Volume 10, Issue 4                             July/August 2006


WHEN THE WIND BLOWS

Window Film Proves Its Worth in the Wake of Hurricanes
by Brigid O'Leary

Hurricane season 2005 in the Atlantic was the most active on record, with 27 named storms and many others that did not develop into large enough storms to receive a name. The year 2004, though not as active, wasn’t much better, with five hurricanes all hitting Florida within the four-month time span that makes up hurricane season. And on June 1, 2006—the first official day of hurricane season—the commercial news media was abuzz with discussions and predictions for this year’s season.

What does all of this mean for the window film industry? It means a chance to court a larger consumer market. It also means another chance to repair the reputation of an industry formerly plagued by negative media coverage of poor performance and overstated claims of safety.

A Little Pick-Me-Up
“There’s a lot more awareness of safety and security film, that’s for sure. People know it’s a hazard and they’re becoming aware that window film has an application for storm damage, but they don’t know what the application is,” said Kerry D’Antoni, president of Sun Scape Window Tinting in Baton Rouge, La.

At this time last year, D’Antoni wasn’t selling much safety or security film. He had just started to see more of an interest for it, which at that time come mostly from people who had moved to Baton Rouge from Florida and had heard that window film could protect their houses in case of wind storms and interest in the first half of 2005 had only picked up with the onset of hurricane season.

That’s all changed.

“Our business has absolutely grown. We have a lot of displaced people who moved here not temporarily, but permanently, that it’s helped the economy tremendously. We’re very busy this year,” D’Antoni explained. “It picked up probably in the springtime, during the first quarter of the year, when people got settled and decided if they were going to stay or not. Those that got settled—when they got settled—they wanted to personalize their homes and make [them] more comfortable and some of them had money to spend on it that they didn’t before, maybe from insurance settlements or what have you. In my area, even a little increase is a big increase because we never did any of it before. We’ve done several jobs already where as before, it was one a year.”

D’Antoni is not alone in the business upswing.

“It’s mind-boggling how far out people are booked for residential work. The volume of film being sold is going up. It’s just huge, said Steve Sabac, president of Sun Coast Glass Protection Inc. in Boynton Beach, Fla., who noted that some of his competitors were booked three weeks out as early as May. 

Shop owners aren’t the only members of the industry who are noticing a quick upturn in interest in window film, now that hurricane season has hit. 

“The business [in the Gulf Coast] has come all the way back, pre-Katrina, pre-Rita and it’s come back strong. It’s given a lot more attention to security film. People are a lot more aware of it and understand the value of it,” said David Dickey, president of Enpro Distributing in Houston, which has dealers all along the Gulf Coast. “They’re rebuilding in that area and even automotive film is back, pre-Katrina. The population base in areas such as New Orleans is not back to pre-Katrina but there is a lot of awareness of security film and a lot of interest in it as well.”

Manufacturers, too, are getting more calls about it, even from the general public.

“Safety and security film sales have doubled or tripled in Florida over the last two years because of the weather. Consumers are more savvy now, they do a lot of shopping on the Internet,” said Bob Smar, Madico’s Southeast regional sales manager. “I usually get between one and three calls a day regarding film.”

Polishing the Image
With more people interested in window film and what it can do to protect the public comes more responsibility on the part of the window film industry.

In the wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the window film industry’s reputation was tarnished when the window film jobs installed in homes and offices did not perform as well as some members of the industry claimed they would. As a whole, the industry is still recovering from the negative press that followed, and those interviewed for this article all expressed the same residual concern.

“I would hope that we wouldn’t represent safety and security film in the wrong way. What I mean by that is overstating its effectiveness. It does have its applications, but we don’t want to represent it as it being the cure-all for anything having to do with glass. Let’s do it right from the beginning and making sure the public knows about it, from the locking systems, mechanical locking systems—sell it the right way,” said D’Antoni.

“The question I have is, how much do people know not to stay in their houses,” said Sabac, who worries most about people who depend on window film as the only protection when they don’t plan to evacuate and said he still sees people selling window film as being “hurricane-proof.” 

