Bumps in the Road
The Trail Pacific Window Tinting Followed Had Some Unexpected
Twists and Turns, but Still Has Led to Success
By Ellen Rogers
When David Vernon opened Pacific Window Tinting in Portland,
Ore., in 1998, he missed the deadline to get an ad in the Yellow Pages.
And there, as they say, is the rub.
“To start off without having the Yellow Pages your first year of business
… that was tough. So we really had to pound the pavement to get our face
out in front of people and to meet people,” says Vernon’s brother-in-law
Jared Gray, who relocated to Portland in 1998 to help start the company.
“We all started it together [as a family] from ground zero,” says Gray.
“And we did the opposite of most window tinters, as we started with flat
glass and added auto later on. Eventually we got out of auto all together.”
Today, the company concentrates solely on flat glass projects, both residential
“We try and do one or two major projects a year, as well as residential
work and everything in between,” explains Gray. “The last couple of years
have been geared more toward commercial projects so we are about 75 percent
commercial and 25 percent residential.”
A tremendous amount of work has gone into growing the small, family owned
business. Gray says he has focused his efforts on selling the business
as a whole and not just selling the product.
“We’ve done things differently in trying to find our own little niche,”
he says. “Our growth has basically come from word of mouth.”
And all that word of mouth early on has paid off, as many of the company’s
first clients are still with them. Today, comfortable in its niche, small
Pacific Window Tinting, though, is doing big things and focused on moving
more and more into the commercial arena.
Thick and Thin
“One of the biggest rewards for me is the fact that we were able to establish
a company that involved family,” says Vernon. “The company has consisted
of me, my wife Genise, brother-in-law Jared [Gray] and father-in-law Dick
Gray. While this may not be a good thing for some families, it has been
a great thing for ours.”
Gray says one of the key elements that has helped them continue to grow
is the one thing they did early on: getting out there in front of the
“We’ve done things differently in trying to find our own little niche,
and [our growth] has basically been from word-of-mouth. We still strive
to do that same-day service; if someone calls us we try to get out there
that day because the day they call is the day they want to spend money.
They are calling for a reason,” says Gray. “So I want to get in front
of them as quickly as I can.”
Gray says he’s tried traditional marketing tactics such as direct mailers
and local advertising and they have not worked for him.
“The return on investment is just not there,” he says. “We’ve gone back
to the way we started: getting in front of people, introducing ourselves
and going from there. And now that our portfolio is bigger we can do that;
I can get out there and show people something different. So the best thing
for us has been those clients we met in the very beginning who are still
And as far as the competition, Gray says it’s not too stiff.
“We have four or five main competitors but, just like in anything else,
you’ve got the low guys who try to undercut everyone, which makes it horrible
for everyone else,” says Gray. “One of the reasons so many customers have
stayed with us is because our prices stayed the same, even when times
were great, and customers appreciate that.”
The Next Big Thing
Pacific Window Tinting handles both residential and commercial work, and
its biggest focus is gaining a stronger commercial presence. This involves
spending a lot of time with architects and Gray says there are a number
of differences when it comes to working with architects compared to homeowners.
“We give a big
push for training, especially when it comes to safety films because if
safety films are installed incorrectly there can be serious liabilities.”
“Most of the time the architect is knowledgeable and already
knows something about film and that’s nice. Homeowners aren’t always as
knowledgeable, but it’s also nice to be able to teach them and help them
make an educated decision about what they are going to purchase,” says
Gray. He adds that when it comes to working with the architect there’s
also a lot of prep work that needs to be done. “A lot of architects [are
knowledgeable]. If you walk in there and you don’t know what you are talking
about, you’ve already lost.”
While Gray says many architects are familiar with the benefits and uses
of film he still finds that he is often working to provide education and
information to those who know little about the products.
“So often an architect will say ‘but my glass supplier says film will
void the warranty on the glass,’” explains Gray. “So I have worked hand-in-hand
with some of the biggest glass companies in Portland to teach them about
film; they, in turn, also share that knowledge with the architects.”
Specification can also be a challenge when it comes to working with architects.
“Architects aren’t necessarily familiar with all the film types out there,”
says Gray. “And just because your name is in the spec doesn’t always mean
it’s going to stay your job.”
With such a strong focus on growing the company’s architectural presence,
Gray says these efforts have helped them differentiate. For example, after
9/11 they were able to secure many area government projects.
“We won the majority of [government jobs] in the Portland area and then
there were a lot of big projects that followed,” says Gray. “At the time,
I did most of that work myself, and that’s helped and hurt me because
now my installers have to be particularly good, because it’s my reputation
on the line.”
He continues, “That was the most difficult thing for me, to let go of
that portion of the job, because the end result is what you grow your
business on. If you have a couple of poor jobs out there, you go from
having a customer speaking good about you to speaking badly about you.”
Kathryn Giblin, vice president of global marketing for Bekaert Specialty
Films, has worked closely with the Gray. He is also a member of the Panorama
Dealer Council, a group of dealers who collaborate with the manufacturer
on customer and dealer needs and who volunteer their time to mentor others
in the business.
“Pacific Window Tinting is a member of our Panorama dealer network and
has consistently proven to be an exceptional business partner. Pacific
Window Tinting differentiates itself from the competition with superior
technical knowledge and demonstrating their expertise and professionalism,”
says Giblin. “They take the time to educate customers on how solar energy
works and help them choose the right film to fit their needs.”
As part of working more within the commercial realm, Gray says they have
also expanded their range of product offerings to include decorative films.
