Window Film Business Owners Share Foundational Tips

Opening a window film business doesn’t always mean you’ll have lasting success, as there a few key points to know whether you’re a long-time veteran or a newbie. Two industry business owners shared several factors you should keep in mind with Window Film magazine.

Rodney McClure, owner of Ace Window Tinting, located in Bremen, Ga., and CEO and head designer at Gasket Pro Tools, located in Bremen, Ga., has been in the industry since 1984 and said there are foundational things shop owners all need to know. He along with Ty Sullivan, vice president of SPF Window Tinting located in Hattiesburg, Miss., shared three main points.

  1. Every Job is …

One question that is often asked by newer business owners — is quality with few tint installations more valuable than many installations and lower quality? Newer window film business owners might be concerned with getting more vehicles tinted than spending the time to make sure it’s done right with fewer installations per day. But which is the better choice?

“Over the years I’ve learned that every job is important,” said McClure. “In business you only get one chance to make a good impression, and simply put you are only as good as your last job.”

“This is a dynamic question that is dependent on the business model,” said Sullivan. “There are high volume and low volume business plans where quality and profit vary. I would say foundationally, if you are building a long-term automotive installation company, high quality at whatever volume is generally a channel to success.”

  1. Educate Your Customers

When it comes to window film offerings, not all customers know what they need. McClure noted that taking the time to properly educate your customers is a valuable point, but it’s important not to overdo it. “You don’t want to get to the point of confusion, don’t show off with technical jargon [that they won’t understand], if they need statistics they will ask and thanks to the Internet most customers have educated themselves already. Just remember the customer doesn’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

“We go back and forth with this topic often and generally speaking I want to educate the customer to the level at which they feel comfortable with their purchase,” Sullivan explained. “I think it’s location and clientele specific and around 80% of or customers are shopping for the best price, aesthetics and availability.”

Customer service representatives (CSRs) should also be well-versed in your company’s services. Both McClure and Sullivan, say they should be able to ask discovery questions to match the customer with what they need. Sullivan noted that it’s important to understand that most customers “don’t need further explanations on the benefits of film, they need to be explained why your company is better at giving them your benefits.”

  1. Experience Counts

One way to ensure your customers are getting the best information about your window film company’s offerings is to have well-trained staff. However, how you train them can speak volumes especially if your newly-trained employee leaves with some of your skills. Fortunately there are ways around rotating staff. According to McClure, the emphasis should be put on teaching them to do a proper installation versus every task.

“The best way to combat this is to train someone to install but not to cut film,” said McClure. “In other words you train one person to cut film but not to install, and you train someone to snap, shrink and heat mold film but nothing else.”

Why go through all of this you ask – “you do this so they [your newly-trained employees] don’t have the ability to moonlight or tint on the side,” said McClure.

Sullivan has a different approach–he focuses on the why. “If you have this issue you should start by fixing why they leave,” he said. “This issue is generally foundational to a company’s overall success and longevity. First develop a culture, business model, strategy, competitive pay, benefits package, and then a training program so that once you get them trained they do not want to leave and they grow along with your business.”

Update: Film Shops Push Forward During COVID

Film shops, like many other companies were impacted by the onset of COVID-19. PPF magazine checked in with a few industry businesses for an update on what changes they’ve made, how customers and installations have been and what they think the future will hold.

“We were shut down for seven weeks from March 23rd to May 11th, said Tommy Silva, CEO and president of T&T Tinting Specialists, Inc., located in Honolulu, Hawaii, then we were allowed to reopen with restrictions in place.”

However the business was forced to close again after it started seeing an uptick.

“Business slowly returned and ramped back up to around 85% of pre-COVID numbers, then we were mandated for a second shutdown from August 27th through September 23rd, Silva explained. “We just reopened on September 24th and are again following all of the CDC’s guidelines to stay open – business is busy from pent-up demand and the hot Hawaiian summer heat… Being forced to close in your busiest season really sucks!”

