Volume 10, Issue 4                             July/August 2006


FILMING THE TUNDRA

One Dealer Carves Out a Niche in Green Bay
by Les Shaver

Hear the words Green Bay and, to most Americans, familiar thoughts roll in: Brett Favre, Vince Lombardi and, of course, the frozen tundra of famed Lambeau Field. Yes, Green Bay is famous for its Packers and frigid temperatures. That’s why window film is one of the last things associated with the town. That’s for the sunnier places like Florida and California. Why would anyone in Titletown USA (a nickname given to Green Bay) need window film?

That’s a question, Nick Ferry, owner of Window Film Specialists in the Green Bay suburb of De Pere, Wis., gets a lot. And it’s one he doesn’t mind. If fact, Ferry wished more folks would ask him about film. That would give him more people to educate. As it is, Ferry still isn’t doing half bad. In four years, he’s built a diversified business that’s become one of the biggest film dealerships in the Green Bay area. His formula: educating locals about the benefits of film, even in the wintertime. It’s been a hard sell in some cases, but a diversified product line, an ambitious advertising campaign and a dogged determination to sell the benefits of film have helped. 

“He’s a young guy, he’s energetic and he has a lot of great ideas,” said Tony Zak, a regional sales representative for Performance Films in Columbus, Ohio, which sells Llumar film to Ferry. “He’s the most progressive guy in the market.”

The Origins of a Business
Sometimes starting a business is just as easy as seeing a need. For Ferry and his girlfriend (now fiancée and co-owner of Window Film Specialists) Stacey Malecki, that opportunity came blasting at them through a window. The couple was sitting in a restaurant trying to enjoy lunch one day, but their experience wasn’t very pleasant. The reason: the glare from the sun was unbearable. Ferry had worked at a small tint dealership in the past and knew film could solve this problem.

“There was just too much glare,” Ferry said. “We couldn’t even eat. I looked at my fiancée and said, ‘Let’s have a go at it [starting a film business].’ I sold the restaurant owner on the film. We started going from there.”
Since Ferry had been in the film business in the past, he had no delusions of grandeur. He knew running his own film dealership would be tough, and he knew what his biggest challenge would be: a dearth of window film knowledge in Wisconsin.

“In the Southern states, [window film is] just so much more common,” Ferry said. “It has been around for so long. People don’t ask if they should tint, but which company they should go with. Our biggest weakness is the market that we’re in. The people here know what homebuilders do, they know what plumbers do, but they don’t know what a residential window tinter does.”

Zak sees many of the same challenges.

“Being in a colder climate, people don’t feel window film is a staple that it is in Arizona, Texas and Florida, where people feel the need for film every day,” Zak said. “In the colder climates, you have to educate the consumer. People need to see the benefits of that product. Things need to be spelled out for them.”

Educating consumers is the first step and most important step to obtaining customers, at least for Ferry.
“We’re trying to make sure the customers see a value in what they purchase. We need to show them the value in it,” Ferry explained.

His consumer education takes a lot of forms. For customers that come in off the street there’s the 500 square feet showroom with different windows filmed with different shades, film samples and product specification sheets. 
“One of the key things for him is the information packs he puts together,” Zak said. “He does a good job with that.”
To get people in the showroom, Ferry must invest in advertising. Window Film Specialists has a website that’s full of film information, pictures and specifications. The company also advertises in local phone books, has done television and radio advertisements and participates in home and garden shows. The Yellow Page ads have proven a valuable marketing tool.

“Our ads are more informational than just advertising,” Ferry said. “We want to explain the product and its benefits. A lot of people have never heard of window film for home or business.”

In fact, Ferry says most people don’t think they need added protection outside of what their windows offer.
“A lot of people think that their energy-efficient glass will help with fading,” Ferry said. “They don’t know a film can go above and beyond glass as far energy savings and protecting furniture from fading. They think they have the most efficient glass.”

The presence, popularity and some misconceptions about energy efficient windows, in fact, has proven to be the bane of Ferry’s professional existence.

“No glass will offer the shade protection, energy saving and shatter protection [as it would with] film. You can always improve glass with window film,” he said. “We can install a film that offers [additional] shade protection, fade reduction, and energy and heat performance. Any of these can be combined on film,” Ferry said, noting that in some cases, window film can help improve the aesthetics of the building, a window film aspect about which he has to educate many potential clients.

So, when Ferry meets customers face to face, he drives home the value of film.

