It used to be that the employees at Solar Control Glass Tinting, a film dealership in San Ramon, Calif., could count on getting a vacation during December and January to go skiing or just get away. But times are changing.
“Normally our guys take off in the winter time because we’re not doing anything,” said Rocky Burcham, owner of the company. “Now we’re two- to two-and-half-weeks booked with three guys. That’s good for me. We’ve never had that happen.”
The reason for the jump in business: a steady diet of commercial work.
“We’ve been doing more commercial work in December and January,” Burcham said. “Those are normally our dead months here, but we ended up getting a nice job in San Jose. It definitely helped. It has been one of our busiest winters.”
“We were loaded up with tons of commercial work for months and months,” Burcham said. “They were putting on reflective film for the heat. They were also putting reflective film on so that people couldn’t see what was going on. They were even putting up radio interference films so that people couldn’t shoot a beam into the window and take stuff off of computers and faxes.”
But then the tech market crashed.
“That came to a halt and then [the] Enron [scandal] hit [and] all of the big dot com’s were pulling out of business,” Burcham said. “That’s who was putting the film on.”
But this market is propelled by more than the office market.
“It’s a wide variety of things,” Burcham said. “It hasn’t been one type of film. We’re doing safety and security films for libraries. We’re doing heat rejection film. We’re doing film for residential customers who want ultraviolet (UV) light and fade control. It’s not one specific angle. It’s just that people are calling.”
Stacey Tucker, owner of Sun Select Window Tinting in Bremerton, Wash., has only been in the film business a couple of years, but is noticing a recovery in the Pacific Northwest with her residential and commercial business. That area was also hit by the double whammy of the tech sector collapse and difficulties in the aviation industry.
“For being a start up window film business, I think my business is doing tremendously well,” Tucker said. “There’s absolutely a need for it here. The real estate prices are phenomenal here. We have wonderful, beautiful homes and we have the most waterfront per square mile in the entire country and homeowners don’t want to block their views. I think there’s an untapped market in this area.”
Manufacturers have been also noticing this trend on the West Coast.
“I would have to say the infrared (IR) films sell very well out here because of the views people have from theses million dollar homes,” said Tom Adams, national program manager for Film Technologies International in St. Petersburg, Fla. “They want the look to stay the same but get the benefits of what the film has to offer.”
But that doesn’t mean that the film industry still doesn’t have some work to do to show consumers on the West Coast the benefits of architectural and residential films. This is especially true in the rainy Pacific Northwest.
“Since I’m not in a big city, a lot of people aren’t educated about film,” said Doug Templer, owner of Sun Scape Window Tinting in Central Point, Ore. “When people think of blocking the sun, they think of blinds and curtains. A lot of people just aren’t aware that film goes on homes. They think it’s just on cars.”
Scott Iverson, owner of Exclusive Window Tinting in Salem, Ore., sees the same issue.
“In the Northwest, it’s still unpopular because most everyone thinks that if you get your windows tinted, you’re just blocking the light,” Iverson said. “I wish there was a national communication to explain to people that this isn’t the case.”
Even as far south as sunny Southern California, there’s not a lot of knowledge among regular consumers about non-automotive films.
“The customers get their car done first,” said Ramon Ornelas, owner of Tint Masters in Oxnard, Calif. “In our waiting room, they find out that we do other kinds of film. Then they may want to get their home done, office done or a gym done. They find out we do architectural by asking. They don’t come in just to have it done.”
“The cities are spending a lot of time and energy to stay nice and clean,” said Eddie Zadourian, the operations manger for the SunTek’s West Coast distribution center in Glendale, Calif. “They’re also spending the money to help the storeowners keep their city clean. In Glendale, if someone puts graffiti on a wall, the city will clean it up.”
The cities also realized that film could help in their anti-graffiti campaign.
“And a lot of cities have programs to pay some of the installation fees for the installation of film on their main boulevards,” Zadourian said. “Because of that, anti-graffiti film has been very strong lately, especially on storefronts and auto dealerships.”
Zadourian isn’t the only film seller to see this trend.
“Dealers that specialize in anti-graffiti films have seen their sales [increase] over the past 10 to 12 months,” said Donna Wells, Madico’s Western regional sales manager.
In California, so many people have gotten into anti-graffiti film, that Zoilo Centeno, owner of Wintech Professional Window Tinting, a film dealer in Costa Mesa, Calif., considers it too much of a commodity item for him to sell. But he has done a lot of work in the anti-intrusion area for business who are sick of break ins.
“We’re the consultant helping to set up the proper system for businesses to use on their window system to keep someone out,” he said. “It’s not even that they have to replace the computers. They’re upset by all of the data they lose.
We’re putting in the anchoring system so that we do windows and have some kind of mechanical system around the framing.”
While anti-graffiti film is strong in California and Tucker said she even fields calls for the Seattle suburbs, the security market as a whole is much more mixed.
“There’s not as much interest in security film from the West Coast as compared to the East Coast,” Wells said. “The East Coast has more terror alerts.”
Still there are military installations on the West Coast. Tucker, in fact, has three bases— Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bangor Submarine Base, and Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Keyport—nearby.
“We have three federal military installations within 10 miles,” Tucker said. “We have done work for government contractors and more of that stuff is coming as I continue to build my reputation in this business.”
With the possibility of earthquakes on the West Coast, Tucker also sees potential for security film.
“In our neck of the woods, we have to worry about earthquakes,” Tucker said. “These could be big earthquakes with shattered glass and glass falling into the streets. I think this is an untapped market and that’s part of the reason why I decided to get into the business.”
But Wells thinks hurricanes on the East Coast provide a bigger market for dealers.
“On the East Coast you’ve had hurricanes hit regularly,” Wells said. “With earthquakes they shake for a little while and it’s over. Hurricanes have more warning. You see the damage and live with it. That’s one of the reasons window film is more popular in hurricane areas.”
Despite limited potential currently for security film, Wells still sees opportunity for flat glass films on the West Coast.
And, as people like Iverson, Templer, Tucker and Ornelas continue to educate their customers, this need could grow even greater.
West Coast Web
“They enjoy being able to research information on the web and get a little bit of background,” Tucker said.
“That way when they contact somebody, they don’t have to be held hostage to the hard sell. I see that as a real concern for the consumer. The website is a way they can connect with my company without me ever knowing. If they like and are comfortable with what I’ve said, they call me.”
In many cases, Tucker does get calls.
“I get an awful lot of traffic from my website,” Tucker said. “That’s been a great tool for me. I think it’s become more popular.”
Tucker isn’t the only film dealer located on the technology savvy West Coast to have good luck with a website. Rocky Burcham, owner of Solar Control Glass Tinting in San Ramon, Calif., has a site that allows people to put in the sizes of their windows and get an estimated price range. It also allows people to go over colors of films to see it how it lightens or darkens the window. The popularity of this site has influenced Burcham’s ad budget.
“The website has been really popular,” Burcham said. “Every year we’ve been downsizing our yellow page ads. People aren’t looking there anymore. They’re looking on the ’net. They like doing the searches on the net. The Internet has definitely helped us.”
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