Film Stars July/August 2020

August 11th, 2021 by Nathan Hobbs

Small Town Big Dreams

By Emmariah Holcomb

Have you ever asked a child what they want to be when they grow up? If so then you know you’ll probably hear a range of things like a firefighter, police officer really anything under the sun. But what happens when a child has an interest they can’t seem to get away from as they get older? Well this issue’s Film Star, Les Helton, never did. The owner of Performance Window Tinting, in Carrollton, Ga., says cars captured his interest so much that he turned it into a career.

Knowing Your Roots

Helton says it all started when his mom bought him car magazines growing up. He was hooked instantly and it was the beginning of a long career. “A good friend of mine who is four years older than me grew up near my grandmother and owned a stereo shop,” Helton recalls. “He was already driving when I was hanging out with him in the stereo shop in the early 1990’s on the weekends and leaned toward tinting.” And he’s been tinting ever since.

It wasn’t long before this turned into a full time gig which led him to eventually open his own business, which today offers automotive, residential and commercial services.

Business Foundation

He opened his window tinting shop just three months before he graduated from his local state university. “I opened my business in February of 1999 when I was a senior in college,” says Helton who has been tinting ever since. “We just celebrated 21 years in business,” says Helton.

It wasn’t long before he started noticing a common need for skilled labor in the industry. According to Helton, the hardest thing for any window tinting business owner is not only finding, but also keeping good help. “Keeping your staff is the hardest part, see when we were kids in the early 90’s growing up there were three or four window tinting businesses in our town,” recalls Helton. Now there are only two window film shops in his area. He mentions the kids who were his age hung out at window tinting businesses and even helped him around his shop until … “they ‘graduated’ from college, high school, or got a real job, ‘because window tinting isn’t a real job.’”

Eyes Wide Open

Helton says it’s common for film shop owners to get a young person in the door, train them and have them leave to pursue other interests. But sometimes tinting has a way of coming full circle.

“I trained a guy who worked for me for about 10 years and then we just fell out and now he’s back in the industry working for another shop. It’s okay; we’re still friends,” says Helton.

Even his mentor who taught him how to tint windows went on to do other things in 1995, according to Helton. Once he left, Helton took a job at the same shop. “So I pretty much got his job and then he came back full circle, he started working back for me in 2015 and was running the auto side of my business for four years and left at the end of last year,” Helton says.

A Little Help

Although Helton is the only full-time installer for automotive, residential and commercial films, he does have help from two local high school aged team members. “This whole year they got out on the work study program and they’re both 17 and are good friends that go to the same high school and both are good learners, help around the shop and are actually handling some film now,” Helton says.

He’s been giving them small tasks to do, in addition to them taking all of his customer’s door panels off, cleaning the windows, prepping the cars and then reassembling them once the job is completed. “Yes [they are a big help] and it is a blessing for me for sure. It’s just the three of us,” he says.

Helton’s Georgia business was, like many, impacted by COVID-19 and was closed for over eight weeks. However, being closed didn’t put a damper on the amount of work they had once they reopened.

“I think it’s industry-wide that everyone right now is busier than we ever have been even for small shops like mine. We did about 25 cars a week [prior to COVID-19] and if you’re closed for eight weeks that’s 200 cars that are back logged, plus all of the new cars  coming in,” says Helton.

He says the business is currently doing approximately 40 cars per week, which has caused them to increase production. The shop has even opened on Mondays, which was traditionally a day off.

Keeping Busy

“Mondays have traditionally been one of our days off because we’re open on Saturdays. We do that for customer service for those who can’t be without their car throughout the week,” Helton says.

“There’s a lot of work and we’re turning down about six to seven autos a day. Every time we answer the phone it’s for an appointment and we’re turning them down two weeks out,” he says.

Even his local competition is turning customers away just to keep up with the influx of work following several businesses reopening. Helton notes that with a backlog you can’t keep up even with extra help.

“We’re only doing a couple of residential projects throughout the week because we have so many autos to do and that’s what keeps your doors open,” Helton says. “About 80% of our customers are repeats, we rarely ever get new ones and it’s partly because we have a more expensive price point when compared to our direct competition,” Helton explains.

Comfortable Balance

Helton’s wife of 16 years and their two sons, who are three and six years old, have been supporting him every step of the way. “My wife has witnessed everything even the days where we don’t have any work to do, and when the economy fell out we weren’t doing any autos and people were just scraping to get by,” Helton says. “My wife is an RN and we’re all very busy but it’s easier to balance work and home life now.” He notes that he had kids later in life after going through hurdles like graduating from college.

“I already owned two houses and then started having kids and I think my mind was a lot more settled. It does get hard when you get a call to pick the kids up if they get sick because I don’t have a job that I can leave as easily,” he says.

Hopefully things will change within the next few months, as he sees his two 17-year-old team members doing installations and taking some of the pressure off his plate.

Keep Going

“It’s been a long time and I’m a car guy through and through and it’s all I think about. But when you do a job for almost 30 years it can get monotonous, but there are always new goals you can set for yourself to keep it interesting,” Helton says.

Keeping it interesting is something Helton is planning on continuing, as he’s in the middle of an expansion. He’s been working with an architect to make an addition to his commercial property with the hopes of offering vehicle wraps, paint correction, detailing, and paint protection film services.

“I’m a customer service guy, it really makes me feel good when a customer tells me I’ve done everything they expected–that’s why I’m still in the businesses,” says Helton.

“I always tell those who work for me to always do better. That’s what I did 21 years ago when I was a college kid who saved up $1,000 to start a business in the 1990’s and I never looked back,” he added.

Emmariah Holcomb is the assistant editor for WINDOW FILM magazine. Reach her at eholcomb@glass.com, and follow her on Twitter @WindowFilmMag.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

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