I am a seasoned, veteran window film installer with over 30 years of hands-on experience. I listen very well to my customer’s concerns and strive to address them as professionally and efficiently as possible. I have installed every type of film on every type of window in the industry. I have trained and worked with many installers over the years and have found that the fewer I work with, the happier I am. I have a strong work ethic and take pride in what I do with a personalized attention to detail.
My first window film installation was on my first car, a 1965 International Scout. I put a silver mirrored film on the three back windows (they were square and flat) in the parking lot of the public beach in Jacksonville. I remember the wind was blowing sand all around and the sun was very hot. It came out all right. Nobody could see what was going on back there and that was all that mattered. It was 1978. I was 18.
1980-1983 Gainesville, Florida
Energy Savers (my first professional tinting job)
After getting laid-off from a job I had traveling around the country striping highways, I called Randall Wilson, a friend of mine from high school in Gainesville who now owns and operates A-1 Window Tinting. I told him I needed a job and a place to stay and he let move into his three-bedroom trailer near 39th Avenue and I-75, just outside of town. He also got me a job installing fiberglass insulation and blowing cellulose insulation with the company he was working for called Energy Savers, which also installed solar water panels and 3M window film. I soon realized that the window film installer was making more money and with less aggravation than the fiberglass/cellulose installers were and I asked to be considered for the next opening. I was promised the position and then promptly passed over when the position came open, so I quit. I then got a job delivering flowers at Randall’s brother Darrel’s place of employment (a florist who’s name I can’t remember ‘cause it only lasted a couple of weeks when I was fired for missing a delivery), after which I begged for my old job with Energy Savers back and was re-hired, again with the promise of the next window film installer opening. AGAIN I was passed over for the position, so I quit. Next I got a job working at Gator Aluminum installing aluminum screen rooms, a job I had no skill, nor interest in. I think I got it from an employment agency. Anyway, after a couple of weeks the owner and I had a misunderstanding and I was fired. After another round of groveling with my old boss I was once again reinstated (I was a good fiberglass installer), AGAIN with the promise of the next film installer’s position. This time I was granted the job AND a new supervisor. My new supervisor was the boss’ son, Jimmy Oehmig. He was also my new roommate. Jimmy was quite overbearing. I was instructed exactly what film to use, which tools to use and how to use them. Not knowing any better, I accepted his rule as law. The film was 3M scotchtint. A quality product, however, in those days it had no protective liner to keep the adhesive clean while handling the film. Therefore, as soon as the film was pulled off the roll it was exposed to the elements and collecting dust and dirt. Today’s advanced installation techniques would have been impossible. Also, I was instructed to use an Exacto knife with a half-moon shaped blade to cut the film. The blades were expensive, 30 cents each. I was instructed to use only one blade per car, so I learned to curve the blade when it began to get dull so I could get to the sharp part. The use of cheaper, disposable snap-off blades was prohibited. After one week of fumbling with the film, screwing up cars and pulling my hair out I was ready to give it all up but I stuck with it and after a while I was doing all right. As the weeks turned into months, the number of customer complaints and re-dos diminished. I was about 8 months into it when one day my boss/roommate and I got into an argument and I quit and got evicted at the same time. I think my greatest achievement at Energy Savers was probably learning the basics of window film installation. The Largest commercial installations I did for them were the Alachua General Hospital (where I was born) and the Marion Community Hospital in Ocala.
Stereo to Go (my first business – and partner)
Finding myself suddenly unemployed and soon to be homeless, I approached a new car stereo store that had recently opened up just around the corner from Energy Savers and proposed to the owner that if he supplied the film, I would supply the labor and we could split the profit. He agreed and I was now the proud owner of my very first company at age 21 and partners with an already growing car stereo business. It was called Stereo to Go and Chuck Wise was one of the owners. The store already serviced most of the car dealerships in town and for me it was a turnkey operation. Not having an immediate supervisor, or anybody else telling me what to do or how to do it, I was able to get creative and experiment different films, tools, and installation techniques. I took a lot more pride in my work and the quality of the installation rapidly improved. I went to an installation seminar provided by my film distributor and it gave me a few ideas. I watched some of my competitors and got some ideas. Then I began doing custom graphics.
Then I started using colors. I would buy lighting gels used for theater stage lighting. A lighting gel is a colored piece of plastic that is put in front of a spot light to change the color of the light. I could buy a gallon of liquid adhesive from my distributor. I would spray that on the window then I would put the colored gel down and squeegee it out. I would put a piece of silver on top of that so the colored gel would be reflective then I would cut out the design of whatever I was doing and cover that with regular dark car tint. The contrast between the reflective colored film and the dark car tint would make the design really stand out when the sun hit it. The gels were available in every color of the rainbow and suddenly the possibilities were limited only by my own imagination and ability. I could take just about any graphic art design, copy it, enlarge it and put it a window. The concept was unheard of in the industry at that time. The first were my own designs.
