Volume 14, Issue 5 - September-October 2010

feature

Keeping the Faith
by Ellen Rogers

Some people make their career decisions by flipping a coin; for others, a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors may be the deciding factor. There are those who make lists weighing the pros and cons, and others who turn to everyone they know asking, “What would you do?” Rafael Fernandez, owner of Confianza Window Tinting in Miami, used a method that he does not recommend: “Bible roulette,” he says.

Fernandez harkens back to a time in his life when he had just started attending church, yet found himself out of a job soon after.

“I was upset and felt lied to, but I learned that disappointments are the birthplace of incredible achievements,” says Fernandez who had been working for an automotive company that focused on car alarms and stereos, and dabbled in window tinting. “My dad, who is a very quiet man, took me out one day and said, ‘You know son, there are a lot of windows in Miami …’ So I thought about it and prayed about it and then I did something that I don’t recommend—I played Bible roulette. I opened the Bible and pointed to the first verse I saw,” he says. “And it worked that day because I bumped into one of the most beautiful verses, Jeremiah 17:7, which says ‘But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.’ Confidence … and, it was a Spanish Bible, so I said, ‘Ah! Confianza Window Tinting” and that’s where the company name came from.”

That was April 1990 and since then Confianza Window Tinting has grown into one of the largest commercial tinting companies in the Miami area. Fernandez’s Christian faith has been a huge part of his success. In fact, in addition to the window film business he also has a radio ministry that is broadcast to every Spanish-speaking region around the world. For Fernandez the combination of faith and giving back whenever possible has made all the difference.

Upward Bound
“I started out of the garage of my house with $500 and a lot of faith and enthusiasm,” says Fernandez. “And I promised myself we would not do cars, partly because I could not tint. I had a lot to learn and flat glass is a lot easier to learn than automotive. I would sell in the mornings and install in the afternoons. Sometimes my dad would help me.”

As the jobs began to add up so did the need for a full-time installer.

“That’s when Ulises Abreu came to my doorstep. He is now our head installer; he’s been with me for 17 years,” says Fernandez. He adds the company also has two other installers, George and Alex Morales, a father and son who have been with the company for almost 11 years. “In our industry [it’s unusual] for an installer to be with you for 17 years, 11 years … and they also have the keys to the business and the code to the alarm—the installers,” says Fernandez. “We are blessed that we have that level of trust in our team.”

Abreu has been in the film industry sine 1986 when he got started tinting cars. He says he was rebuked when he first called Confianza to see if they needed an installer. He tried again a year later and that time they did.

“This is not like any other company I’ve worked for,” Abreu says. “We’re more like family and we’ve grown together over the years.”

Abreu also has seen the industry change and became concerned at one point that it was dying out because of all the new glass products that were being introduced.

“But somehow, we keep growing,” he says. “Even with the slow economy … we have our ups and downs just like any business, but we’re still growing.”

In addition to three installers, Fernadez’s wife, Maria, works in the office and their daughter Alina is the administrative assistant (in total they have five children, two son-in-laws and two grandchildren). Enrique de la Pezuela joined the company in April and handles the company’s architectural sales, working closely with architects and developers.

de la Pezuela says it was a result of both the market and a blessing that lead him to Confianza. Like Fernandez, he is also involved with a ministry through his church and the two met when Fernandez was a guest speaker at one of de la Pezuela’s meetings.

“It turned out that he needed someone to do architectural sales and I needed a job,” says de la Pezuela who had owned an architectural firm for a number of years, and had also worked as a project manager for two of Miami’s condo developers, WIC and the Related Group of Florida.

“I work closely with the architects and developers every day,” de la Pezuela says. “It’s important to do so because as green, LEED certification, tax credits and energy efficiency become important it’s imperative they use window film; it’s really a no-brainer.”

Business Tactics
Twenty years since the debut of his company, Fernandez has moved up from working in his garage and now occupies 2,000 square feet of office space (which he is proud to say is completely paid off) in a suburban Miami office park. Confianza Window Tinting works primarily with 3M and in the past has worked with others, such as Solamatrix. Over the years the company has taken on some high-profile film projects in the Miami area. Projects include the Fontainebleau, for which he is the exclusive film supplier, and the Miami Courthouse. The company has also been involved with a number of international projects, including apartment and condo buildings in Santo Domingo.

“I’ve known Rafael for more than two years and I think he's a true professional in what he does for both his business and the industry,” says Charlie Calisto, national sales manager for 3M.

Mike Giles, 3M territory manager, adds, “Rafael and the entire team at Confianza Window Tinting have been a valued customer of 3M for many years, and some of the most prestigious installations of [our] window film have been accomplished through the efforts of Confianza Window Tinting throughout the region. Our partnership in the industry in the past has been strong, however a renewed and stronger partnership has developed that has already demonstrated that we will enjoy much success together in the years to come.”

Achievements aside, Confianza Window Tinting is still a small business, tackling a range of projects. “We do residential jobs everyday. But when you’re involved with commercial projects you’re really a farmer; a farmer doesn’t just throw out a seed and wait. He knows you have to move the soil, plant the seed and water it. The same is true of commercial projects,” Fernandez explains. “If you have the discipline to do what you need to do, maybe the job won’t start for another nine months, but the work you did six months before will fall into play three months from now. So it becomes a cycle.”

He continues, “in a year we do two or three commercial projects. Huge projects are not as common, but we’ve been blessed with those, too.”

With a hand in both residential and commercial work, Fernandez admits there are a number of differences between the two

“Look at everything we’ve seen of late, like foreclosures. When you are losing your home you’re not thinking about window tinting. And on top of that we had a long, cold winter, which is rare in Miami,” he says. “But, as soon as the sun starts baking people the phone starts ringing.”

