Window Tint: The Next Generation

August 17th, 2021 by Nathan Hobbs

The Under 40 Set Is Not Only Surviving, but Thriving

By Scott Sowers

Many industries are affected by baby boomers aging out of their professions and leaving a hole in the labor market. Not here. In the film industry, a fresh crop of tint specialists is on the rise and bringing large quantities of professionalism with them. In this issue, we are profiling seven young people (all under the age of 37) who are giving the industry, not just good, but a great name. Two of them are about to open shops, one can’t keep up with all the work he has, and all of them are masters of their craft who continue to perfect their techniques and never stop learning.

Certain themes rise to the top of advice provided by the young and successful of the industry. Slow and steady progress aimed at creating happy clients is a key. Professionalism in appearance and showing up on time is important. Good relations with film vendors are cited frequently. The satisfaction of mastering a trade that can provide a decent living is what keeps them measuring, cutting, and applying film till they get it just right.

Northern Perseverance

James McLeod is 34 years old and owns UV Authority in London, Ontario, Canada. He started the firm in 2019 after working for another shop for two years. His road to self-employment began after blowing out his knee while working as a delivery man. “A close friend of mine was working at a place where the window tinting department was looking for someone to train and employ. That’s where it all started,” he says.

He credits his success to one key word: perseverance. “Learning to tint is frustrating but if you can manage to keep trying after the fifth time you’ve ruined a piece of film, you’ll eventually come out the other side a lot better for it.”

McLeod’s clients are a mix of residential, commercial and automotive. The pandemic hasn’t had much of an effect on his work but it has put a crimp in his desire to sharpen his skills. “Currently the biggest challenge is that there’s not many training courses being offered,” he says. “There are many that I would like to travel to and participate in, yet you can’t really do that right now, which is frustrating.”

He definitely doesn’t miss delivering packages for a living. “I like that I am skilled in a profession that requires very particular techniques to really succeed, and I like that I feel confident enough to pursue it as a career.” McLeod plans to move into a brick-and-mortar location in the coming weeks.

Catching the Bug in Florida

Mike Aikens is 34 and owns Sunshield Window Tinting in Tampa, Fla. He launched the firm in 2008. He remembers the exact day he figured out what he wanted to do with his life. “When I was 18 years old, I had a friend who tinted cars out of a car wash bay that he rented. I asked him to tint my car. I helped with the installation and was immediately hooked.” Aikens signed on as a helper and moved deeper into the business.

“Just like most industries, window tinting takes practice and lots of it,” he says. “When I started, there weren’t YouTube video tutorials or how-to manuals. Most of my early experience came from mistakes. Today, less mistakes are made, but I never stop learning.”

Aikens runs Sunshield with his wife where they concentrate on business basics. “We never tried to do too much, too fast,” he says. “We have focused more on building relationships rather than how much we can profit and how fast we can get the job done. From our pricing, scheduling, installation process, and how we communicate with our customers, everything is kept simple.”

Aikens services all three markets after discovering how to branch out. “There is natural cross-over with automotive and residential window tinting,” he says. “Your automotive customers potentially become residential customers and vice versa. I have found that being a mobile company and traveling to the customers’ location, I am sometimes able to handle all three markets in the same day.”

His company will open a shop this summer and Aikens is happy with his chosen profession. “I absolutely love the fact that window tinting is a skilled trade,” he says. “I didn’t need a college degree. With patience, I was able to turn a roll of film, a few tools, and a spray bottle into a career that has given me the ability to provide stability for my family.”

Side Money Becomes Real Money

Ethan Waller is 35 and owns Southern Stylez Tinting based in Wilmington, N.C. He started his own business in 2012 after working for other shops in the area. Tinting started out as a side job he did while working out of his brother’s auto repair shop. He developed a following and eventually began making more on nights and weekends than he was on his day job.

Waller believes it takes a long time to master the craft. “You’re not a good car tinter until you’ve got ten years plus experience,” he says. “It’s not just about putting tint on the windshields anymore.” He serves all three markets and shares credit for his success with his film reps. “There’s a lot of shops that don’t talk to their film reps,” says Waller. I didn’t used to talk to mine, but I started talking to him in 2019 and he’s helped us out tremendously on several things.”

Waller loves the variety his business provides. “I enjoy what I do,” he says. “I still like working on cars and on the residential side, there’s different scenery, different people every day. If you can solve their problems, they are the happiest people in the world. There’s an adrenaline rush doing a big job and an adrenaline rush when you land a big job. And when you want to take time off, you don’t have to ask for a vacation.”

The Hired Gun

Seth Clark is 34 and the head honcho at Veteran Film Team based in Frederick, Md. Clark’s father works in the business as a dealer for 3M and pulled his son in as a helper when he was thirteen. Seth went to work full-time for his dad in 2004 and left in 2008 to start his own company. Unlike many tinters, Clark has always worked strictly in the residential and commercial side of the business. “I’ve never tinted a car in my life,” he says. Clark’s specialty is parachuting onto projects as a subcontractor.

