Volume 13, Issue 2 - March/April 2009

Shakedown
Florida Dealers Under Fire
by Drew Vass

“This is incredibly dangerous,” says Bill Feeley, president of the International Hurricane Protection Association (IHPA), holding up a newspaper advertisement placed by a Sarasota-based window film dealer advertising “Hurricane Window Film.” In Florida, using the words “hurricane” and “window film” in the same sentence is risky business. The product has yet to receive the approval sticker from the Miami-Dade Building Code Compliance Office as a hurricane protection device (See related article on page 24 of Window Film’s July-August 2008 issue). This does not mean that you cannot advertise, sell and otherwise install impact resistant films in the state of Florida; but, the State takes product claims relating to hurricane protection very seriously; so it’s imperative that window film providers choose their words carefully when promoting and selling their products. Even implying that a window film product is an approved hurricane protection device places a bullseye on any dealer. And the IHPA, for one, has its sights on the film industry.

Know Your Adversary
The IHPA is a non-profit organization including more than 200 manufacturers, suppliers, contractors and government agencies that provide hurricane protection systems, information and education. Officials for the association allege that some film providers have taken advantage of the public by placing ads that imply or label their products as approved hurricane protection devices. Based on Feeley’s stated sentiment toward film advertisements, it comes as no surprise that a query of the association’s membership list for any company name including the word “film” or “tint” returns zero hits.

“A consumer sees this in his newspaper and believes that it must be legitimate,” Feeley says of the advertisement. “Unfortunately, consumers are purchasing these products in good faith thinking they are protecting their homes and families.”

Window film manufacturers that have invested in testing to prove product performances know that film provides protection. But, unlike many of its alternatives which are mounted to structural building components, film is designed to be affixed to glass. For this reason, the product’s performance depends on the host window frame and other variables.

Stefan Nadwodny, co-owner of The Window Film Specialists Inc., says he believes that his company is the Sarasota-based business to which Feeley refers with his comments.

“That whole press release was stated directly towards our company,” Nadwodny exclaims. “That’s why they talk about a Sarasota company.” Nadwodny isn’t hyper-paranoid. His company runs a steady campaign of advertisements in local newspapers and other publications, frequently including such phrases as: Hurricane Protection Systems—exactly the sort of phrase Feeley protests.

Like most impact-resistant film dealers, Nadwodny knows that the products his company sells serve to protect the homes to which they’re applied. When applied to glass, impact-resistant films and attachment systems are designed to resist penetration from flying debris, smash-and-grab attempts, or anything else that may threaten a building’s envelope. And these claims are far from unsubstantiated, as a number of window film manufacturers have gone to great lengths in order to have their products tested and rated. But not all window film dealers are quick to clarify that the same test standards do not apply to every window and building configuration. For this reason, Feeley says the IHPA is concerned for the welfare of Florida citizens. In fact, the group says it has formed a Consumer Safety Task Force for Hurricane Protection Products and Feeley says the unit will act in unison with the Florida Attorney General’s office to protect consumers who have been and are being subjected to “deceptive or misleading trade practices by unscrupulous hurricane profiteers.” Window film dealers are atop his list.

“The IHPA and the Attorney General of Florida have been made aware of a continued increase in advertising and marketing misleading consumers into buying products that do not meet the Florida Building Code (FBC) requirements for hurricane protection,” Feeley explains. “The difference in choosing approved or non-approved hurricane protection systems can dramatically affect the survival of a home and its contents, and in some cases can be a life or death decision. This type of deceptive trade practice needs to stop and the companies profiting from this should be held accountable.” Feeley says he believes Florida is an attractive target for deceptive schemes due to its high exposure to hurricanes, combined with a large retired population and a constant influx of new residents who serve as fresh targets. IHPA officials estimate that selling window film as “hurricane protection” to consumers in the state of Florida has generated “tens of millions of dollars” in business. Nadwodny says he thinks that’s the IHPA’s real issue—it all boils down to the money.

