That’s a Wrap

November 7th, 2022 by Nathan Hobbs

Putting a Bow on the 21st Annual International Window Film Conference and Tint-Off™

A San Antonio Showcase

The 21st Annual International Window Film Conference and Tint-Off™ (WFCT) is in the books. San Antonio’s Henry B. González Convention Center played host to insightful seminars, competitions, product demonstrations, the event’s first-ever Career Day, an industry Hall of Fame induction and more.

Seminars—Day One

Nick St. Denis, the director of research for Window Film magazine’s parent company Key Media & Research, a leading information provider to the window film and paint protection film (PPF) industry and related markets, kicked off the day with a market update. For more on his findings, see page 24.

During Attracting the Next Generation of Installers: How to Train an Apprentice, Kyle Fuller, the owner of Tint Pro in Bonaire, Ga., and Matthew Yelle, the owner of Palmetto Protection Films in Myrtle Beach, S.C., discussed the best ways to hire, train and keep an apprentice.

Fuller talked about the difficulties his company has had retaining employees. He recounted a time when a new employee stopped showing up just a few months after starting. The loss was hard, Fuller said, because of all the time spent training the employee only to be burned in the end.

Yelle said that when he looks to hire someone he looks for employees who are respectful. That’s because his business works in multi-million dollar homes that need to be respected. Skills can be taught but respect cannot, said Fuller.

“Attitude over skill,” Fuller said.

Window Film magazine publisher Debra Levy kicked off the Opening and Hall of Fame Induction, where Maxpro Window Films president/CEO Joe Cobbe was inducted into the Window Film Hall of Fame.

Cobbe founded Commonwealth Film in 1985 and Commonwealth Laminating and Coating in the early 1990s. Eastman completed the acquisition of Commonwealth Laminating and Coating, manufacturer of SunTek Films, in 2013.

Cobbe’s roots are in the military, but his public service is expansive. Drafted into the U.S. Army, Cobbe served from November 1966 to September 1969 and earned the rank of First Lieutenant. Cobbe, a Certified Public Accountant, served as the mayor of Martinsville, Va., from 2004 to 2006. He helped create Maxpro in 2012.

“It’s a surprise and an honor,” Cobbe said. “There are a lot of folks that have been in this business a lot longer than I have and are probably more deserving. I am flattered for it to happen; it’s a great industry with a lot of great people.”

Breaking Out and Breaking Into New Markets saw Nick Blek, the owner of Premier Armor in Corona, Calif., Brian Brown, principal at Exclusive Detail in Charlotte, N.C., and Jay Ka, owner of Modern Elix in West Chester, Pa., tackle the rise of PPF and ceramic coatings.

“How much patience do you have and how much money do you have to burn because PPF is not cheap,” Brown said.

Despite the difficulty with breaking into the business, PPF is worth the investment, Ka said.

“It has transformed our business and it has provided us resources to grow and move us forward,” Ka said.

Ask Your Suppliers Anything saw the following C-Suite executives hit the stage for a Q/A session: Adam Cote, vice president of Ceramic Pro’s Elite Dealer Program; David Kratz, chief operating officer at Hüper Optik USA; Jeffrey Plummer, senior vice president and general manager, window film for Madico; Harry Rahman, director of architectural films for XPEL Inc.; Darrell Reed, commercial director, Eastman Performance Films; and Mariana Rodriguez, the vice president and GM of Avery Dennison Graphics North America.

“The planning for potential disruptions has become an essential aspect of manufacturing companies,” Rodriguez said. “… It’s something that is central and critical for us.”

Window Film magazine columnist Mike Burke has worked in the window film industry for 33 years. His company, Sun Stoppers, has more than 63 locations in 19 states and offers residential and commercial tint and decorative film services as well as automotive tint, paint protection and ceramic coatings. In How to Become a Business Super-Power, Burke spoke on the importance of delegation.

“You’ve got to rely on a team,” he said. “My business went from $1 million a year to $10 million as soon as I started letting go. We dominate. Sun Stoppers is powerful. You know why? My team.” Panelists for the session Selling Security Film included Brad Campbell, CEO of Campbell Corp., Daniel Maldonado, president of Prestige Window Solutions and Peter Mott,
owner of Sunmaster, all from California. The world is changing and the window-film industry is taking notice with respect to the sale and popularity of the segment.