“We can’t necessarily go out, measure, quote a price and give a sample,” Ferry said. “It’s mostly showing them that we can make the glass more efficient. We have to say, ‘This is the film and this is the warranty. It is going to be better than regular glass.’”

As with many other window film companies, however, one of the best sales outlets for him is the referral.

“Word of mouth is the most beneficial. We will apply film for customers in subdivisions and they will tell their neighbors, friends, and family members,” he said.

Even if people do know about film’s potential, Ferry has one other ace in the hole to sell it within Green Bay, where temperatures average 14 degrees Fahrenheit in January and 70 degrees Fahrenheit in July.

“A lot of people see the benefits in the summertime to reduce the heat but they don’t know the film can also warm the glass in the wintertime so that your heating isn’t escaping as much,” Ferry said. “On an estimate, I will bring an infrared thermometer. In the wintertime, a window will be in the shade. That window will be warmer with tint on it than a clear one in the sun.”

Choosing a Niche
Knowing the window film climate in Wisconsin helped Ferry when he started his business. He knew would need to have automotive film to keep his business afloat in the early days.

“There were three or four companies in the area that do flat glass and one or two that do automotive film,” Ferry said.

“Auto was definitely our big-ticket item in the beginning because there was a demand.”
But Ferry knew auto film alone wouldn’t keep him in business.

“There was one tint company that did just the cars,” Ferry said. “They couldn’t make enough to stay in business.”
Ferry always knew for his business to succeed he would have to educate Titletown residents about flat glass.

“As it grows in popularity and as we educate the public on the benefits of flat glass, that became a bigger percentage of our market,” Ferry said. “We knew the money would be in the flat glass if we could educate the customer on its benefits. We also knew we couldn’t focus on one aspect of film. We want to be diverse and offer film for people’s homes, businesses and automobiles.” 

Ferry also dabbles in decorative film, but it’s not a huge portion of the business.

“We have machines to cut frosted and edge glass,” Ferry said. “You can do different scenes and designs on the glass. We can also do company logos.”

He doesn’t do security film, though.

“We didn’t really get into safety and security film because there wasn’t a market here for it,” Ferry said. 
Ferry’s percentage of films varies per year. In the summer months, 60 percent of his business is flat glass film (with about 60 percent of that being residential versus office). But in the winter 70 percent of the business is automotive film. Because of the weather in Wisconsin, Ferry won’t be able to change that ratio a lot—no matter how much money he spends on education.

“In the wintertime it slows,” Ferry said. “For a month or two, we can’t tint flat glass because glass temperatures are too cold. That’s why we also do the cars. You try to bank your money and do as much as you can in the spring, summer and fall.”

Plus, people are just much more likely to call about solar issues in the summer.

“Most of residential is based off of the bright, intense glare and heat from the sun in the summertime,” Ferry said. “That’s where we get most of our flat glass calls. Most are for single-family houses.”

The calls have been coming in more this year since Ferry ramped up his advertising budget and has started receiving more referrals.

“The longer [we’re] in business, the more homes we do,” he said. “We do a lot of word of mouth. When we do one home, a neighbor or two will call. We get a lot of people that, once they find about the product and do their homes or businesses, they like to brag about it to other people, considering it’s kind of innovative and new for Northern states.”
If the neighbors keep calling and Ferry continues to push his ad budget up, he expects to have more people to educate about film. And his business will grow towards the goal Ferry has set for it.

“We would like to see at least dozen employees,” Ferry said. “I would like to do sales in excess of $2 million.”
Already the company’s bulked-up advertising and educational campaign is paying dividends.
“Residential flat glass is definitely growing,” Ferry said. “That’s a market I could see double or triple this year.”
While Ferry wants to grow, he’s also mindful of the many pitfalls.

“I would like to have slow growth,” Ferry said. “I don’t want to get huge overnight. Slow growth is better so that we can appropriately handle customers.”

While window film will never be as big as the Packers in Titletown, if Ferry can continue to educate customers and manage growth, it’s safe to say he could cut out a nice little niche in the frozen tundra. Zak thinks he’s well on his way.

“He’s doing all of the right things in the Green Bay market,” Zak said. “I think he’s going to get the lion’s share of that market. I’m excited for the future of Window Film Specialists.” 

Les Shaver is a contributing editor to Window Film magazine.

©2006 Key Communications Inc. 385 Garrisonville Road, Suite 116, Stafford, VA  22554
Phone
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