Hall of Fame HeroesJuly 27th, 2023 by Nathan Hobbs
Darrell Smith and Mike Burke’s Cemented Legacies
By Chris Collier
Long-time window film industry veterans Darrell Smith, executive director of the International Window Film Association (IWFA), and Mike Burke, founder of Sun Stoppers, will be the next professionals inducted into the Window Film Hall of Fame™ at the 2023 International Window Film Conference and Tint-Off™ (WFCT) in Virginia Beach, Va. Each received multiple nominations and were chosen by the selection committee in May.
Industry professionals had plenty to share about Smith in their nominations:
“As a window film installer/dealer and member of the IWFA, I have appreciated Darrell’s work in leading the organization and advocating for the window film industry. He’s a familiar face at the annual International Window Film Conference and Tint-Off™ and I (and many others) have made a point to attend his talks when I participate in the conferences.”
“I have been in the industry for over 33 years and have enjoyed meeting and learning from thousands of fellow industry colleagues. Darrell’s knowledge and expertise in the window film industry is only matched by his tireless efforts to advance our industry. I believe that his induction would certainly be well deserved.”
“It is humbling to think that, of all the contributors to this industry I have had the opportunity to know and work with, I am to receive it,” Smith says of the upcoming induction. “They all share in this with me, because not one of us can take credit for the achievements in the industry over these past 40 to 50 years.”
Smith shared the news of his selection first with Blake Carter, who serves as the administrative manager of the IWFA. “We work so closely together, I had to share it with him immediately,” Smith says.
Smith has been involved in the industry for more than 50 years, beginning in 1971. His lengthy stint in the window film segment spans several prestigious companies and organizations:
• Smith Wholesale Inc. (family business) (1957-1969)
• 3M Corporation (Industrial Abrasives Division) (1969-1971)
• Martin Processing Inc. (1971-1987)
• Cortaulds Performance Films (1987-1995)
• DSM Services Inc. (1995-Present)
• AIMCAL-Window Film Committee (1996-2009)
• International Window Film Association (1996-Present)
A Lasting Legacy
“I hope I am remembered as helping make window film a respectable and legitimate product-either through educational materials, presentations, media stories or relationships with other product associations, their experts and their customer bases,” Smith says. “My father always reminded me that, ‘Whenever you take a man’s money, you make sure he knows he got his money’s worth.’ I hope that almost all who have financially supported the IWFA for the last 25 years, from paying dues to purchasing educational materials to participating in the Blind Fund, believe they have been getting their money’s worth from my efforts.”
Smith says that, before 1998, there were only a few unbranded educational materials available in the industry.
“From 1998 to 2003, with the assistance of many technical and marketing people working for its manufacturer members, the IWFA developed and published four separate educational manuals for automotive, solar control, advanced solar control, and safety/security products and their uses,” Smith says. “In addition, as these materials were published, accreditation tests were developed and offered to all industry members who wished to document their knowledge of those materials.”
Since its beginning, approximately 2,000 individual tests have been taken through this program. Today, those original manuals have all been updated and are being digitized for online availability. Accreditation testing has already been transformed into an online process and the tests are being adjusted to the changes in the material content. In addition, the European Window Film Association (EWFA) will begin to “Europeanize” the manuals with plans to then have them translated into more languages for use in more countries around the world, according to Smith.
“Certification of window film performance by the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) was the event that immediately gave window film legitimacy in the energy efficiency solution environment,” says Smith, who has witnessed several decades’ worth of industry evolution. “Before that time, performance claims made by members of the window film industry were seen as just that, i.e. biased claims of performance. With NFRC certification came the opportunities for window films to be included in building codes and in utility rebate programs and officially recognized by state and Federal regulators and agencies, since all these uses and groups required NFRC certification to validate product performance.”
Smith says the advent of sputtering technology is the biggest single technological advancement in the window film industry.
“With sputtering technology, colors can come from the use of different metals, metals can be deposited as alloys, and different layers of different materials can be deposited on one another in a single pass of a multiple target sputtering line, taking the possible number of combinations of coatings and metals used in a single film to infinity,” Smith shares. “In addition, even with conventional metals, longevity was increased. Basically, it meant that window films could be custom-designed to achieve both visible and energy goals, instead of being limited to the look and performance of colored films combined with metalized films.”
Industry professionals had plenty to share about Burke in their nominations:
“Mike has built an empire from the ground up … [He] continues to inspire the entire industry with his work ethic and sought-after knowledge,” a nominator shared.
Another said, “Mike has contributed to the film industry in massive ways, including setting the first-ever Guinness World Record related to window tinting in 2018. He started his career in the industry as an owner/operator and through mastery of marketing and sales processes, has expanded his business empire to nearly 100 locations nationally … Today, Mike prefers to spend his time coaching, speaking and helping other leaders in the industry improve their results, and he would be an outstanding candidate to consider for a Window Film Hall of Fame induction.”
“It gave me some flashbacks to when I was a mobile tinter for three years— sweating with no air conditioning in body shops, detailing shops, stereo shops and car dealerships—looking for an [installation] bay,” Burke shares of his initial reaction to his selection. “I went from the first three years of my career to the last three years of my career in a 20-second flashback.” Burke has worked in the window film industry for 33 years. He is the founder of Sun Stoppers, which has more than 71 locations in 28 states and offers residential and commercial tint and decorative film services as well as automotive tint, paint protection and ceramic coatings.
He holds The Guinness World Record for the most car windows tinted in a single day.
Mike Burke’s first car was a 1984 Ford Escort station wagon, a four-speed, family-hauler that puffed black smoke at the onset of second gear. The 16-year-old creative leaned into stenciling, drawing and airbrush work during his high school years—and it’s a good thing, too. He channeled the imaginative side of his brain to shield his wagon from the world.
“I went to Pep Boys and bought a roll of window film,” Burke says. “Under an oak tree at my parent’s house when I was 16 years old, I tinted my Escort station wagon with limo tint.”
Burke’s overall goal was privacy, privacy and privacy. But his shaded secret wasn’t kept for long.
“When my friends started dissecting the window tint, they realized there were light-gaps everywhere,” he says. “I went and bought another roll of film and tinted the windows with two layers of limo tint. I made the second pattern bigger to cover up the light gaps of the first one.”
Soon enough, Burke’s desire for solitude transitioned into unexpected dollar signs. He had tinted 50 cars by the time he was 17-18 years old. His schedule was stacked in college, but he still made time for his Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers at Western Carolina University.
“I had a passion for making money, and I had a passion for people where there was a need and I could feel that want,” Burke says. “When somebody has the need and they go, ‘Hey, Mike, I heard you tint windows—can you tint my car?’ I don’t like to disappoint peop le, and I like it when people need me for something.”
Through decades of teamwork, Burke has found more than fiscal success.
“My biggest accomplishment is [helping] people that are broken,” Burke says. “[Some were] delivering pizzas, working as a lot attendant—and through my assistance, help and coaching, have bought a house, a car and make $100,000 a year tinting windows under the brand. I took a kid that was making $15 an hour and now makes $100,000 a year. I’ve done that about a dozen times—taking someone from nothing and turning them into something.”
Chris Collier is the editor for Window Film magazine.
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