Volume 11, Issue 3 - May/June 2007

Still Growing
The International Window Film Conference™ 
Teaches Companies New Strategies

by Megan Headley
 


On his last visit to Las Vegas, John Baker, senior sales trainer with the Sandler Institute, counted 186 window film companies in the local phone book. That’s a lot of competition! While the tinting scene might not be quite as fierce for installers in every part of the country, the competition just got easier for tinters who attended the 2007 International Window Film Conference™ (IWFE), May 17-19, at the Cashman Center in Las Vegas. 

Attendees used the conference as an opportunity to discuss ways to increase sales, diversify their businesses and improve relationships with their employees, among other topics. 

Getting Out the Word
Knowing how stiff the competition is, Baker offered a few suggestions for tinters to differentiate themselves from the competition during his seminar on sales. One simple suggestion was targeted mailing, in addition to sending out newsletters, faxes, e-mails and flyers. He noted that if you’re sending out a newsletter, little extras like a recipe in the corner ensure that it is kept longer than the time it takes to take out the trash. Ed Golda of Michigan Glass Coatings stressed that he targets only high-end homeowners as his tinting customers during his presentation on starting a film business. Knowing the zip codes to which to send those mailings can help limit costs. One member of the audience noted that the Haines directory, a reverse directory available from Haines and Co. Inc., is available to help business owners target their mailing and telemarketing efforts.

Baker’s suggestion for advertising in the programs of local high schools’ sporting events was supported by another audience member who said the technique worked well. Customers are willing to support businesses that support the community. Another suggestion was to visit, exhibit or even speak at trade shows. “The key, in my opinion, especially in a down market, is networking,” said Golda during a seminar on surviving in a down market. He recommended tinters get out and give “lunch-and-learns,” and stay in contact with previous customers.

Golda also advised tinters take care of customers, since many of those customers may be interested in repeat business. Some suggestions he offered were uniforming installers, maintaining vehicles and sending handwritten thank-you notes following each job. With regard to maintaining the vehicle, Golda told tinters to take advantage of their mobile offices and use them as a marketing tool. “If you guys have not done yet a wrap on your vehicle, you’re missing the point,” Golda said. “Park it at the end of the driveway so as people are driving by they’ll see it.”

Golda also suggested asking for referrals from customers, some time after the job has been performed satisfactorily and the customer fully understands the quality of the job they are recommending. In addition, he advised to form relationships with other companies who might advise a customer to buy window film.

Golda stressed that the interior design community is a good place to look for referrals. His company offers scholarships for interior design students. This gives him an opportunity to speak at engagements for the American Society of Interior Designers. An added benefit is that because of his support, interior design graduates come out of school knowing that window film is a viable design option for their clients. One attendee commented that he asks for referrals from hot tub dealers, since many times hot tubs are located by annealed windows and the code requires homeowners to have some protection near hot tubs.

“The only way to get referrals is to give,” Baker said. Golda agreed. He said that he uses a window washer subcontractor to whom he refers his clients, in return for the same courtesy. Whatever the method, though, the only way to make advertising work to its full potential is to know the return on investment. “This only works if you track it,” Baker said. 

Making the Sale
So once the advertising dollars begin to pay for themselves and the calls come in, how do you make the sale? Baker offered some tips from the Sales Institute about “what works and what doesn’t work.” His first tip was to bond with potential customers.

“We need to find something where we’ve got something to talk about,” Baker said. He suggested looking for bonding keys, such as pictures in the customer’s office. He also advised using creative listening. That’s also a good tool for discovering whether customers are visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners and how to respond to them in kind. Noted business trainer and speaker Greg Ketter of Ketter Developments agreed that forming a rapport with the customer is key during his seminar on effective business practices.

“The stronger your relationships and your relationship skills, the more money you’re going to make,” Ketter said.

Baker also suggested learning to expect an upfront contract (UFC) from potential customers.

“This says, sure I’ll drive across town … but in the end, after we’ve had our meeting, can you tell me no?” Baker said. Whether the answer is yes or no, with the UFC there is a guarantee of an answer, so no time is wasted chasing the client. Baker also instructed his listeners to learn to ask their potential clients “pain questions,” such as: “who have you used before for film?” and “how’d that work out for you?”