He continues, “Commercial is less cyclical because there are budgets that have been appropriated. Plus, now the trend for a lot of buildings is to go green. Owners are really looking at how to make their buildings more efficient. On the residential side, too, we are fortunate because we live in [an area] where there are a lot of condo buildings with a lot of nice views. In condos the windows are all sliding glass door type windows. In one apartment you can have 1,000 square feet of glass.”


“I learned that disappointments are the birthplace of incredible achievements.”
—Rafael Fernandez


Top-Tier Service
When it came to developing a business model, Fernandez looked to what some consider the pinnacle of any business in any industry: the Ritz Carlton.

“We are big supporters of the way they do business at the Ritz Carlton. So I say, be a Ritz Carlton window film dealer,” says Fernandez. “You know what they call their employees at the Ritz Carlton? Ladies and gentlemen. Can you imagine if we all started calling our employees—our installers—‘ladies and gentlemen?’ Give an installer just a little bit of recognition and watch him fly. Our industry doesn’t do that enough.”

He adds, “I adopted the motto of the Ritz Carlton for my own company. I don’t want our customers to just be happy; I want them to be proud … walking the extra mile goes so far.”

One challenge for the film industry, he believes, is finding ways to increase the perceived level off professionalism. And in Miami, this can be particularly tough.

“I know there are manufacturers who do not even want to sell in south Florida,” says Fernandez. “Sadly enough, Miami, one of the many names it’s been given is the ‘Gateways to the Americas’.” He says the nickname comes from all of the importing and exporting that takes place, much of which is with countries where high-quality material is less important than it is in the United States.

“I really believe that if we can bring up the level of professionalism in our industry people will notice,” he says.

This might be easier said than done. Fernandez says the only way to accomplish this is simply one dealer at a time.

“It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child; it takes an industry to raise a dealer,” he says. “I hope and pray that there are dealers who read this and realize that they can do more and they can be better. I have hope that we can bring up the standards of all our industry; it has to be an industry effort.”

Reap What You Sow
Fernandez says he is extremely grateful for the successes he’s seen and experienced. As a result, he is committed to giving back whenever and wherever he can. He has donated film and installation services to various projects around the Miami area. He also created The Children of Lumenesse, a charity organization whose mission is to build and manage an orphanage for children around the world. He says the goal is to eventually build and maintain or its first three years. In the meantime, every six months the charity donates 10 percent of the funds to children’s charities until it reaches that goal.

Five percent of every roll of Lumenesse purchased by dealers goes directly into the fund.

“After being so blessed, on our 20th anniversary we decided to officially start our children’s fund as a way to give back and leave a legacy,” says Fernandez. “Five percent of every sale we make, large or small, goes toward this fund. After the job is finished we send a thank you letter to our customer with a copy of the check to the fund with their name on the memo and a reassurance that we not only want them to be happy to be our customer but proud to be one as well.”

He adds that a down economy is the perfect time to give back.

“When things are slow, donate and give. Look for a church, a synagogue, a school, Habitat for Humanity … someplace where you can [donate],” he says.

Team Efforts
Over the years Fernandez and his team have worked diligently to establish Confianza Window Tinting as a quality, professional organization. These efforts have included working closely with organizations such as Florida Power & Light, which has a Business Building Envelope Program that provides incentives for various energy-efficient measures, including window film installation.

“Rafael has demonstrated a strong ability to create and close large commercial projects through a vast network of contacts here in Florida,” says Giles, who expects their partnership to continue moving forward.

“One of the things that we admire about Rafael and his team at Confianza is how they have developed long-term relationships with key decision makers in South Florida in the commercial arena,” says Bill Stewart, North American sales and operations manager for Solamatrix. “Rafael understands the importance of building a solid reputation and has spent many years working to achieve this through active participation in his local community. In this day and age, and in our industry, it is truly impressive when companies are still actively involved in the same business, in the same area, decade after decade.”

Hurricane films are also a big part of Confianza’s business. Fernandez says that purveyors of the economy have actually purged the industry of a lot of disreputable hurricane companies “because the fly-by-nights have flown.”

He says the issue of safety and impact film is one of immense importance.

“When I was on the Ethics Committee of the International Window Film Association one of the issues we had was overzealous dealers selling safety films as ‘bullet-proof,’ yet they wouldn’t stand behind the product,” he says. “When you are going to sell safety film, sell it for what it is. These products are an important part of a dealer’s business but they are also an important part of our industry because safety films really work; they are not a gimmick.”

He continues, “As an industry, we need to work on getting safety films recognized by insurance companies. We are working toward that. We should protect ourselves on the defensive by making sure that dealers are not putting out ads that say things like ‘no need to shutter your home …’ safety film does not need to be hyped; the test results speak for themselves.”

Customer Satisfaction
“You never argue with a customer; what do you gain by doing so? You take care of the situation as quickly as you can. It doesn’t matter what the problem is,” he says. “We take pride in what we do. It’s awesome to be able to go to a home and let people know that we do not subcontract the work; the only time we subcontract is if it’s a very large project and there’s a time frame to meet. We work only with installers we know and have worked with in the past.”

On the Horizon
Always the optimist, Fernandez has also coined a few words that he uses as mantras for his business. One of these words is “persa-vision.”

“It’s perseverance with a vision,” he says, explaining that once you know what you want your success to be, it’s easy to go after those achievements. Much of that ties to the demand for energy performance.

“There are films that go hand-in-hand with those needs,” says Fernandez. “Five years from now will be huge, especially as the economy gets better and more and more people are concerned about energy savings. Our industry is perfect for what’s coming and I am very excited.”

Ellen Rogers is the editor of Window Film magazine.


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