The company also is doing more and more work geared specifically toward
“Decorative films have seen a big push and that’s one direction in which
we’re going as it’s more commercialized,” Gray says.
“And these projects are a change of pace; they are different and fun.”
He says one benefit of decorative films is that they can be used to create
the same appearance as glass. For example, Gray’s team recently installed
a selection of colorful films for the University of Oregon Academic Learning
“What sold this job for me was the fact that the films can be changed,”
he said. “Each color represents a sport and each year someone there gets
an award in that sport so [the university] will have to change the colors;
each year I will be going back there to change out the colors.”
Solar Graphics Inc. in Clearwater, Fla., supplied the decorative films.
Richard Purdum, owner of Solar Graphics, said the work Gray and his team
did was impressive.
“They went out and worked directly with the architect on that job,” says
Purdum. “I like to see dealers doing that sort of thing.”
Purdum says when it comes to working with decorative films there are a
lot of tricks of the trade.
“Just because you’re a good tinter doesn’t mean you can just put up this
type of film,” he says. “We worked closely with Pacific Window Tinting
[to match the colors]; they were not afraid of taking on this job.”
Speaking of Gray, Purdum adds, “He’s more progressive than most tinters.
He’s diversified his company to include film graphics and that’s fun.
He’s got a fever about him.”
As far as other trends, Gray says they are also seeing an increased awareness
and demand for energy-saving features.
“Portland is on the leading edge of energy awareness and green building,”
says Gray. “People are willing to spend more money to be green—if it’s
something that’s going to be a benefit in the long run.”
Vernon adds, “As an industry benefit, the energy savings from today’s
films is fantastic. To be able to offer this kind of savings without having
to change out windows is a huge advantage for us—especially in today’s
price-sensitive market. The key is getting the consumer to recognize this
Likewise, while window film has been proven an energy-saving feature,
particularly when it comes to solar control, Gray says the Portland climate
sometimes keeps people from going with window film.
“A lot of companies here don’t have air conditioning, so putting films
on their windows is not going to help them,” says Gray, adding that temperature
changes can also be a deterrent. “We don’t have a constant temperature
like in some places [such as Phoenix] where it’s steady.”
While Gray says the film industry has certainly grown and the materials
have become more recognized and accepted, there are still challenges to
overcome. For one, Gray points out, is the lack of formal training in
“Half of the negative stuff that you hear about window tinting relates
to bubbled up, purple film on the back of a car. And while that may be
a bad product, it’s also a poor installation,” says Gray. “We give a big
push for training, especially when it comes to safety films because if
safety films are installed incorrectly there can be serious liabilities.
If you do a poor safety film installation a lot of lives are at stake,
so a training program would be great.”
Vernon agrees, “One challenge we run into almost every day is that general
consumers still think architectural films are dark like automotive limo
tint. Today’s high performance films have so much to offer; unfortunately,
people just don’t know and understand the many benefits our industry has
Staying in check with rapidly changing glass technologies can also be
“Keeping up with glass technology is getting more difficult because it
has jumped leaps and bounds compared to that of window film,” says Gray.
And, Gray admits, like so many other companies, his company has also been
affected by the down economy.
“I’ve lost projects because the money got cut and the fact that window
film is one of the last things to go onto the job,” says Gray, adding
that the flow of business has also been hurt. “The cash flow that comes
in from residential has slowed down and on the commercial side you don’t
get paid [up front] so you’re always wanting the residential work to come
in underneath to keep things moving.”
“Businesses and individuals just aren’t spending money like they used
to,” agrees Vernon. “Even though we offer exceptional energy savings and
a very reasonable price, it’s difficult to get people to act.”
“As an industry
benefit, the energy savings from today’s films is fantastic. To be able
to offer this kind of savings without having to change out windows is
a huge advantage for us—especially in today’s price-sensitive market.
The key is getting the consumer to recognize this benefit.”
Gray adds, though, that they are still plugging away and
says they have not made any layoffs or cutbacks.
“Installers probably aren’t making what they’d like to make, but they
are grateful to have a job,” says Gray. “The worst of it is the not knowing
when it will come back; when it does, will I be staffed enough to withstand
the up rise in people spending money?” he asks. “It’s going to get better
… I just wish I knew when.”
He continues, “I do think everything happens for a reason, so maybe the
downturn will help weed out some of those who were not doing good enough
work; maybe it will enable me to try something new, such as finding different
projects. It’s gratifying when you work hard for something and you get
A Step at a Time
And though the company may be a small one, it’s one with big goals and
plans for the future.
“Our motto is ‘dare to be a pig.’ Meaning, if you don’t have big dreams
you won’t have big success,” says Gray. “We strive to go after it all.
We want to expand, both nationally and globally.”
“I see Pacific Window Tinting building relationships that will take us
both across the United States and international markets,” he says. “We
have a vision, one we all share here and are striving toward.”
Gray also says the fact that they care and take pride in what they do
“We’re accountable. If something happens and the customer calls us I answer
the phone, and that alone is a big thing. And I’m not shy about saying
‘I don’t know.’ But I can make a phone call and find out and get right
back to them with an answer.”
A lot of this, he adds, is self-driven.
“If I don’t do well, then the business doesn’t do well … we’re just a
small, little company trying to do big things and to be respected—to be
respected by peers and colleagues is a big thing and I feel like that’s
the direction we are going,” Gray says.
Ellen Rogers is the editor of Window Film magazine.
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