This encourages customers to talk about the things they’ve tried before that haven’t worked. It gets them emotional and, Baker said, forces the customer to offer the salesperson compelling, financial reasons why they should buy window film. “The pain questions allow them to tell you what the real issues are,” Baker said. Knowing the real issues, the knowledgeable salesperson can better focus his pitch. 

Opportunities to Diversify
After the perfect pitch, diversifying the product line can be another way to bring in additional customers. Lewis Pitzer of Pentagon Protection in Dublin, Ohio, suggested a couple of ways tinters can diversify their product lines, including branching into decorative films. “Glass enhancement is a micro-market within window film,” Pitzer said. He added that it’s a market that is growing. According to Pitzer, decorative film can be the fun side of the industry. “With decorative film, literally the sky is the limit,” he said. “With this, you really have an opportunity to be completely differentiated and unique.”

It doesn’t hurt, Pitzer said, that the profit potential from decorative films can be extremely high. He noted that there are many varieties within the decorative film arena, with choices between matte or gloss, patterns or color, and all types of specialty films. Overlapping vibrant films can lead to a blend of colors. Applying different patterns on either side of glass partitions, popular in office settings, can create interesting effects. Decorative films can also be used to reinforce brand awareness, as companies can use the decorative product to create their logo. “This is a little bit sexier and easier to sell, to me,” Pitzer said. An extra bonus, Pitzer added, is that these films can also serve as a safety film. If decorative film brings some fun to the window film industry, safety and security film can bring their own satisfaction. Pitzer said that he found protective film to be another interesting market, and a patriotic one since it often enables a tinting company to offer their services to keeping people safe. Pitzer noted that blast protection continues to be an important area for the window film industry.

“The demand right now for window film in that market continues to increase,” Pitzer said. Making his audience aware of the need for the film, he added, “In a blast event, 85 percent of all injuries are attributed to flying glass.”

Pitzer encouraged those in his audience who are considering getting into the protective film business to work with their film manufacturers, such as by making joint calls to potential customers. Pitzer said that security film is also a big sell in locations where “smash-and-grab” poses a big problem. “I’ve talked to some companies—they can lose $50-70,000 worth of merchandise in five minutes,” Pitzer said. He recommended keeping a letter ready to send to victims of these robberies. Since the glazier will be going to the scene for repairs, the business owner may also be receptive to stepping up his level of protection with a protective film. Since retail stores are a likely place for these types of crime, it’s also a good place to aim marketing. He also suggested contacting the Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association. Graffiti films are another way to expand a business by protecting other businesses and property.

“You’ve got a lot of repeat business,” Pitzer said of that business area. Adding safety and security films to a collection can help bring new business to companies located in less than sunny climates or for companies looking to move away from automotive tinting. “One of the nice things about security film, one of the things you don’t need to sell it, is sunshine,” Pitzer said.

Working with Internal Customers 
Customer service, not just from the salesperson but from the whole team, was another important topic discussed during the show. During his seminar, Ketter offered advice on working with employees. In his work he has talked with company employees who open up to him more than they would to their boss. “They treat the customers as they are treated,” Ketter said. The look on his face indicated that that’s not always a good thing. Ketter noted that all people have a few basic drives, including the drive to defend. “Your employees will either defend for your company or be against it,” Ketter said. Obviously the goal is to have employees defend the company and support its business practices. “Make sure they’re [employees] conducting business as if their life savings is on the line,” Ketter said. “Sometimes they are and sometimes they’re not.”

Ketter said that the basic way to improve relations with staff is to ensure that they are treated as “internal customers,” and are considered just as important as “external customers.”

Sometimes, however, no matter how employees are treated, they’re just not the right choice for the company. Before Donna Wells was a regional sales manager for Madico, she owned a window film company. That experience offered her far too much insight into the topic of one seminar: When Bad Things Happen to Good Companies. “The thing about employees is, they all think you’re multi-, multi-millionaires,” Wells began. She said that theft is a big problem throughout the window film industry. “The installers believe they’ll just roll a piece of film and you’ll never notice.” Wells recalled a couple of specific experiences to help her audience prevent similar incidents.

