STEK USA Announces E-Commerce Site

STEK USA released its new online ordering site where users can view available products with images and descriptions, select variable shipping speeds and change addresses, add and use different payment methods and view previous orders and tracking information.

T&T Tinting Specialists Announces New CEO

T&T Tinting Specialists snagged LLumar’s National Dealer of the Year Award.

Kyle Horimoto has been named CEO of Hawaii’s T&T Tinting Specialists. Former CEO and founder Tommy Silva remains connected to the company by consulting Horimoto and the management team as chairman of the Board of Directors. Silva started the company in 1982 as a one-person mobile tinting service focused on car windows.

Forty years later, T&T tints between 400 to 500 vehicles per month and has installed more than five million square feet of solar control, security film and glass graphics on Hawaii’s hotels, government and commercial buildings, homes and condominiums.

Kyle Horimoto started at the company in 1997.

Horimoto’s time at T&T began at the age of 18 in 1997 in the automotive division. Starting at the front desk, answering phones and scheduling appointments, he moved up in the company and began T&T’s Glass Graphics Division which now designs and produces window and wall art in the U.S.

“Horimoto is the perfect man for the job,” Silva says. “He’s young, but has over 25 years’ experience in the company, has worked in almost every post in the organization, is smart, easy to work with, innovative, a great problem solver and carries the same firm but ohana-type management style that I have.”

Prior to entering year 40, in October 2021, Silva transitioned 100% of the company’s total ownership to all company employees through a qualified retirement plan known as an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). Silva has sold 100% of his stock to the ESOP trust fund, so the company is now 100% employee-owned.

National Small Business Week: Owners Share Struggles and Successes

National Small Business Week celebrates American entrepreneurs’ economic contributions. Speed bumps may compose the road to a successful startup, but Tim Ham, owner of Felony Film in Atlanta, Ga., trusted the process. The installer’s record includes 10 felonies inspiring his company’s name.

Tim Ham is all smiles in 2022.

“I started two pawn shops and got into trouble buying a stolen truckload of items that handed me two years in prison and nine felonies,” Ham says. “I also ran a marijuana business for four years. It ended after I was pulled over with 85 pounds of marijuana, which got me another felony and two years of probation.”

Ham was homeless for two years during childhood, dropping out of high school in 9th grade. Ham, whose Instagram handle is “homeless_loser,” uses his past as fuel and embraces the struggle. He founded Felony Film in 2018, which amassed more than $2 million in sales in 2021 and now has four installers.

Felony Film recently applied ceramic coating and PPF to Atlanta rapper Future’s Porsche 911 GT3.

“If I could change anything in my past, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” says Ham, whose business is powered primarily by paint protection film (PPF). “If I were to go back and alter history, what If I were to tell myself I’m going to be successful? But then I go about it the wrong way and keep doing the pawn business versus the PPF business?”

Ham attributes his company’s rise to how he treats employees. He pays team members per car at a high rate, giving “staff members incentive to do 10 cars a day because they will make more money.”

“I’ve failed so many times—it’s about getting back up,” Ham adds. “Maybe you had a bad install or review. Work on your quality, even if it takes you all day. Work on your quality first and get your name out there.”

Running a small business is no easy feat. What are the common motivators, and how do owners maintain their flame for film? Mike Leffler began tinting at 15, admiring how the product transformed cars. Today, current gas prices and material costs compound Leffler’s operations.

“It’s been harder than I thought,” says Leffler, who opened Mike’s Mobile Tint of Shelbyville, Ind., in September 2000. “I just wanted to install film—I didn’t realize how much it takes on the business side.”

Wayne Phillips opened Fade To Black of Marshfield, Wis., in 2017, but he’s installed film since 1994. Phillips wears all of his company’s hats daily, which can be trying. He’s the installer, scheduler, marketer and bookkeeper, but memorable customer interactions make long days worthwhile. “It’s rewarding helping people with something they want,” he says. “Seeing people happy is a great feeling.”

Mike Leffler’s passion for cars inspired him to enter the industry.

The scene is similar at Barry’s Tint Shop in Hammond, La., where owner Barry Duhe rarely has time for reflection. “The misconception is that you clock in and out like you work for someone else,” says Duhe, who entered the industry in 1986 and founded his current company in 2007. “In reality, you have hours of administrative work to complete after shop work is done.”

The journey, not the destination, keeps owner-operators pushing forward alongside palpable pressure. As Leffler reflects on 37 years in the industry, he peers back at his solutions’ continuous impact.

“It feels great to drive by buildings and homes and say, ‘I did that 20 years ago,’” Leffler says.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has celebrated the National Small Business Week for more than 50 years. Click here for more information.

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.”