Maldonado told those in attendance that through the sale of security film, his company recently posted figures that were “better than ever.” Mott said his company is in a similar boat, as his business has seen more growth in the past two years than ever before. In fact, last year, half of Sunmaster’s business was in security film. His company has seen that growth not only across the commercial end, but in residential as well.

During Going Decorative and Gaining Business from Custom Projects, Matthew Sandherr, owner of Naples Tint Company in Naples, Fla., and Marcello Becchi, vice president of sales and marketing for Vetrilite in Coral Springs, Fla., spoke to the “symbiosis” between the companies with respect to custom designs and tinting, as well as tips for selling in a complex market.

Gabriel Durand-Hollis, president of DHR Architects, a full-service architecture, planning and interior design firm, discussed what architects are looking for when it comes to projects during the What Architects Want session.

Durand-Hollis said architects need products to meet local codes, be applicable to the situation and be cost-effective.

“People need to understand that we are under multiple mandates,” Durand-Hollis said. “We are in good faith trying to balance good ideas.”

When it comes to designing a building, architects focus on a variety of factors, including heat gain and loss, U-values, climate-responsive design and more. The placement of windows is also important depending on where you live, Durand-Hollis said. The amount of sunlight let in can determine how hot or cold a home will be. Architects also need to pay attention to local obstacles, where the building faces and the types of windows installed.

That’s because “each window is oriented differently and has different shading,” Durand-Hollis said.

Seminars—Day Two

Learning continued on the International Window Film Association (IWFA)’s Education Day, with seminar speakers focused on hot industry topics. During Project Management for Large Projects i.e. Working with the Government and Schools, Jeff Franson, CEO of FutureVu Brands, discussed his experience in the ‘large’ project lifecycle from marketing to ‘big fish’ through successful project management and installation.

Topics discussed included the evaluation of customer needs and wants, assessing for the proper solution, sourcing labor and materials, delivery and installation management. Franson also shared the highs and lows of large project management in order to share with the industry lessons learned and strategies for success in this evolving space.

“Let’s fix the big things first,” Franson said. “Whether it’s a person, a marketing plan or a vehicle or piece of equipment. Fix those big things first and then the downstream blocking and tackling becomes much easier to do.”

Darrell Smith, executive director of the IWFA, then took the stage for a session titled IWFA Update/Tint Laws. What has the IWFA done to improve its services to the industry in the past year? What can the industry expect in the near future? What is the current environment for state tint laws? Why worry about regulations as much as changes in tint laws? Smith tackled all
of that and more.

Bill Valway, CEO of AP Corp. in Baltimore, began his seminar titled Adding Services to Your Business for the Longer Term by energizing attendees with some imaginary jump-roping. The exercise displayed the importance of adjusting one’s state of mind in the battle between positive and negative thinking to allow for capitalization on new ideas.

Valway discussed the importance of creating a vivid vision.

“Allow yourself, give yourself permission, to dream,” he said. “Every single person in this room has dreams. Allowing yourself to take dedicated, scheduled time to engage in that is a completely different process. Most entrepreneurs, most business leaders, have experiences where you had a vision and it started to pull you forward. This vivid vision process is a little bit more in-depth in that you’re going to detail out what the next three, five, 10 years look like.”

It’s also vital to actually put the vision down on paper for it to be clear.

“Be specific because details do matter,” Valway said. “What does it look like? How does it feel? What does your team look like? Set specific timelines. What are you willing to sacrifice in order to achieve these things? These all need to be captured in your vivid vision.”

Protecting lien rights is often an afterthought, an unfortunate reality seeing as how often times it’s too late to seek relief when in the midst of payment discrepancies on a job. During Three Ways to Save Time and Get Paid Faster While Protecting Your Lien Rights, this issue was discussed at length. And while lien rights and processes differ from state to state, there are general steps contractors can take to protect themselves.

“If you do construction work, if you don’t get paid for whatever reason, you absolutely deserve to get paid and you do have rights to protect yourself,” said Paige Centa of Levelset in Austin, Texas. “The trouble becomes doing it correctly.”

Centa began by addressing some common misconceptions surrounding liens. While generally a good idea, written contracts, she said, aren’t required in most states. Nor do those contracts translate to lien rights. Also, just because a supplier protects their lien rights doesn’t mean yours are protected as well.

