to take over eventually,” says Brad LaCross of Legendary Auto Salon in Queensbury, N.Y. “But if that situation never arises, the next option would be building the business to be appealing in structure and [employee] numbers for acquisition.”

Leroy and his wife display the winnings.

Tyler O’Hara of Newbury Park, Calif.’s, American Wrap Company entered the industry 14 years ago at 17 years old. The owner found continued success at the International Window Film Conference and Tint-Off™ (WFCT), winning gold in the Paint Protection Film (PPF) Competition in 2016 and 2018. His successes drummed up dominance, but the champion also leans on his squad.

“Everyone wants to deal with just me,” O’Hara says of his WFCT winnings. “I’m focusing on branding the team. Customers will realize I lead it; I may not be the one doing the work, but the work is always done to my standards.”

Zac Leroy signed a 10-year building lease at the end of 2019. The 18-year veteran owns Tri-State Elite Window Tint in Wexford, Pa., and told his wife, “That’s the last lease I’m signing,” during the transaction. “I was working 120 hours a week, and my youngest child will be 18 at the end of the lease. Me and my wife will be in a position where we can walk away,” he adds.

Leroy tried his hand at the Pennsylvania Lottery on September 17, 2020, snagging $3 million from a scratch-off ticket. He invested the after-tax total of $1.8 million into his retirement efforts, which project him signing out of the industry in November 2029.

Strategizing Today, Selling Tomorrow

LaCross has owned his business since 2018 and manages three team members. PPF generates 60% of sales, with ceramic coatings, paint corrections, and window tint comprising the remaining transactions. “I designed my shop where we have a window that you can look into and see work performed on your vehicle,” he adds. “We want it to be experience-based for the client first, so we’re not seen as a commodity.”

O’Hara emphasizes team building.

O’Hara aims to upgrade from his 2,200 square-foot location, adding value to a potential sale in the future. The current site allows his team to work on four vehicles simultaneously but he desires more expansive space; specifically, a 5,500 to 6,500 square-foot headquarters for purchase.

“I’m looking to streamline efficiency and break my team into individual [units],” O’Hara explains. “The PPF installers will only apply PPF—they won’t have to worry about prepping cars or cutting kits. They’ll be handed the kit, a cleaned and prepped car, and go. I want to set it up like an assembly line to maximize efficiency with as few employees as possible.”

On the Horizon

LaCross, O’Hara, and Leroy’s roadmaps are detailed, but many owners are at the starting line. Leroy says newcomers can take steps to ensure financial freedom down the road.

“You need to start looking long-term,” Leroy says. “Especially in today’s market—the car shortages, demand, and supply issues. I’ve been there. Years ago, you made money, and you went out and spent it. Start putting money away and getting out of debt.”

O’Hara says he wishes someone would have warned him how challenging business ownership would be. But the owner of four years echoes the importance of driving away from excessive expenses, not towards them.

“Don’t incur a lot of debt,” says O’Hara. “I didn’t learn with Kranzle pressure washers. I started with a Home Depot pressure washer and a 2½ gallon Husky air compressor. Scale everything a little at a time. Prove you can make this work before you scale up everything.”

LaCross says it’s vital for newcomers to center their scaling efforts with a customer-centric rather than a competitor-centric focus.

“There’s a reason your client is there,” says LaCross, who aims to ramp up the tinting portion of his business. “Understanding and listening to them will give you a clearer path to where you need to head.”