“If you look at the officers in that association—they’re all shutter companies,” Nadwodny says. “I’ll tell you what’s going on. The shutter industry is struggling to survive. I used to be in that industry, for many years, my partner and I. We know the industry very well. A lot of people invested a lot of time and a lot of money, and with all the new regulations that are taking place, they want to capture every bit of the business they can. [There is] nothing worse than having a viable option out there to give them some competition. In a nutshell, that’s what it is.”

State the FactsOne of Feeley’s accusations includes that of window film dealers who allegedly advertise that their products qualify for insurance discounts. He says that consumers are often surprised when they contact their insurance companies to inform them that they have added window film as a hurricane protection device to their homes only to discover that the product of their choice brings no discount. “Unfortunately, many consumers are not aware that they have been deceived until they contact their insurance company for a discount or have a qualified inspection and receive the form that is required to apply for windstorm credits or meet new renewal requirements from Citizens,” Feeley says.

Nadwodny’s company website has a large graphic posted, front and center that states: “Now offering hurricane glazing protection systems. Insurance approved. Call for Details.”—a statement Nadwodny says is accurate. Window Film was unable to verify this independently.

Dan Venet, executive vice president and co-owner of CHB Industries, a New York-based window film dealer that specializes in blast mitigation, says he knows that not everyone is playing by the rules at the other end of Interstate 95 in Florida.

Get It Right
“In selling film, people just need to pay close attention to their representations to ensure that there’s no misinformation or over-selling of product,” Venet says. “I’ve seen far too much of that, particularly in respect to the hurricane market in Florida, where I think the industry simply lost its bearings.”

Though his company is national, with some international sales, Venet says it has chosen to steer clear of Florida’s impact-resistant market, due to this very issue. He believes a number of Florida dealers are telling potential customers whatever they have to in order to seal the deal—accurate or not.

“I’ve already incurred the wrath of Florida dealers at trade shows and the such, because I refused to play the same game that they did with respect to the representation of what film can and cannot do,” Venet says. He believes the miscommunication stems from providing testing and performance information formulated for commercial applications and structures to residential customers. And Venet is no stranger to these matters. His company got its start and continues to serve as a blast-mitigation provider. CHB’s first client was the United Nations.

“A lot of testing indicates that security [film], with certain applications, works reasonably well on typical commercial office building windows,” Venet explains. “However, you cannot take a representation of testing done on a commercial office building window and represent to a homeowner that they will end up with the same results on their windows, if their windows are simply not fabricated the same way. The glass is not as thick; the framing is not as robust; and the applications are not possible to transfer from one to the other.”Beyond alleged misrepresentation, Venet questions the role of security films in hurricane applications in general.

“There’s been a misrepresentation, quite often, of the capacity of security films to have a beneficial effect in hurricane force conditions by being glib with (and using the success of) films in small missile impact testing, ignoring the fact that window films have not fared as well in large missile tests,” he says. “Nonetheless, on ground level windows, you have to meet the large missile impact test. But, what the typical dealer down there apparently does is, they say their film meets the Dade and Broward County hurricane tests. What they’re referring to, of course, is the small missile impact test. They don’t bother to point out the fact that, with respect to their client’s need for protection on a ground level window, you’re mixing apples with oranges. So it’s a function of not engaging in full disclosure and really vetting the test data and disclosing everything that needs to be done.”

Lyman MacNutt, president of Solar X Window Film Systems, agrees. MacNutt, a Sarasota-based dealer, is in the heart of the conflict. He says there are additional dangerous threats being posed by careless window film dealers in his area. He says that, not only do they say whatever seals the deal, some have no idea what they’re doing on the installation side, or simply do not care.

Bad Foot Forward
“Yesterday, we went out to look at a clubhouse for a condominium where they had hired somebody who left gobs of water under the [impact resistant] film, then turned around and sealed it with tub and tile caulk,” MacNutt says. Though he agrees there are obvious public safety issues, MacNutt agrees with Nadwodny that the IHPA may be more concerned with market share than public welfare.“I think they see it [window film] is a fairly large threat and I think it’s because it’s so much more reasonably priced than shutters,” MacNutt says. “So their stance is to just discredit it as something that just doesn’t work.”

