Small Town USA: The Hidden Gems of the Film IndustryJune 29th, 2022 by Chris Collier
Forsyth, Ga., meets the textbook definition of a small town. Its declared population is 4,077 people with a median household income of $32,173 in 2019. But small is a relative term and Forsyth just might be big enough for a tint shop.
The city is home to Jeff Welch’s Surface – Tint, Wraps, and Design, which has grown to thrive in its local scene despite a lighter population.
Putting in the Work
“Small town USA could be in the middle of Kansas where there’s not a big city close by,” says Welch, whose business posted more than $300,000 in sales in 2021. “You have to depend on your farming community. You don’t have any dealerships you can pull work from in the wintertime. Your local sheriff’s department might only have 15 cars versus the next county with 250.”
Repeat customers comprise nearly half of all transactions at Welch’s operation, which leans on legwork to generate new leads during all seasons. “Reach out to the sheriff’s department, body shops and glass shops,” he advises. “Connect and intertwine yourself to the network of your community. You’ll find yourself busy.”
No matter the shop size, he says a business strategy centered on customer satisfaction is crucial.
“Be open when you say you’re going to be open; be where you say you’re going to be; do what you say you’re going to do when you get there; and shake someone’s hand and tell them, ‘Thank you,’ at the end. Those four things don’t exist in a lot of shops. A lot of customers are looking for dependability.”
“The main difference in small towns versus big cities is that you go more off of reputation,” says Jeff Allen, owner of Lights Out Window Tinting in Keystone Heights, Fla. “Everybody knows you. I do a service for this town. I’m the only tint shop here. In the big city, I feel they have to market more to set themselves apart, shine and grab some attention.”
Keystone Heights’ 2019 population sat at 1,581 with a median household income of $57,500, per Data USA. Allen’s 2021 sales were an estimated $300,000, a number boosted by word of mouth in local Facebook Groups. “We have many people come from out of town,” he says. “They come to Florida to visit their family, and they bring a different vehicle every time … We can get a lot more personal than big city tint shops.”
Consumer education is central to Allen’s strategy. His ceramic window film sales have doubled during the last three years, facilitating less work and more money. Welch has seen a shift in consumer awareness too.
“People are more knowledgeable about window tint, the process, what’s possible and what’s not,” Welch says. “Some of the truth on window film is becoming more evident with people. That makes the education part easier. We tell them everything—if they have a dot-matrix on their windshield, we tell them what it will look like before we tint it.”
Greenbrier, Ark.’s, population totaled 5,478 in 2019, according to Data USA. The city is 34 miles away from Little Rock, Ark., which tallied a population of 197,958 the same year. Jordan Jernigan, main installer and shop manager at Luxury Window Tinting in Greenbrier, says customer referrals are integral in rural areas.
“They’ve got a friend at church, have a softball team they play for or work at a small business in town,” he says. “Word of mouth is one of our main ways of getting business.”