Hurricane Ivan made its mark September 16, 2004, following a path from Grenada to Alabama and Florida and killing 52 people in the United States and 66 in the Caribbean. When it reached landfall in the States, the Pensacola area caught the brunt of it. It has been almost six months since the stormed ripped through the city, and yet there are businesses and homes that are still unusable.
While many residents claim it will take two to three years to have the city back together, there is an unspoken urgency to repair ailing buildings before the onset of the next hurricane season.
The upcoming hurricane season (beginning June 1 and lasting through November 30 for the Atlantic coast and the Caribbean) is quickly approaching. What are window film businesses doing to prepare for another season?
“I have a stack of folders for orders for people who lost windows that didn’t have film during Ivan. When these windows get replaced, they want them to have safety film,” said Robert E. Byrnes, owner of Coastal Tinting. “January and February are usually slow for us, but we have had one of the biggest months.”
Nick Emmert, owner of Gulf Coast Tinting, said that since Ivan, he has noticed more people requesting hurricane films.
Protective film application is a seasonal job in Pensacola, which is located in the northwestern region of the state. April through August are booming months, according to Emmert.
Those who are most likely to invest in the hurricane safety film are those whose residential or commercial buildings are on a waterfront.
“We like to offer both solar and hurricane protection, and waterfront properties can use both,” said Emmert.
“You’ve got to hustle in this business,” said Emmert. “Marketing the hurricane film is essential because many people don’t even know it exists.”
The flow of business for many companies comes from various sources, including advertisements, infomercials, brochures and repeat customers. Word of mouth, however, is still the best advertising, according to most.
Last year’s active hurricane season will certainly mean change in sales for the upcoming year.
“I speculate a 20 to 30 percent increase in sales by the end of the year,” said Emmert.
Ron Heifner, of Mike Ryan’s Professional Window Tinting, said he expects “quite a spike in business.”
Byrnes also expects a huge impact in his numbers due to the next hurricane season.
“Since the past disaster is still fresh in residents’ minds, I think there will be a lot more business than last year. However, since 90 percent of people don’t even know it [hurricane protective film] exists, it all depends on marketing,” said Byrnes.
A-1 Quality Window Tinting is a company that has not seen much demand for hurricane-protective films. According to the company owner, Dave Williams, they apply much more solar film than safety film, in part because people don’t know safety film exists.
Some factors keep even the Pensacola residents who are aware of it from purchasing it. The most popular reason for resisting the purchase is the cost. Even though it can be only half the price of shutters, it still implies a cost, said Byrnes.
The owner is still going to have to replace the glass even if film is applied, because the film cannot usually keep the window from breaking. It does, however, keep the broken glass in place and prevents damage to the inside, said Emmert.
For optimum protection, it is advisable that locations on the beach have both film and shutters.
Another reason why protective film is not used is because it often voids the warranty on the window.
“Glass companies will warranty their products for eight years, which usually doesn’t apply if the window has been tinted by another company. There is a free two-year warranty on film and a two-year sill failure warranty, if requested,” said Emmert.
Gulf Coast Tinting had a signed contract to apply hurricane-protective film to a hospital in Pensacola, but the hospital backed out when they realized the warranty on their existing windows would not apply after the film was applied. It is a problem that the industry continues to battle (see sidebar, Winning the Warranty War).
“There is a trend against shutters, because its price is high. Window film doesn’t change the appearance or have to be maintained the way shutters do,” said Byrnes.
So where is the window film business in Pensacola headed in the future?
As far as a significant increase in protective window film business, Emmert is not betting on it.
“Over the years, I have not seen an increase or decrease. The market has just gotten more competitive in Pensacola,” said Emmert.
That competition comes in all forms, including those less-than-professional companies all business industries dread: fly-by-nights. Pensacola’s window film community is not immune.
Byrnes knows of at least three window film companies that went out of business in 2004. “There are some [companies] that work out of their homes and have a yellow pages listing. They will basically follow us around and lowball us. They have no overhead or workman’s comp, so they can offer a lower price, but they don’t have access to the films we do,” Byrnes said. He also said these less-respectable companies will also give estimates without measuring windows or will ask the customer to measure the window for them. Byrnes acknowledges not all window film companies do that.
“We do have reputable competitors,” he said.
Knowing who is and who isn’t a reputable competitor makes for healthy business. Emmert, too, sees companies that can’t compete in a fair market come and go every year and he, like Byrnes, chooses to be professional.
“I never down my competition,” he said, adding that he always calls the customer back to follow-up and ask how the window is doing.
Pensacola, it seems, is in good hands for the next hurricane season. WF
Put the Wind in Your Sales
Get the Word Out. Share your success with everyone, not just your customers. If you have a particularly successful installation, if your job comes through a storm with minimal damage, contact local media (or encourage your customer to contact them) and share the story. Images are powerful and media news reaches the whole community at once.
Advertise, Advertise, Advertise. Whatever media you use to promote your business push the importance of safety film. Websites, television ads and infomercials give you the means to promote the success of safety film with images—particularly when used in conjunction with local press about your success (see previous point). If you advertise primarily by radio, you’ll have to be more creative, but you can still cite success stories and invite people to see your work (or to stop by your office to learn more).
Winning the Warranty War
In addition, many window film manufacturers offer either glass breakage warranty coverage, seal failure warranty coverage, or both, on windows on which their products (those approved in their published film-to-glass guidelines) have been installed. All this information is formally included in both the IWFA Flat Glass and Advanced Solar Control Education Manuals and training programs. Lastly, IWFA and WFC representatives share this information during their involvement with groups like the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC), the Glazing Industry Code Committee (GICC), Window & Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA), California Glass Association (CGA), and Independent Glass Association (IGA).
Window film companies will still face a battle against those who will argue that window film will negate fenestration warranty, but industry associations can help individual companies counter those claims with information. To contact IWFA, visit www.iwfa.com.