Volume 17, Issue 4- July/August2013
ďIn a world driven by the latest technological developments itís easy to forget where the technology actually started. As the window film industry welcomes more digitized methods, two forward-thinkers have been at the front of this progress, developing and devoting their energies to their respective programs in an effort to help window film dealers better their businesses. Gary Benoit, father of the modern-day window film plotter system, and Joanne Schultz, creator of the first window film-specific business software, spoke with Window Film magazine about their journeys from window film dealers to inventors.
Gary Benoit Creator, ComputerCut Software
WFM: What led to you to develop the idea for ComputerCut?
GB: In 1991, a sign company moved in next to my shop and when I saw them cutting vinyl, thought, ďIf I could cut window film, that would be great,Ē but at the time all they had were 10-foot plotters and window film didnít come like that so the idea was put on the backburner. Around 1994, they started coming out with friction-feed plotters. Seeing those set off the light bulb; I thought the technology may work with window film. So I took a roll of film to a sign show in Orlando and went from booth to booth to see if they could cut film. What none of us knew at the time was that there is a trick to doing it. Many of the booths there couldnít do it.
One booth was able to cut the film. I ended up buying their plotter for $14,000 and also ended up buying a sign program for $6,000. I started experimenting, trying to figure out how to get the windows of these cars into the computer and came up with the idea of taking a picture of the pattern after I had cut it Ö This was before digital cameras so I used a Polaroid picture of the pattern and then scanned it into the program. Iíd increase the size proportionally until it to fit on a car. It would take me at least a half a day to put a car in. Trying to cut it was another thing. I didnít know how many rolls of film were wasted until I finally figured out the key to it was the depth of the blade in the plotter.
WFM: What was your level of involvement with the development of the software?
GB: My whole journey with ComputerCut has convinced me of destiny. I literally spent two years finding someone who could write a program to do this for me but couldnít find anyone. No one had the knowledge to send images through the Internet and cut them. After selling my business I went to have a computer built for me and the guy that was building the computer asked me what I was going to do now that my company had been sold. I told him about developing this software and looking for a programmer who could store these images on the Internet and download them for cutting and he said he might know of someone Ö so I met his friend Jaime at an Applebeeís for lunch Ö I told him what I wanted and he said he could do it saying, ďAnything is possible.Ē He had developed and patented a process of using computers and computer microscopes to analyze blood.
He had gotten some venture capital to start a business doing this Ö he was not a business man, more of a technical guy. He had hired some people to get the business off the ground but it had failed and he was in the process of shutting it down.
I found him at the right time and asked him to develop this program. I thought it was going to cost me about $60,000 and six months. After asking him on a Friday when he could have it for me, he said he could have it that following Monday and like he said, by Monday he had written the program. I never had this big group of technical engineers creating this software for me. He is one of the smartest guys Iíve ever met in my life Ö Still to this day he is the engineer behind this program.
WFM: What were some challenges you faced while developing ComputerCut?
GB: Cutting window film is not easy. It can be very frustrating. It was hard to get people beyond that initial frustration point. There was also a lot of resistance from installers. Iíve been in shops before where installers, after finding out the owner bought ComputerCut, quit on the spot. You even had installers who wanted to sabotage the whole system. We went through having to take back a lot of systems at the time. The only way I knew Iíd be able to get over this was to hook up with a plotter manufacturer and sell the whole system.
I initially worked with Roland. The whole problem was that no one got it; how window film and the sign industry went together. Everyone kind of disregarded me. I eventually went with DGI and we sold a package with the DGI plotter. We started selling add-ons to make it better for installers. We sold a lot of plotters like that. That helped eliminate a lot of these frustrations Ö The other problem is the patterns. I thought that once I cut the pattern and I put it in ComputerCut Iíd never hear about that pattern again. I was big-time wrong. I have a Toyota Corolla that has been cut 70,000 times Ö I still get calls on it.
WFM: If you could do it over would you have done anything differently?
GB: I probably would have liked to have not been the first person in it, because I had to go through so much. Otherwise I donít think Iíd do anything differently.
It was hard to find investors when so few people understand your industry and market. I wasnít willing to put my house and everything I owned on the line. My wife has multiple sclerosis and I knew that there were going to be issues with her so I wasnít willing to risk everything. I wanted security and wanted to make ComputerCut the best system in the world but couldnít do that by myself. Thatís why I decided to sell it to Solar Gard. I donít regret it because I didnít want to Ö possibly lose everything.
WFM: What is some of the feedback you have received about the program?
GB: Feedback has been very good and dealers have done a complete 180. I think that it has become the norm. The sign industry has discovered that they have this new market of window film and window film cutting so theyíre open to it. What Iíve heard is that some other programs are too confusing which is why Iíve tried to maintain the simplicity of the ComputerCut program and thatís what people really like.
Joanne Schultz Creator, Tint Pro software
WFM: How did you get started in the window film industry?
JS: A friend of mine in the window film industry was an artist in Germany and had started a company called Tint King. At the time, my husband and I were in the yachting business and wanted to settle down.
WFM: What led to you to develop the idea for this software?
JS: It was a need-based drive because I own a business and was very frustrated by the number of things that could be improved on with technology. I had experienced theft and waste in my business and realized if I could develop some kind of inventory system, it could eliminate some of that. I estimated I could save about 15 percent of inventory costs a year by eliminating theft and waste. Additionally, there was a lot of duplication of office procedures which was very frustrating to me.
The other need I saw was salesman going out into the field not presenting the pricing you were expecting them to price Ö You have salesman not pricing the way you thought, but lower. The business suffers. It was also very frustrating that I would spend a ton of money on marketing efforts and not be able to understand how they were affecting my business financially. So I developed this software over many years. More and more people were becoming vocal about the same problems I was having and I knew that I had the ability to solve that.
WFM: How much technology training did you have before going into this?
JS: A small amount; my training is based on the real-life industry training as well as the good fortune to be able to hire a number of top programmers throughout the country. I didnít program this myself; I needed to develop and design this program then translate that into programmer language. I just needed to make sure the programmers knew what I wanted to do.
WFM: How much has the software changed over time? JS: I launched [Tint Pro] more than 10 years ago and I only accepted 10 dealers to do the beta testing. It has grown considerably since then; people get used to having everything done. What started as an estimating program turned into accounts receivable and payroll and itís gotten to the point where it does everything.
WFM: What were some challenges you faced while working on the program?
JS: I think trying to make very complex functions and complex programming seem effortless and seamless Ö when you look at the program and how it works itís all based on natural workflow. I donít think anyone really understands the complexity behind that.
WFM: If you could do it over would you have done anything differently? JS: The only thing I would have done differently is brought it to market sooner, however, Iím a perfectionist and what I brought to the market was proven. I would have introduced it about five years sooner.
WFM: What is some of the feedback you have received?
JS: The most common reaction I get is amazement once they see it actually works. [Dealers] are overwhelmed at the simplicity and the scope because it does run the entire business. I probably could run my business without this but I never want to again because it gives a lot of the companies, for the first time, a completely new view of their business. For the financial statements, with a click of a button I know my financial outcome Ö I removed the day-to-day things that weigh the administrative people down. They never want to go back to running their businesses without a program like this.