Bekaert Specialty Films Shifts Focus in Hopes of Helping Film into the “Next Level”November 12th, 2009 by Editor
At last week’s SEMA show in Las Vegas several window film exhibitors and attendees alike commented on the notable absence of San Diego-based manufacturer Solar Gard® as an exhibitor. Company officials, however, say the decision to forgo exhibiting was not due to budget cuts or the slow automotive market. Instead, it was part of the company’s shift in focusing more on window film as an energy-saving solution for the architectural market.”We are not abandoning the auto film market,” says Christophe Fremont, president and chief executive officer of Bekaert Specialty Films LLC (BSF), manufacturer of Solar Gard products. “It takes courage to do things differently. Not being at SEMA was the courage to do things differently. We are continuing to invest in many areas and … we are a company that has been able to maintain a very solid business practice even in this economy.”
Another decision that took courage, according to Fremont, was the decision to close two service centers, one in Windsor, Conn., and one in Grand Prairie, Texas. The closures are effective November 13.
“This was not a question of streamlining, but of strategizing,” says Fremont. He explains that while the centers handled a range of services, careful review showed that most were handled over the phone. Customer service specialists based across the United States will now handle those calls.
“We have actually extended the number of hours in a day we will be taking customer calls,” says Fremont, explaining that calls will be handled from 5 a.m. Pacific time to 8 p.m. Pacific time–a span of 15 hours a day.
“We want to be completely transparent to our customers … and this should be smooth for our dealers. We are making sure that if a customer wants product they will be able to get it,” says Fremont, adding that about eight jobs will be affected by the closures, though future hirings are in the pipeline.
“We do not foresee any other U.S. closures,” adds Fremont.
Though the company is closing two service centers, it remains completely focused on moving the window film industry forward in a positive manner. Fremont says that while the automotive film industry seems to be moving toward a commoditization model as an increasing number of offshore manufacturers move into the U.S. market, BSF is not embracing such a model. “We have said all along that the auto market was going to be commoditized away. That is why we are looking for a superior [architectural] product … it’s where we are focused,” says Fremont. “We did not embrace commoditization; we moved away from it.”
According to Kathryn Giblin, the company’s vice president of global marketing and technical services, one reason the architectural market has not succumbed to commoditization is because the barriers to entry are very different compared to automotive.
“The barriers to entry [have brought] legitimacy to the industry. We now have National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) certification and there are so many more regulations and certifications … customers are more sophisticated and they are asking the questions.”
And the NFRC’s certification of window film is all the more reason why Solar Gard is pushing the benefits of these products as energy-saving materials.
“We want to ensure that window film is going to be a solution … the Department of Energy has recognized window film as an energy-saving product,” notes Fremont. “We need to equip our network [of dealers] with the tools they need to grow the architectural market.”
In this regard, Fremont says his company is continuing to focus on innovation.
“We are going to be bringing products [to market] that no one has seen before. A few of us [in the film industry] have spectrally selective films that can be put on certain types of low-E glass, but we want to be even more innovative in the future. It goes 360 degrees–supply chain, marketing and the way you help your customer. We are going to continue to be innovative and it sets us aside from becoming a commodity,” he added during an exclusive interview with WINDOW FILM magazine.
“Window film is an excellent retrofit product,” says Giblin. “When you start looking at the carbon footprint of placing window film compared to replacing the glass entirely window film [has a much smaller carbon footprint] and is more favorable.”
She continues, “There is so much business out there that there is enough for everyone. Window film is here and it is here to stay. Yes, we will see increased competition, but good competition just makes us stronger.”
Both Fremont and Giblin also agree the window film industry must move to the next level and rise above where it is currently as a product. One step in getting there will be to position window film as a solution to those who are not familiar with it. Educating and making installers aware will also be essential.
“We want installers to be trained on energy savings. It’s a skill we are trying to bring to the network. We believe the majority of our volume is in architectural glass. We do a lot of auto, but our growth is in architectural glass. We have the opportunity for greater volume,” says Fremont.
Giblin adds, “I think the key is that as an industry we have to continually push to get window film recognized and NFRC certification is a start, but we need to keep pushing and lobbying and educating … our job is to fight on behalf of everyone involved and some manufacturers are involved and some are not. We need to let the dealers know what the industry is doing for them on a daily basis.”
“We want to try and overcome the negativity that’s been around window film,” adds Fremont. “The industry needs to be strong and unified.”
As part of its efforts to continue growing and educating dealers and installers, the company plans to launch its own accreditation program next year.
“Dealers understand what’s needed and they want the legitimacy to go out into the marketplace,” says Giblin. “They are ready to meet the standards in return for education and training. Through our Solar Gard academy we want to be a university of choice.”
CLICK HERE to view a video from this year’s SEMA show.