Volume 16, Issue 2 - March/April 2012

feature

 

Storming Back From Katrina
How One Film Company Positioned Itself for Growth After the Storm
by Katie O’Mara

 

In August 2005, Americans sat with eyes transfixed to their television sets taking in the images of the sunken city of New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina, the most destructive hurricane to ever strike the United States, devastated the famous Louisiana town and the surrounding area. In the weeks to follow, as reports rolled in, the loss of homes and human life was staggering. However, the toll that a storm like this one could take on a small business was not a major headline around the country.

Back to the Beginning
For two window film professionals, the storm forever changed their paths and eventually brought them together. Peter Kaufmann, former owner of Solar Solutions of Louisiana, and Gregg Taylor, owner of GT Tint, joined forces and companies to promote their new joint business, GT Tint. Kaufmann suffered an injury in the years after Katrina to his shoulder that has made it difficult for him to continue tinting. Joining forces with Taylor, Kaufmann is staying in the business doing marketing and sales for the new company. The former location of Solar Solutions of Louisiana will now house the new South shore location of the company.

“For the last year and a half I have mothballed my former company Solar Solutions. I’ve known Gregg since before Katrina and we worked well together for years,” says Kaufmann. “I finally decided since I can no longer do what he does, we need to figure out a way to make this work for both of us. We are small and steady. I don’t believe the one-man operation is the way to go, but I don’t want to worry about a staff of 12 either. We have one or two other guys we work with and try to keep our book full about 3-15 days out, working on a few things here and there.”

“I’m passionate about the film industry and clearbras are another kind of film we work with,” says Taylor. “A lot of tint shops will have car stereos and upholstery and things like that. Those kinds of shops offer window film as an extra service, but this is our main service.”

Kaufmann and Taylor came together to work on the U.S. Customs House, a historic landmark and the third most prestigious building in the GSA. The building houses offices for the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Commerce, Federal Maritime Commission, U.S. Tax Court, Audubon Nature Institute, Small Business Administration and GSA.

“Almost as many people came through there as did Ellis Island,” says Kaufmann. “We wrapped about 13,000 squares. Since then we’ve felt like, ‘why fight this?’ Some people have it and some people don’t, but Greg has it.”

As the partnership between Kaufmann and Taylor takes off, both are confident that they have met their match.

“I like to sell and market and I can’t tint any longer and he hates paperwork and people,” says Kaufmann with a smile.

GT Tint will serve the New Orleans market completing architectural and automotive tinting jobs. While Taylor and Kaufmann are happy with the size and offerings of the company, they are open to some additional film related products in the future

“We are dipping into automotive paint protection,” says Taylor. “It’s doing well for the word-of-mouth business that we are getting. We really haven’t marketed it at all.”

“We do like decorative films, plotters and vinyl work,” adds Kaufmann. “We have been tooling around with a full wide-format printer. It’s a matter of one or two good jobs or some steady revenue.”

GT Tint works mainly with thinner films, but have good connections around the New Orleans area and can bring in additional help if needed.

“I was tinting police cars and cars for FEMA personnel. The water was so bad coming out of the sink that the FEMA guys would drop off cases of water just so I could tint their cars.”
—Peter Kaufmann, GT Tint

“We like to think of ourselves as mainly working with thin films. That’s where we like to stay,” says Kaufmann. “We are not scared of safety and security [film], but if it gets stupidly thick or big then we will partner up with someone or bring someone else in to complete the job.”

Up to the Challenge
The Customs House tops the list for Kaufmann and Taylor as one of the most challenging projects that they have been a part of.

“You have to imagine the situation—you are outside in the French Quarter where they don’t ever stop serving alcohol and you are allowed to preach on the corner. You have drunk people walking through your barricades and your yellow tape,” says Kaufmann.

“We are working off of an 80-foot articulating boom that you have to drive around the building and deal with the one way streets,” adds Taylor.

Despite the challenges, Taylor and Kaufmann’s work helped the U.S. Customs House obtain a couple of LEED points. For Kaufmann the project changed his path as he sustained a rotator cuff injury that has kept him from being able to install film. However, the pair continues to work towards new high-dollar projects like the local aquarium and some of the historic homes that New Orleans is so famous for, in the Garden District.