“You have to protect your own interests every single time,” she said. “Filing a lien is a powerful tool, but the harsh reality is you can’t just file a lien at any time or for any reason. There are really strict deadlines you have to get right, or else you’re out of luck.”

During Recruitment and Retention of Employees, Jonathon Thompson, managing partner at Sunsational Systems in Austin, Texas, talked about hiring and retaining employees.

“What we are seeing is a population decline potential,” said Thompson. “We need to get ahead and figure out how to remedy this.”

This decline will limit the worker pool, which will force companies to fight harder for qualified workers. This means better benefits, higher pay and additional incentives. The companies that can afford to provide workers with what they want will ultimately prevail. The small companies, however, will have trouble finding skilled workers.

As such, smaller companies need to think outside of the box. Employers need to change the mindset that workers are replaceable. People want to be valued and respected. The best way to solve this is to create an amazing work culture. Give the employees the autonomy to do what they think is right. Don’t micromanage.

Mike Rowe Takes the Stage

Autobahn Window Films sponsored the year’s keynote address, which was delivered by Emmy-winning host, best-selling author, executive producer and trades advocate Mike Rowe. Rowe is one of the nation’s most respected leaders of championing vocations through series such as Dirty Jobs, and Somebody’s Gotta Do It. He has given countless interviews speaking about the skills gap and the importance of trades.

Rowe spoke to a standing room only crowd to discuss work that makes the lives of people possible.

“I want to tell you about the moment in my life when I realized everything about work was wrong,” said Rowe.

The story starts when Rowe’s mother called him to tell him that his grandfather was soon turning 90 years old and wanted to see Rowe do something that actually “resembled work.”

Enlightened, Rowe went to his boss at his news station in San Francisco and pitched a segment to capture the lives of everyday people and the types of work that they do. Rowe went out and attempted to cover industries not typically known to the common person, like crawling through the sewer systems of San Francisco.

“It takes a minute for your eyes to adjust, but your nose doesn’t take time to adjust at all,” recalls Rowe of his time in the sewers. “The stench gets on your teeth. You’re just stunned … You just stand there festooned in this filth.”

To Rowe, this looked like a place of work. A place that his grandfather would recognize. “My grandfather was going to love this,” Rowe said. “And my grandmother would be so proud.”

The Top Dealers Lunch

The demand for safety and security, solar control, style and privacy are substantial in 2022, and window film has situated itself in those markets without a hitch. From Georgia to California to Florida to New York, film dealers boost themselves to greater heights with a slate of smart solutions.

Window Film magazine’s annual Top Dealer list expanded to 26 companies—seven more than 2021’s rankings.

All Top Dealers were honored during an afternoon lunch on day two of WFCT. The gathering also recognized Maxpro Window Films president Joe Cobbe, the industry’s newest Window Film Hall of Fame inductee (see page 54 of Window Film magazine Sept/Oct 2022 for more). Hall of Famers Ed Golda and Trent Courage were also in attendance and recognized during the lunch.

Seminars—Day Three

During Managing Your Way to Mobile Success, Mike Leffler, owner/installer of Mike’s Mobile Tint of Shelbyville, Ind., and Rob Oranges, national product manager for TubeliteDenco, discussed the specific challenges and unique opportunities for mobile-only businesses.

“Being mobile, a lot of times your relationship with a customer isn’t at their house,” Leffler said. “It’s over the phone or email. You have to establish a [connection] ahead of time.”

The morning continued with Cybercrime: How to Stay Safe Against Ransomware Shutdowns and Other Threats, which saw 20-year FBI veteran and security expert Jeff Lanza use real-life examples of the latest hacks, security breaches and computer scams to demonstrate how cybercrime occurs and what countermeasures we can take to combat the innovations of criminals.

Dealing with bankers doesn’t have to be scary—Use Your Bank to Your Advantage helped attendees learn how even the smallest company can develop a banking relationship to facilitate growth when you want it. Attendees learned how to choose the right type of bank, how to negotiate fees, how to plan for the future and what not to do as well. Speaker Lyle Hill has more than 50 years of experience in the industry, has owned several businesses and has a wealth of experience working with banks. He passed on his knowledge during the session.

Sales of residential and commercial films serve as a profitable niche for film companies. That has increased post-COVID. During Selling Residential and Commercial Film in a Post-COVID World, Bill Valway, CEO at AP Corp. in Baltimore, Md., and Josh Miller, owner at Green Valley Tint in Henderson, Nev., covered this and more. So why don’t more companies offer these services? Participants learned why incorporating the sale of energy-efficient films into your lineup is a solid business strategy.

