Volume 16, Issue 2 - March/April 2012

feature

 

Toolin’ Around
Window Film Installers Share Their Must-Have Tools
by Katie O’Mara

An installer is only as good as his tools. It may sound clique, but for many installers their tools can make or break a film install. However, in the age of technology and invention the idea of a tool has evolved. There are still classic tools that installers will always rely on, but now many installers are creating their own tools and finding ways to use technology to grow their business.

The Classics
Among some of the most loved and reliable tools most tinters will always tell you that their knives, chisels and squeegees are must-haves.

“We use the blue max blade, which is just a squeegee blade, for flat glass applications and you can use it in different length handles to get higher pressure on film,” says Rick Puthoff president of Eclipse Window Tinting Inc., in Cincinnati, Ohio. “We use red dot knives which are a little different than your standard OLFA knife. They are left and right-handed so you can put the blade in either way.”

“You have to have an OLFA stainless steel cutting knife. That is by far the most powerful tool no matter what kind of film you are installing,” says Charlie Arakelian, owner of Northeast Tint Co., in Boston, Mass. “I always use an old-fashioned five-way. You can flip it around five different ways to get perfect angles on your windows.”

While squeegees may not have evolved much over the years they remain essential to an installer’s job.

“Another important tool would be the orange crush squeegee. It’s a little easier on your wrists after you have evolved a few million square feet of tint,” says Arakelian. “I was reluctant to make the change over from my old wooden-handled squeegee, but eventually switched it up to the orange crush because it was easier on my wrists and forearms. You get a longer reach and more pressure.”

Heat guns have changed and grown a lot over the years as well and every tinter has a preference of how they want to want to apply heat to film. For some newer heat guns are valuable, but others prefer to stick with an old favorite.

“Some people use different variations of heat guns. Probably 95 percent of my automotive installations involves using a torch, which actually helps things dry quicker and makes for a cleaner job,” says Steve Wilke, owner of S & A Restyling & Accessories in Midland, Texas. “Also, I am not using any electricity with a torch. A lot of people don’t even know how to use a torch. I have probably been using it for automotive installations for 26 of those years.”

Large equipment can be expensive and take up space, but comes in handy when a challenging install requires extra height or space.

“From an installation perspective with complicated installs you always have to be prepared. That is my motto. Scaffolding is definitely a necessity,” says Arakelian. “Every installer has to have something like that or a place that will rent it to them fairly inexpensively.”

A New Spin
Technology has changed the way most industries do business and for window tinting it is no different. Non-traditional tools continue to be exceptionally valuable to window film shops who are trying to take their business to the next level and bring new customers in the door.

“We use Computer Cut. We have two 40-inch plotters and a 60-inch plotter and it’s a great tool for taking you to the next level as far as automotive, paint protection film (PPF), architectural and decorative,” says Puthoff. “We are doing final overlays—we cut a Camaro with carbon fiber roof, but then we made some SS stripes go up the hood and Computer Cut was able to do that. It shaves a lot of time off. You can take an entry-level guy and have him pull the cars in, cut them out on Computer Cut, set the patterns out, clean the car down and it’s just the same as if I had a third full-experienced window tinter. You can get more work done and save money at the same time because you are not paying the same amount for an entry level guy as you are a veteran.”

Mobile and web-based technology is also helping businesses set themselves apart. Having a valuable online presence can keep customers connected to a window film shop so that when they are ready to buy, that company is at the top of their mind.

“Advertising or getting on Facebook and putting together a changeable website were probably the biggest tools I have used to grow my business,” says Wilke. “I had less work to have more exposure in the end and that has increased business which increases profit.”

Also, bringing technology to the job-site allows shops to appear more modern and well equipped.

“We are using iPads. All of our estimators have them and we use technology like a lot of shops do not,” says Puthoff. “We are creating a mobile version of our website since 60 percent of your searches are done from mobile phones.”

Another non-traditional tool for many installers is education. It may sound simple, but learning new tricks for installation and marketing techniques for a company can be inexpensive and pay off big time at the shop.

“Everybody picks up tips, but the biggest thing that will grow the window film industry is if all the dealers would go to their dealer meetings,” says Puthoff. “Education is the key. When we go to the national meetings the people who come to the meetings do astronomically better numbers than the people who don’t. I don’t know whether it is the workshops or its sitting at the bar with the other dealers talking about tools and technology—but it makes a difference.”

Creativity at Work
When many installers run into a situation where none of their existing tools seem to work for the job, some take tool creation into their own hands. Combining tools or taking them apart allows installers to create a completely new tool that will specifically work for them.

“People modify their tools like crazy. I am a large dealer and I am very confident in what I have, but I will see these guys and it is amazing,” says Puthoff. “Sometimes I thank God they are not in business in my market. You learn so much from the other dealers from marketing to installation to tools.”

“My installers have created their own prototypes of squeegees,” says Arakelien. “They have come up with their own chiselers and hard squeegees. One of my installers has a dad that works in a machine shop and so he comes in with the craziest stuff. He ‘Frankensteins’ parts together and creates something new.”

“I have a file folder where I jot down ideas and even sketch ideas for new tools,” says Wilke. “When you are in the midst of doing something you can think if it were done differently or shaped differently it would be easier. For commercial work, suction cups can help shift and move things without damaging anything. That has been a huge one for me.”

Many installers already know what kind of tools they wish could be invented.

“One of my installers has a dad that works in a machine shop and so he comes in with the craziest stuff. He ‘Frankensteins’ parts together and creates something new.”
—Charlie Arakelien, Northeast Tint Co.

“There are rumors that certain manufacturers have had this, but they have talked about putting hash marks on film,” says Puthoff. “It will tell you the footage in reverse so that when you are pulling out film you can tell exactly how much film you have left. If they can put logos and such on the clear liner you would think they could add hash marks. If they had hash marks giving you the footage on the liner on the roll it would take the whole task out of inventory. You wouldn’t have to worry if you have enough film on a roll before it is too late to order more.”

“I would love to see a push button ladder system that has a remote control,” says Arakelien. “Some of these ladders are very cool. If they could even make a ladder on some kind of hydraulics, lightweight and aluminum and you could throw it in the back of your car.”

Whether it is a classic knife or squeegee that makes an installer’s job easier or something simple like attending a class or chatting with a fellow installer, having the right tools for the job makes a world of difference for tinters.

If you have an idea for a tool that you would like to share email komara@glass.com.

Katie O’Mara is the editor of Window Film magazine. She can be reached at komara@glass.com or follow her on Twitter at @windowfilmmag.

 


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