“We are in with the aquarium now and everything has been budgeted so we are just waiting on that. We did a sample floor for a major hotel down here,” says Kaufmann. “Most of my good money came in these high-end houses. People here will have $20 million in priceless furnishings and heirlooms. People have drapes that cost $400 per square yard that need to be protected.”

In addition to tricky projects, Taylor and Kaufmann have found that just dealing with the competition is a major challenge for their company.

“The hardest thing in the world around here is the phrase, ‘I got a buddy,’” says Kaufmann. “A lot of our competition is arrogant. They use poor products and are dishonest. They have super-egos. I’ve been doing this for 35 years and my competition could at least listen. I might be wrong, but at least listen to what I have to say. We are educated and accredited with the IWFA and we are honest.”

Following the storm, the men have dealt with trying to educate the community about film’s true capabilities.

“I love safety film, but it is not a hurricane product,” says Kaufmann. “We had water here during the storm and film can’t help in that area. I find we spend a lot of time policing the industry against others. Whether a customer is going to buy from me or not, I want to make sure they are educated and know what they really need.”

Window film can help protect inhabitants from broken glass and flying debris, but it is not a hurricane-proof product. Taylor and Kaufmann has worked to give customers realistic expectations and honesty when it comes to window film’s ability to protect in a hurricane.

Surviving the Storm
Life changed for the city of New Orleans as well as the businesses there in 2005.

“This building only lost power for three days and the water came within a block of the building,” says Kaufmann about the former home of his old business and the new location of GT Tint. “We evacuated, went to Shreveport and we watched the storm on TV there. We knew it couldn’t get much worse.”

“We just assumed that everything was gone from watching it on TV,” says Taylor. “We drove back five days after the storm and we couldn’t even recognize our street. We didn’t have power for three and a half to four weeks. I got a job in Florida tinting windows while we were evacuated and [the Florida tint company] really took me in.”

Following the storm, Kaufmann actually moved into his shop because of damage to his house and the need for his services.

“It was a complete reset to zero,” says Kaufmann. “After the storm I moved in here and lived in the shop for about four months. I was able to get back to the shop before I could get into my house. The police would drop off rations and my wife would drop off coolers of food and tools. The National Guard and helicopters were here and you couldn’t get in the city without a pass. I was tinting police cars and cars for FEMA personnel. The water was so bad coming out of the sink that the FEMA guys would drop off cases of water just so I could tint their cars.”
Both Kaufmann and Taylor’s businesses experienced an influx of tinting needs following the storm.

“I couldn’t keep up with the work,” says Kaufmann. “A lot of the people forced to higher ground would call whoever did the work for them four or five years ago to come tint their houses again.

“The car business picked up tremendously too,” adds Taylor. “A lot of cars were damaged and hit my trees so everybody got new cars. From the end of September through February I was booked three weeks out all the time. That eventually slowed down and now it’s back to normal.”

Rebuilding Efforts
Now, more than six years later, Kaufmann reflects on the rebuilding efforts.

“We have so much federal money that is still here. There is a ton of construction going on here,” says Kaufmann. “One of the ironic things is that I went to the Hyatt shortly before Katrina and there they had no tint on the building and management pretty much laughed me out of the building. Well the roof came off the superdome and took off half of the [Hyatt’s] glass. They just re-opened it three months ago.”

For many in New Orleans, rebuilding has been a slow process that is still on-going.

“We just assumed that everything was gone from watching it on TV. We drove back five days after the storm and we couldn’t even recognize our street.”
—Gregg Taylor, GT Tint

“Anytime you have to wait for the government to get permission to do something it’s slow,” says Kaufmann.

Kaufmann’s house is still undergoing renovation and sustained significant water damage. Taylor experienced long-term power outages, debris and downed trees in his neighborhood. Luckily, both men were able to keep business moving by tinting cars and homes for other New Orleans residents after the storm.

Moving forward Kaufmann and Taylor hope to grow GT Tint.

“I still see new hope in this industry,” says Kaufmann. “We really want the manufacturers to step up and help facilitate us doing what they think we should be doing. Show me how to sell these buildings without charging me $10,000 per module.”

At the end of the day Taylor just wants to have a successful business to support his family.

“I want this to last,” says Taylor. “I have two kids and want to leave them something to come into when they get older.”

 


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