It’s not just shop owners and installers who carry the burden of responsibility; so do the 
manufacturers.

“[People] ask about hurricane film and the first thing that should come out of the manufacturer’s mouth is ‘there’s no such thing, it’s safety and security film.’ There is still no film that passes code for retrofit applications,” said Smar.

Those Conscious Consumers
However, Smar points out, customers today are getting more savvy and know just what they’re looking for.
“I had one guy call and ask about it and he said, ‘I know, I looked it up. I just call it that,’” he related.
It helps when consumers see it work.

“We’ve had some success stories that have helped—people who actually had security film with attachment systems on their windows and experienced damage all around them, except where they had the window filmed with the security film. Good news travels fast,” said Dickey.

While consumers are starting to hear more positive things about window film and what it can do to protect them, there is still room for improvement.

“The difference I can see is the awareness of window film. What I really see is that there needs to be more awareness and people need to know more about it, not just on the local level but on the national level,” said D’Antoni. “There may be more of an impact in Florida than there is here. I am hearing a whole lot more about safety and security film than I ever had before. The manufacturers are pushing it a whole lot more than they ever have.”

For Sabac, the room for improvement also comes in the form of ensuring that the customer fully understands what film can and cannot do and when to seek additional protection.

“To me the big thing now is that almost everything in Florida, residentially, is safety filmed and it’s every window in the house. Before it was just where the sun peeks in the window. I always try to sell the whole house even before the storms started hitting. Now you have to protect all the openings. On the commercial end of things, it’s not solar anymore. It’s all security film to protect the floors above and below,” Sabac said. “People sometimes try to predict where the winds are going to come from based on a previous storm, but we have to explain to them that the storm can come from anywhere, North, South, East or West. We hear customers say ‘We came through okay in the last hurricane.’ We have to explain to them that [what they came through] was a category 1 or 2 that hit 60 miles away and that doesn’t mean that next time it won’t be a category 4 and it may hit just north of where they live. I think people are starting to come around and understand more, wanting to protect all the openings in their house. They’re wanting to understand more.”

High Tide 
With some consumer who know just enough about window film to be dangerous and another hurricane season way, where does that leave the window film industry? It could very easily be that the window film industry success will be directly proportional to the destructiveness of the previous hurricane season. At least, that’s how D’Antoni sees it going in the next few years. 

“I see an increase in our business as awareness picks up. As far as the hurricane season, I don’t look for it to be too much different than last year. I think the trend will continue that it will get worse for the next couple years; but then I think [the weather is] in a trend of lots of hurricanes and then we’ll go through a trend when there aren’t so many. Awareness will be high for the next few years until we get to that low point in the cycle again, then it will taper off, and so forth until we get through the cycle of busy hurricane seasons,” D’Antoni predicted.

Current conditions on the coast indicate D’Antoni is right about being in a high-hurricane cycle.

“The waters in the Gulf of Mexico five to seven degrees warmer than they typically are. That’s not good for the people on the Gulf Coast. The warmer the waters, the more it stimulates the formation of tropical storms,” said Dickey. “That’s not good. The Gulf Coast, as we’ve been told, the percentage of hurricanes this year is … I don’t want to say is as great or greater than this time last year, but the waters are warmer. People are getting ready. The industry is reacting to the consumer. I don’t think the industry has changed, other than everyone reacting to what has happened and consumers are a lot more aware to what they can do to protect themselves for hurricanes, and one of the things they can do is use security window film.”

And while Sabac is less inclined to make predictions about weather, he’s optimistic about what it will do for the industry.
“I don’t know. I didn’t think we’d see two storms, much less three over Palm Beach county in the span of two years (Jean, Francis and Wilma). I think we need a break for a while! I just got my house and business back in order after the last two years, and I still don’t have a screen enclosure in my backyard. There are still people backed up doing work. Hopefully we won’t have a storm this year and we’ll get a reprieve. Who knows what Mother Nature has in store for us. It’s hard to say,” he said. 