In one case, Wells said, she began to hear the comment “I blew a piece of film on the door” repeated more and more often. That began a policy at her shop where installers had to bring back the film they’d blown. “Blowing film stopped almost overnight,” she said. Another attempt, Wells said, came from the employees who volunteered to clean out the truck. Suddenly she noticed that the tinters were using less product but costs were rising. Those employees were ultimately let go. Wells also had tried weighing the boxes of film in the morning and after the job to estimate how much had been used. “Every now and then you’d hear a box kind of rattle,” Wells said. 

She discovered when one box came back weighing more than when it went out that the tinters put rocks in the box to make up the missing weight of the window film used for personal jobs. Wells told her audience to remember, “Anyone at ay job is replaceable.” She cautioned, “If they are stealing from you, it spreads like wildfire.” Wells added that some of the responsibility comes down to the enforceability of the manager’s rules.

“With all the problems we’ve talked about … if you don’t have an employee handbook you really don’t have any reason to hire or fire people,” she said. Leaving the Illegal Side of Town Wells also shared the reason her company grew as an authority on flat glass tinting. After returning from her honeymoon in 1998 she was served with a “cease and desist” notice from district attorney’s office for applying illegal tint. The shop had been caught applying film to the driver and front passenger side windows, against the law in California. The contract that customers signed, saying that they had this area tinted at their own risks, was construed by the courts as an illegal contract. “Basically, what happened was we were shut down overnight,” Wells said. She explained that the company recovered by virtually switching gears overnight. “We became the most authoritative company on flat glass,” she said. Auto tinting was also a big part of Golda’s business, despite the constrictions of the law. In Michigan it is illegal to tint the front sidelites except for a 4-inch strip, and balancing on the side of the law proved to be an exhausting business for Golda. He shut down the auto tinting side of his business to focus on high-end residential work.

“We get ten calls a day to do auto tinting,” Golda said. Despite the temptation, he has grown his business through the techniques shared at IWFE. One member of the audience wisely encouraged shop owners to keep records of when their customers come in and say they’ve been ticketed to help educate future customers about the dangers of illegal tinting.

With these suggestions for growing a window film business, business owners can leave illegal tinting to the competition. 

Attendees Head to Tint Shop in Henderson, Nev.
As the International Window Film Conference (IWFE) got underway, many attendees boarded a bus and headed out into Las Vegas to tour a local shop. Attendees traveled to Premier Window Tint in Henderson, Nev., for a tour of the shop and a chance to exchange some tips and ideas. Nick Williams, who owns the shop and is a former tint-off contestant, shared some of his tricks of the trade, along with some handy tools.

Those in attendance were James Curry of Advanced Window Tint of Chicago, Nathan Govender and Jody Mccrory of the Solar Film Foundation in South Africa, Dan and Misty Shaw of Precision Window Tinting Inc. in Bremerton, Wash., Robert Edelstein of All the Best Glass in Kirkland, Wash., and Sam Baza of SunPro Glass Tinting in Encinitas, Calif.Curry, who currently installs flat glass only, said he found the tour to be beneficial.

“It’s always helpful to see what others are doing,” he said.

IWFE Exhibits Showcase Film, Ways to Diversify 
In addition to seminars, the International Window Film Conference (IWFE) offered tinters an opportunity to check out some exhibits and get their hands on new products. IWFE coincided with the Americas’ Glass Showcase and the Independent Glass Association’s Spring Glass Show™. The two trade shows, combined on one floor, featured window film manufacturers such as CPFilms Inc., Irisfilm Corp., Johnson Window Films and MADICO Window Films. The exhibit hall was also the scene of an automotive film installation demonstration performed by Franz Hyland of Shades Custom Tint in Hewitt, Texas, the 2004 International Window Film Tint-Off first-prize winner. The expo floor was primarily a venue for showcasing the latest in automotive and architectural glass products and services. It continued the theme of many of the IWFE seminars, in that it gave attendees a chance to glance at ways to diversify their businesses into other areas.

Megan Headley is a contributing editor for Window Film magazine.


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