Career Day

Day three saw the event’s first ever Career Day in action. There’s no better industry than the automotive window film industry, said Liz Lasa, owner of Window Tinting Queen, to the nearly 150 students in the audience.

“It’s a fantastic business to get into,” Lasa said. “There’s money to be made.”

However, it has been difficult to find window tinters, Lasa added. That’s because most people assume that a four-year degree is the only path to financial success. That’s far from the truth. Tinters can make a ton of money, said Roberta Rodriquez, owner of Modesto Window Tint in Modesto, Calif.

Those who become window tinters enter an industry that provides immediate financial relief and job satisfaction. That doesn’t mean smooth sailing. Window tinters have to work hard to move up in the industry. You need to set goals and grind before you reap the rewards, Lasa said.

The typical day of a window tinter includes opening the shop, sharpening blades and installing. You’re pretty much going to be cutting patterns and installing all day, Rodriquez said. Once you become an owner, expect to do everything, including cutting, installing, managing and dealing with customers.

“I love building relationships with my customers,” Rodriquez said. “Thank them for coming. Make sure that you stay connected with them. Always make them feel welcome in your shop.”

Ensure that your customers are always happy. That’s how your shop grows, added Rodriquez.

The tinting industry has changed over the years. Tinters are more inclined to help each other out than in the past. The evolution of technology has also made the job much easier, said Marco Cazorla, global trainer for XPEL.

“The industry has completely shifted where you can even learn on YouTube,” Cazorla said. “There’s so much more unity. People are here to help you.” Rodriquez added that there are more women in the film industry, which is “amazing to see.”

The show floor at the Henry B. González Convention Center was home to dozens of industry suppliers providing solutions for various business realms.

The 100Group and Apollo Window Film

The 100Group provides a single platform for payment processing, voice over internet protocol (phone systems, SMS and MMS), business insurance, human resources, financial planning and software integration. Its software and technology platforms offer full automation and increase efficiency, according to the company.

“We specialize in payment processing for tint shops. We feature different terminals that you can use to process payments. We can work with Clover, DejaVoo and more,” said Morgan Tyler, 100Group account executive.

Apollo Window Film offered a wide range of automotive films for the industry. Its window film is designed to hold glass particles together in case of breakage. It provides both an added barrier to the window and protection against other road elements. Its automotive film products include Ultra Jsx, Ultra Csx, Ultra Cool IR Nano Ceramic Series and Ultra Dark Sky Ir97/ Ultra Sky IR90 Nano Ceramic Series.

“We have dedicated more to the ceramic window films these past three years. We have seen an increase in sales as consumers become more aware of heat rejection and the quality of the film. We still deal a lot with dealerships. Installers like our film because it shrinks easier. Adhesiveness and longevity are key features of our window films,” said Maged Awad, president and CEO of Apollo Window Film.

AutotintRx and C-Bond Systems

AutotintRx is an ophthalmologist and optometrist-owned company that specializes in a streamlined process to obtain a medical tint prescription or exemption. It seeks to improve automotive tinting to better protect eyes and skin conditions.

“It’s a five-minute consultation,” said Dr. Noah Kim, co-owner of AutotintRx. “You go to our website and a doctor will review your consultation form. We’ll then give you a call if there are any questions or answers. It’s basically telemedicine. After that, we’ll send an encrypted PDF to your email, and that way you can take that to your installer,” said Dr. Noah Kim, co-owner of AutotintRx.”

C-Bond Systems provides protected nanotechnology built to increase the strength, safety and performance levels of glass and window film products. Its products include NanoShield, a multi-purpose glass strengthener and water repellant solution.

“NanoShield is a windshield protection solution that is sprayed on and squeegeed off,” said Mike Wanke, president of Safety Solutions Group, C-Bond Systems. “It makes your windshield 80% stronger. It’s more able to resist rock chips from everyday driving. This solution sinks into the surface of your glass. It’s not a coating. It becomes part of your glass.”

KAM Unlimited and Madico

KAM Unlimited Inc. is a window film subcontractor that specializes in decorative film, wet glaze attachment, solar film and security film.

“We offer subcontractor services to dealers all across the nation big and small. We offer window film, resurfacing film and wet glaze solutions,” said Tyler Newman, marketing director.