But MacNutt places a bit of the responsibility on film manufacturers as well. While a low barrier to entry has helped many dealers make their start in the industry, MacNutt says handing a new dealer two rolls of solar film and handing them impact-resistant film are two different things. He feels manufacturers are too willing to place a sophisticated product such as impact-resistant films into the hands of unqualified dealers and installers.

“I’ve been in this business for 36 years and I see, just as I saw yesterday, a lot of people who don’t know what they’re doing,” he explains. “And they’re being allowed to go into business. If you approach a lot of the manufacturers about this, they’ll say, ‘Well, the guy has a business and a business license, so I’ve got to sell to him. Don’t tell me that I can refuse to sell to him, because I can’t.’ Well, that’s the underbelly of the business. You have all of these folks out there who don’t know what their doing and they’re simply underbidding everyone so people will buy it.”

With the results MacNutt witnessed in the clubhouse project and with some Florida dealers allegedly misleading customers in order to make a sale, the controversy appears to have window film dealers divided. With an adversary such as the IHPA bearing down, one could argue that it is critical to have everyone on the same page. All agree that impact resistant films have their place and purpose. The product is designed to provide protection and, as proven by manufacturers’ testing, it does.

“You’ve got a lot of people out there who are providing legitimate protection, even if it may not be as strong as steel or aluminum shutters,” MacNutt says. “I think we can probably all agree to that.”

Though it would serve them well, not even Feeley and the IHPA are suggesting that film manufacturers and dealers retire the product. According to association officials, it is simply concerned with how the product is represented—something at least a few window film dealers agree with.

“In my estimation, the proper way to represent window films in Florida is to represent the actual test data and to show that the tests were conducted under conditions and on certain types of windows, and then to point out, in absolutely clear terms, the similarity and distinctions between the test protocol and what the client actually has,” Venet says.

MacNutt agrees, and he says that when promoted and sold properly, the product plays a vital role for some Florida residents. He points out that window film presents an option for those who simply cannot afford hurricane shutters or expensive glazing options. While film may not provide the same level of protection, he points out that it’s certainly better than no protection at all. 

Need Not Apply
As for the IHPA’s concern about insurance discounts, that’s a matter about which some dealers disagree.

Citizens Insurance is a prevalent provider for the region. According to its form WBDR 1802-01-09, the company rates aftermarket installed window films the same as having no protection at all. Florida Office of Insurance Regulation form OIR B1-1802 concurs, and rates systems that do not meet the FBC or Miami-Dade approvals in the same way. The IHPA is urging consumers to look for an approval number issued by the FBC or the Miami-Dade Building Code Compliance Office for the impact resistant products they consider—a measure that will quickly eliminate film dealers. The association is also urging consumers to determine whether installation contractors are licensed and able to establish a permit for the installation of the product—something film installers do not typically do. Currently, most jurisdictions require a building permit be issued for the installation of impact resistant coverings or impact resistant glazing. After March 1, 2009, building permits and inspections will be required for the installation of required impact-resistant coverings. Until window film is relabeled by Citizens, removed from the “none” category, and recognized as a hurricane protection device by the Florida and Miami-Dade building codes, window film products will not pass those suggested criteria.

In the current economy, it is no surprise that competition is heating up. While a handful of Florida residents (those with properties valued over certain thresholds) are required by their insurance providers to have Miami-Dade approved products applied to first level glazing, the fact is, there are still a large number of property owners capable of making their own decisions. Based on the variables involved, including price, level of protection desired and the importance of insurance discounts, many will continue to consider window film a viable level of protection. But, for the moment, Florida dealers say they are best served by leaving the word “hurricane” out of their marketing strategies altogether. While fighting for their share among IHPA attacks, it might serve them best to stick to the facts and promote their products strictly as “impact resistant.” 

Drew Vass is the editor of Window Film magazine.

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