“I do a lot of work for national companies including Window Film Depot and NGS,” he says. “They bid the project, but they need somebody who’s local to do the install.” Early in his career Clark flew to San Antonio and Nashville to hang tint in chain stores. He says he owes his success to the military-like efficiency of his operation. “I say what I mean, I mean what I say,” he says. “I joined the military at 28, signing up with the Army Reserves. In the Reserves we have a mission to do—that’s how I approach my business.”

Being close to the D.C. market, Clark does a lot of security film and like other companies he’s extremely busy. “In our area it’s been booming. More people are at home so there’s more residential calls, the commercial market is still rocking and rolling. Right now, it’s a combination of 2020’s projects and 2021’s projects combined into a perfect storm. The problem is keeping up with it.”

Goodbye to Retail

Matthew Yelle, 37, and his wife took a huge leap of faith by launching Palmetto Protection Films in Myrtle Beach last March. The pandemic initially put the kibosh on going into customer’s homes to tint windows, but the couple persevered. “A lot of people in this business don’t show up on time,” says Yelle. “That alone has blown my business up, just from referrals.”

An interest in cars pulled Yelle into the business as a teenager.

Good publicity helped him get started as he was featured in an online case study by Madico, his preferred film supplier. He also tinted the windows of a local radio deejay’s house. For Yelle, part of the job’s satisfaction is centered on the pride of workmanship. “When I look at what I’ve done, it means a lot to me,” he says. “Some guys just throw film up, but it’s a trade and you have to do know what you’re doing if you want to make it.”

The Family Business

Charles Dunham, 30, and Brittany Green, 29, are the brother and sister component of Tint Squad/Sun Distributing based in Waterford, Mich. The whole family is deep into the tint business. “My dad has been a tinter since the early 1980s,” says Green. “He tried convincing me for years to learn to tint. I was working a dead-end job and finally got sick of it one day and showed up to my parents shop the next day.” That was in 2016. One of Brittany’s first assignments was to launch Sun Distributing a year later.

Charles got into the business in 2013 as a result of a dog bite that severed a tendon in his thumb. “I had to have surgery,” says Dunham. “I was out of work and had to find a new way to make some money.” His training was based on the sink-or-swim method. “My step-father locked me in a garage bay for a week tinting the same window in my car over and over,” he says with a laugh.

The training worked as Dunham made his bones by first working out of car audio shops. The company now has its own space and like everybody else surveyed, is swamped with work. Dunham believes the satisfied customers are a byproduct of his own quest for perfection. “It has a lot to do with me being somewhat obsessive,” he says. “I don’t think perfection is obtainable, but I want to get as close as I can. That’s what drives me and that’s what our customers appreciate.”

The Personal Side

We got to know the business side of your younger set, but assistant editor Chris Collier talked to them to dig a little deeper, and have some fun.

James McLeod, UV Authority

Q: Favorite food?
A: That’s gotta be pizza.
Q: Favorite podcast?
A: Bad Friends with Bobby Lee and Andrew Santino.
Q: Favorite tool?
A: The Lil’ Chizzler.
Q: What cheers you up?
A: Soca music.
Q: Biggest inspiration?
A: I would have to say my grandfather.
Q: Biggest worry?
A: Going through life without accomplishing my most important aspirations.
Q: What is a fun fact no one knows about you?
A: I wanted to be a fighter pilot but I dropped out of Air Cadets when I was a teenager after just one week because I was intimidated. I’ve always regretted that.
Q: Who is a person (alive or dead) you would like to have dinner with?
A: The first person that comes to mind is Neil Armstrong.

Mike Aikens, Sunshield Window Tinting

Q: Favorite food?
A: I absolutely love Italian food.
Q: Favorite podcast?
A: The Ramsey Show (Dave Ramsey).
Q: Favorite tool?
A: The Reach by Tri- Edge.
Q: What cheers you up?
A: Spending time with my wife and kids.
Q: Biggest inspiration?
A: My wife. She has always stood beside me with every decision I make in regards to business and life.
Q: Biggest worry?
A: The ability to stay consistent as my business continues to grow. I worry that handing some responsibility to employees may affect what I’ve spent years trying to cultivate.
Q: What is a fun fact no one knows about you?
A: I’m a tool hoarder. I have window tint tools dating back to 2009.
Q: Who would like to have dinner with?
A: Elon Musk. I’m a huge fan of Space X and Tesla.

Ethan Waller, Southern Stylez Tinting

Q: Favorite food?
A: Pizza.
Q: Favorite podcast?
A: Honestly, I don’t really listen to podcasts.
Q: Favorite tool?
A: Window tinting wise, that would have to be the 5” gray card.
Q: What cheers you up?
A: 100% my wife, she’s my partner in life and in our business.
Q: Biggest inspiration?
A: Providing a good life for our soon-to-be-born son (May 9th). This article will probably be published before he arrives.
Q: Biggest worry?
A: I try not to worry about things as much as I can but I guess you could say if something happened and caused us to lose the business. We [have poured] our heart and soul into it to make it what it has become.
Q: What is a fun fact no one knows about you?
A: I hate when there are weeds in my yard.
Q: Who is a person (alive or dead) you would like to have dinner with?
A: Motivational speaker Eric Thomas.