Madico was a popular exhibit in San Antonio, thanks to demonstrations of its new ClearPlex Windshield Protection Film. While the clear version of the product has existed for a while, a new addition to the product excited attendees.

“We’ve had the clear version of that for a while, but we now have a nanoceramic version of it to help block the heat from coming in the windshield,” said Sarah Ortiz of Madico. “So it protects from rock chips and now it’s going to protect the inside from the heat.”

One of the primary ways heat enters a vehicle is through its windows, which could theoretically be counteracted by having dark enough tint. However, tint that dark is often illegal depending on its location on the car and the car’s location by state.

“We’ve tried to use our current technologies to add some heat protections as well to the films we already have,” Ortiz added.

Attendees loved the ClearPlex Windshield Protection Film, as well as the company’s ReadyFit kits, which are preformed kits that can take some of the guesswork out of difficult installations.

“Coming off of COVID, it’s been rocky for everyone,” Ortiz said. “But we’ve managed to have really great years through COVID to now. There’s been great traffic here and quality people coming through.”

XPEL, Sonoco Plastics and TubeliteDenco

XPEL, a specialist in PPF, window films and coatings, had no shortage of products on display at the show. Displayed products included chemical lineups, ceramic coatings and numerous versions of PPF and window films.

“The common question people always wonder is how difficult is paint protection film, because that’s an art; it’s not 1+1=2,” said Chris Hardy of XPEL. “You have to have a really artistic mentality in order to make that film look the way it needs to for a customer to accept it.”

If you wondered if the company has developed any new technologies, such as coated films, the answer is “yes.”

“This is something we developed this year where ceramic coating is embedded into the film rather than putting a ceramic coating on top as a separate object,” Hardy said. “The benefit there is it takes down on the install time.”

XPEL also demonstrated its window films, with Hardy saying the company’s high-end film, the XR Plus, is actually the easiest film in XPEL’s lineup to shrink.

Sonoco Plastics provides the automotive industry with window film cores, master film cores, pad plugs, endwalls and more.

“Most of these products that we’re showing today are used for different types of film, like auto film and architectural film. The film gets wrapped around the core and that’s what you use to hold the film,” said Kriste Harding of Sonoco Plastics.

TubeliteDenco offers premium window film brands, PPF, signage supplies, ceramic coatings, print and cut equipment and wall and floor graphics. “TubeliteDenco is a wholesale sign industry distributor. Every sign that you see, we sell the parts to make it. We also sell a lot of car wrap vinyl,” said Jessica Santiago, CSR manager.

Hardy said the annual event is always a great show to attend thanks to its competitions and varying types of exhibitors.

“I think [WFCT] does a great job putting this show together and getting all these brands which are normally competitors to be in the same room, and to actually really enjoy each other’s company and work with one another,” Hardy said.

TRÜ Spray Systems and Teel Plastics

TRÜ Spray Systems offers an electric airless spray system that keeps spraying pressure at 90 psi all day. Users can change or adjust the water solution dilution without carrying an air compressor. The tank can be run from full to empty with the lid off.

“You can use your keg and you can attach this system to that. There are no more air compressors. There’s no more loss of pressure. It’s an on-demand, ready-to-go system out of the box. The system can be used for PPF, graphics, tint and detailing,” said Bruce Slavich, president.

Teel Plastics Inc. is known for its plastic window film cores and end plugs.

“We have a specific product for the window industry. We make plastic cores and plastic end plugs. The plastic cores are used for film widening applications. The plugs are used to protect those rolls when you put them in the box so they don’t roll around and the film doesn’t touch the edges of the box,” said Bob Anderson, business development specialist.

Avery Dennison

Avery Dennison was on the floor in San Antonio showcasing its window film line and PPF products.

“We’re showcasing our NR Nano Ceramic and our Shield IR, which is our clear film,” said David Korvah of Avery Dennison. “On the PPF side, we have our Supreme Defense Matte film, our Supreme Defense Gloss and our Neo Noir, which is a gloss black PPF.”

Korvah said the show allows Avery Dennison to spread the word about its additional offerings outside of the products for which it is best known, such as the Supreme Wrapping color change material.

“We love coming to the show and meeting new installers, and exposing them to our product line,” he said. “Our gloss material is probably one of thebetter ones on the market, so we love getting it in peoples’ hands.”

Chris Collier is the editor for Window Film magazine. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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

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