“Newspapers are doing a good job, television is talking about [window film]. Home shows are covering it. As a whole, there are so many different ways of protecting your house and different opening that in some cases window film may be one of the only options. In some cases, there is screening material or shutters or different types of shutters. It may take a combination of these kinds of protection products to protect a house. I think if people can understand the different weaknesses of each product, they can really work together. Sometimes shutter people will recommend me if they find something they can’t shutter, its too high or too large, etc. Sometimes I refer people to other forms of protection if it’s something I can’t film like windows with frames that are too flimsy or it’s a sliding glass door. There can be recommendations within competing firms, really, if everyone gets to know their strengths and weaknesses and those of the other products,” Sabac added.

It helps, Smar pointed out, that safety film is becoming more versatile. 

“Not only do we make 8-mil film for storm protection, we now make it with solar protection in it, too. Most of our customers are putting both up. We see more residential put up solar and safety with more commercial buildings going up,” Smar said. “It certainly has brought it to the home owners in this state. The vast majority of safety window film is sold in the southern part of Florida. The rest of security film sold worldwide is mostly for anti-terrorism activities.” 

Growing Opportunities
Never one to let an opportunity pass him by, Steve Sabac, president of Sun Coast Glass Protection Inc. in, Boynton Beach, Fla., scored a big project for himself, his company and the WindowLock® product he carries shortly after Hurricane Wilma passed over Florida: adding safety window film—and the appropriate attachments—to all the windows on the headquarters of the Broward County School System.

“We were downtown in Ft. Lauderdale and saw the damage and made some phone calls, got to talking with them about WindowLock and how we could’ve prevented a lot of the damage that occurred. They took an interest in it and it’s a big project for us. Gov. Jeb Bush went down and looked at the project. It was a concern for him as it’s a school headquarters,” Sabac said.

Partnering with Harmon Glass, the two companies are working together to remove the damaged fenestration, apply the appropriate safety system and replace the windows.

“There’s a lot of glass that we need to do—20 percent of the glass that was broken, the glass replacement is coming in and as it comes in, we’re applying the Windowlock system and reinstalling the glass. Then there’s a good portion of spandrel glass that we’re going to remove, add our stuff and reinstall into the building. It’s a curtainwall glass building and every pane is going to be treated. We’re working on the ground-floor level with a glass safety film set-up and we’re doing glass panels, working inside the building, the swing stage on the outside of the building,” Sabac continued. 
With the paperwork that went with the insurance claims, damages and general work with the government, Sabac predicts the job will take approximately nine months to complete.

“It’s close to 85,000 square feet—a lot of offices, cubicles, blinds, desks up against windows … things that can’t be taken apart and we have to work over. There are knee-walls inside that are covering half the glass and we have to remove them to get to the glass. There is some demolition involved. Everything specialty that can be done is just about being done on this project, with all the different kind of glass and conditions.”

Present and Accounted For
In the weeks following Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, David Dickey, president of Enpro Distributing in Houston, reported that he had nearly a dozen dealers unaccounted for after the storms. Window Film magazine caught up with him this year to get an update from him about the dealers on the Gulf Coast. 

“Most of the dealers are accounted for. There have been a couple who have gone out of business; they have moved or been displaced. A lot of them have come back but some of them have moved permanently. Their lives have been torn apart, but most of them have come back,” Dickey said.

Katrina hit the coast on August 29, 2005, and Rita struck less than a month later. It took Dickey and his staff until nearly the end of 2005 to account for everyone, but in the months since then, those who have remained in business are thriving.
“When we last spoke, I said [the industry] would come back … and it has. People in the businesses in those areas [most affected] are doing well. A lot of them are doing well. They’ve made a good comeback. It’s great to see,” said Dickey.


Brigid O’Leary is editor of Window Film magazine.

©2006 Key Communications Inc. 385 Garrisonville Road, Suite 116, Stafford, VA  22554
Phone
. 540/720-5584, Fax. 540/720-5687 e-mail. film@glass.com