Seth Clark, Veteran Film Team

Q: Favorite food?
A: I’d say probably Italian. Anything pasta wise that can pair with wine—I’m good to go.
Q: Favorite podcast?
A: I [listen] to a lot of business stuff. [I] listen to a lot of Dave Ramsey’s podcast. I also—I’m a real estate investor—so I listen to a lot of that stuff.
Q: Favorite tool?
A: I’d say the Sure Grip [Handle] by Gasket Pro Tools. He only made it for a little bit. And it’s just a window tint squeegee handle. But it’s actually like a motorcycle handle. So it’s really easy to grab.
Q: What cheers you up?
A: My wife. She is self-employed as well, so she knows lots of struggles that go along with the high days and the lows of being an entrepreneur. So she’s someone that I’ve run and talked to about—Here’s what’s going on with this employee or this customer or how would you handle the situation?
Q: Biggest inspiration?
A: I’d probably say my son. He’s young—he’s 18 months [old], but between him and his mom, they’re my why. He inspires me to be a better man, better husband, better dad [and] better person. He’s kind of why I get up and do what I do. I want to give him the best life. I want him to go to the best school. I want him—[I don’t want to] have to say, ‘man, we can’t afford to pay for your soccer cleats.’ I want to get up and work so that he can have those opportunities to learn and grow and be around people and just have the best life possible.
Q: Biggest worry?
A: I don’t like letting people down. I don’t want to leave a client or a customer or a friend or whoever—like their expectations were up here and they left feeling down here. So I want to [go] above and beyond what they were expecting.
Q: What is a fun fact no one knows about you?
A: I ride motorcycles on the side. Haven’t ridden lately, but that’s a hobby of mine. I’ve always been a motorcycle enthusiast.
Q: Who is a person (alive or dead) you would like to have dinner with?
A: Tom Brady. To be able to sit down with him and get some of his why’s—why do you keep doing it, you’ve won six times? How are you coming back? I want to gather some of that.

Matthew Yelle, Palmetto Protection Films

Q: Favorite food?
A: A nice thick, juicy, medium-rare rib-eye steak.
Q: Favorite podcast?
A: The T&A Morning Show, a local staple here in the Myrtle Beach area.
Q: Favorite tool?
A: The gold E-Z Reach.
Q: What cheers you up?
A: A beach day with the family.
Q: Biggest inspiration?
A: My dad and brother.
Q: Biggest worry?
A: Not being completely prepared for the next job since customer satisfaction and my reputation are on the line.
Q: What is a fun fact no one knows about you?
A: I was a semi-professional skateboarder.
Q: Who is a person (alive or dead) you would like to have dinner with?
A: My maternal grandfather who died when I was too young to appreciate his stories.

Charles Dunham, Tint Squad/Sun Distributing

Q: Favorite food?
A: Donuts—all kinds, shapes and sizes.
Q: Favorite podcast?
A: Crime Junkies.
Q: Favorite tool?
A: The Shank.
Q: What cheers you up?
A: Music and my wife.
Q: Biggest inspiration?
A: My youngest sister. She passed away a few years ago unfortunately. Watching her live with and battle through severe epilepsy has always been a big inspiration. While she was alive, she inspired me to take full advantage of every opportunity because not every person has the ability to do so. Since her passing, I try to do the same in honor of her.
Q: Biggest worry?
A: Time—my biggest worry is that I won’t take full advantage of the time I have. It’s a worry, but it is also one of my biggest motivators.
Q: What is a fun fact no one knows about you?
A: I studied both engineering and psychology prior to entering into the window film business.
Q: Who is a person (alive or dead) you would like to have dinner with?
A: Ayrton Senna—I’m a huge racing fan. Senna is considered one of the greatest drivers to ever race in Formula 1. Unfortunately, his career was cut short.

Brittany Green (Dunham-maiden), Tint Squad/Sun Distributing

Q: Favorite food?
A: Chicken nuggets.
Q: Favorite podcast?
A: Terrible, Thanks for Asking.
Q: Favorite tool?
A: Green 3.5” Fusion Turbo Squeegee.
Q: What cheers you up?
A: My family!
Q: Biggest inspiration?
A: Honestly, watching all the people in my life that I know are struggling behind the scenes but continue to get up and try every single day, even when they’re exhausted.
Q: Biggest worry?
A: I try not to worry about anything because if I allow myself to, I will end up worrying about every little thing and that’s exhausting.
Q: What is a fun fact no one knows about you?
A: Oh geez. I don’t think there is anything that I can say no one knows but one thing that not many people know is I’m one of those people that can’t stand to have the different items on their plate of food touching, especially if one or more items have sauce. It grosses me out.
Q: Who is a person (alive or dead) you would like to have dinner with?
A: Hands down, my sister. I miss her a lot. I would give absolutely anything to be able to hang out with her one more time.

Scott Sowers is a contributing writer for WINDOW FILM magazine.

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