Big Changes

“We have added more structured protocols to [our] overall operations for cleanliness and peace of mind,” said Ty Sullivan, vice president of SPF Window Tinting located in Hattiesburg, Miss. “Most of those additions are common and simple, structured cleaning of office surfaces, available personal protective equipment (PPE) for our staff, and individual use vehicles for transportation to job sites.”

Silva said he followed his city’s safety recommendations. This included: closing its waiting rooms, closing customer restrooms, locking its showrooms and allowing entry by appointment only with customers being escorted in one at a time.

“[We] also purchased plexiglas and building shields to safely separate our customer service representatives (CSR) from our clients, printed and installed social distancing signs and decals for the entry area and floors to instruct clients on where to stand, purchased gallons of 90% alcohol and filled spray bottles for each employee at each work station to sanitize every high tough surface each time it is touched, bought zip lock bags and we use those for placing car keys in them after being sanitized, installed touchless payment terminals at the front desks,” added Silva. “Then we updated all of our policies and procedures to include all CDC required safety measures for face coverings, social distancing, daily temperature screenings at entry to work, employees to report any cases in their home environment immediately, then take test and quarantine until negative results are in.”

Business Uptick

“We have seen a substantial uptick on the automotive side of the business,” said Sullivan. “At times it has been difficult to manage due to the client basis wanting immediate service, but we have all worked hard and just made the best of what we can.”

Sullivan’s customers have also started adapting to the changes the company has in place. According to Sullivan there have not been any COVID-related complaints due to the implemented safety changes. “We have noticed that the customer base has been a bit more sensitive, but we can offset that with more time and engagement,” he added.

The uptick might be dwindling as fall is a notorious slow season for many window film businesses.

“We are still catching up from our backlog and we are currently about a week out at the moment,” said Chandler Goodman, center manager for Alta Mere, located in Oklahoma City, Okla.

He noted that the vast majority of his customers are ordering and scheduling their window film installations online. The company released the online scheduling option before the onset of COVID-19.

“Business has been good given the circumstances we are in,” said Goodman. “We are seeing our usual decline in the fall, which is why the wait is now a week instead of three. We have hovered around that wait time for about a month now and I believe we will be ‘caught up’ by the start of October.”

Looking Ahead

Silva said he can definitely see some of the changes and new procedures remaining throughout the fall and winter months. “We do not have any choice… if we are caught not following procedures we can be fined and forced to shut down again,” he said.

But Silva isn’t the only one who thinks the changes will last.

“All of the changes that we have made have been simple, and beneficial to the workplace environment,” said Sullivan. “I do not see us changing anything from how we are currently operating in the future.”

Outlook

“We definitely have been fortunate to stay busy during this pandemic, and it seems that it will be business as usual moving forward into the winter months,” said Goodman. “Hopefully we don’t see another [COVID] spike around flu season.”

“We feel overwhelmingly lucky to have a healthy and productive team with work for everyone,” said Sullivan. “In a time of extreme volatility, there is a lot to be thankful for with business being as close to normal as it could be.”

Although many window film businesses fared well during the summer season, others saw it as an obstacle.

“It’s been truly challenging, especially since our Mayor and Governor really don’t know what they are doing and have gone back and forth on so many mandates that it makes our heads spin,” said Silva. “Then there’s the lack of PPP loans and any kind of assistance for businesses to cover our rent and overhead during this second shutdown was really difficult and all of our pleas to the Mayor and Governor have not gotten a response.”

Industry Pros Share Insight on COVID-19 Relief Options

The Federal Government sent a message to America’s corporations and small businesses by enacting a $2 trillion stimulus package. As window film companies and their employees struggle with the effects of the coronavirus, lawmakers assured that help is on the way. But figuring out what that help consists of isn’t easy.

“I have tried to follow all the news regarding the stimulus package and all it has to offer. I’ve found much of it to be overlapping and hard to figure out,” said Steve Pesce, New York Window Film Co. president. “At first even my payroll company wasn’t sure of the exact way to classify employees or how payroll taxes would be dealt with. I believe all were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the small business relief package that Congress has signed.”

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

The CARES Act was signed into law, appropriating $377 billion for companies with 500 employees or less. The program is designed to provide immediate relief through grants, while allowing the Small Business Administration (SBA) to administer loans of up to $10 million per small business—portions of which are labeled as forgivable.

According to the terms in the CARES Act, Americans will receive a one-time direct deposit of up to $1,200, and married couples will get $2,400, plus an additional $500 per child. The payments will be available for incomes up to $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for married couples. Some of that fine print is yet to be provided, as government officials establish specific guidelines for emergency lending. At the discretion of SBA officials, those requirements could be loosened on a case-by-case basis.

“Speed is the operative word,” says SBA administrator Jovita Carranza. “Applications for the emergency capital can begin, with lenders using their own systems and processes to make these loans. We remain committed to supporting our nation’s more than 30 million small businesses and their employees, so that they can continue to be the fuel for our nation’s economic engine.”

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

The PPP is a part of the CARES Act, which has up to $349 billion designated for forgivable loans to small businesses, so that they can pay their employees during the COVID-19 crisis. All loan terms will be the same for everyone, according to the SBA.

“Every small business should do this,” said Ty Sullivan, SPF Window Tinting vice president.

The PPP is designed to carry small businesses through uncertain and unprecedented times due to COVID-19. The loan amounts under PPP will be forgiven as long as the following terms are met, according to the SBA:

  • The loan proceeds are used to cover payroll costs, and most mortgage interest, rent, and utility costs over the eight week period after the loan is made; and
  • Employee and compensation levels are maintained.

It is important to note that payroll costs are capped at $100,000 on an annualized basis for each employee.

“I settled on the PPP as the best way to help my company. I applied for the payroll protection program on the first day it was available, which was April, 3, 2020,” said Pesce. “The initial form I filled out was very simple to do. It asked the basics about my overall payroll, who owned the company, the physical address and other similar easy to answer questions. It only took a few minutes to complete and submit.”

On Sunday, just a few days after Pesce filled out the preliminary form he received “a more formal request to substantiate payroll for 2019 and January 1 through February 15, 2020 and to provide proof of it.”

“Monday April 6, 2020, I was busy with my accountant, payroll company and insurance (both health and workman’s comp) to gather information to support my answers, which was a daylong event,” Pesce recalled. “When all was ready I tried without success several times to email all the supporting documentation until finally late in the day it went through.”

“PPP is cool and it’ll cover some operating expenses, but I don’t know anyone who has successfully gotten through and received any money yet,” Sullivan said.

Economic Injury Disaster Advance Loan (EIDL)

In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, small business owners in all U.S. states, Washington D.C., and territories are eligible to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan advance of up to $10,000, according to the SBA.

This advance will provide economic relief to businesses that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue. Funds will be made available within three days of a successful application, according to the SBA, and tis loan advance will not have to be repaid.

“Essentially they came out with EIDL, which is similar to what you would do or receive after a big storm,” said Sullivan.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

The FFCRA was signed into law on March 18, 2020 and requires employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave provisions of the FFCRA apply to employers with fewer than 500 employees.

Childcare is a category under the FFCRA that provides aid if you’re caring for your child because their school or place of care is closed due to COVID-19 related reasons. If you’re the primary caregiver you can qualify for the up to 80 hours of paid sick leave. An important note to know for those with children: if you have a child whose school is closed and you’re the primary caregiver you get 12 weeks of paid leave if you are the only person available to take care of said child and if you are not able to continue working or telework. The paid leave for childcare is only at two thirds of your pay versus 100% of your pay.

“I believe the package signed by Congress will help small businesses through this health crisis, said Pesce. “I would tell all small business owners to definitely follow through with applying for any aid they can. It may just be the life saver they will need.”