These designs sometimes took a couple of days to complete as I had to run the day-to-day business during the day and work on my personal projects at night. I was also doing lettering on commercial vehicles and storefronts. There were a couple of times when I had entered into car tinting competitions. The Great American Tint-Off was sponsored by one of the few manufacturers. I always took second place. (It was rigged) I really enjoyed the competition. AND I got to show off my graphic designs. They were always a big hit. Not too long after Stereo-To-Go began tinting they opened another location in Ocala. I then got to learn how to manage two locations. This included training and supervising my first two installers. I trained one for each location. This arrangement went on for about a year and a half. During that time I installed film on the tower at the Gainesville Raceway DURING the time trials at the NHRA Drag Racing Winter Nationals. Eventually, I became more confident in my abilities. I grew tired of splitting my profits with my partner, and decided to go out on my own. Until then, my partner had me convinced that I would never make it without him, but I decided that if I couldn’t make it on my own I was going back to school.
1983-2001 Sarasota, Venice,
Gainesville (again) and North Bergen N.J.
Designer Glass Tinting, Sarasota, Venice, Designer North
I wanted to move out of Gainesville because it was a college town and unless you are selling pizza or beer or renting apartments, it’s hard to make a living in a college town. My installer in Ocala had moved there from Sarasota and he told me that Sarasota was a beautiful town with a lot of money, so I figured I should check it out. I got into my 1973 Datsun 240Z and went on a fact finding vacation across the state. The first week I went down the east coast. I went to Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami and then down to Key West. I went into each town and looked into the Yellow Pages to find as many tint shops as I could find in one day. I went and applied for a job at each one. Not to find a job, but to find out what they did, how they did it, and how much they charged for it. I brought with me my portfolio of custom window film installations to see what kind of reaction I would get. I found that some of the most lucrative shops were the CHEAPEST. They would “hack-n-slap” the film on for $49.00 a car. Three guys would do a car in about 20 minutes. I was very surprised that the customers were happy with the job, ‘because I NEVER would have put my name on a job like that. The next week I went to Tampa and Sarasota. I stopped into a tint shop on Dale Mabry called Solar Graphics and the guy told me I should go talk to the owner at the St. Pete location. So I went and met with Richard Perdum, who is still the owner of Solar Graphics, a company that specializes in window film graphics. After seeing my portfolio of graphic designs he told me he needed somebody to run the Dale Mabry location and I told him that I really didn’t want to be an employee and that I wanted to go check out Sarasota. He told me to come back in a week and we would go down there to see if we could find a place to rent. A week later I came back and we went down to Sarasota, all the while stopping by a few graphic designs that his company did and soliciting a few strip mall businesses along the way. I honestly believe that he was really going down there to impress me with his operation and to show me that there was no property available so I would be resigned to running his Dale Mabry location. However, as luck would have it, we found a perfect spot, which Richard quickly dismissed as unsuitable. I immediately knew it was just what I was looking for. A thousand square feet, free standing, 10 foot high garage door with an office and a bathroom right near the corner of US 41 and Bee Ridge Road. It needed a little work but at $350.00 a month…. what do you expect. It was perfect.
I was there for 8 years before he got a permit. By then I had established myself as the industry leader in the area, servicing almost every car dealership in town and tinting the windows on 800 to 1000 cars a year. The shop was directly across the street from another window tinting shop called Sun Out. After only 3 months the owner of Sun Out, Dick Austin, sold the company to Tom Holnaegel (I don’t know if I spelled that right). Tom was very arrogant, aggressive, and very persuasive. He promptly painted a huge florescent sign in the window that said $49.95 MOST CARS…. and the war was on. He did the worst work in town. His customers would come over to my side of the street all the time and complain about the job he did, but his install bay was PACKED…. ALL the time. He kicked my ass for 8 YEARS. I was a great installer, but I knew nothing about sales or marketing. Eventually, he sold the shop and moved away. So I guess I won the war with attrition. My landlord got his building permit after 8 years and I moved the business across the street and that lasted for another 8 years when I decided I’d had enough car tinting for a while. I was the first person in town to put the film all the way up to the edge of the door windows. I was the first one to “butt-splice” strips across the compound curve of rear windows to give it the look of one piece. I was also the first person in town to use heat shrinking to mold one sheet of film to the compound curve of rear windows. These innovative techniques are all common today. My competitors soon learned my tricks and began using them too. As the seasons came and went I would have to hire and train installers during the busier summer months and then it became necessary to lay off installers during the slower winter months. Invariably, some of those whom I’d let go would open up their own shop and compete against me. But after the season ended, they wouldn’t have enough repeat business to keep them alive during the lean winter months and they would have to shut their doors. At one time I had trained over half of my competitors.
During those early years, I was young and ambitious and I opened a second location in Venice, and a third shop on the north side of Sarasota called Designer Glass Tinting North. Neither deal worked out too well. The manager at the Venice location was not reliable. He ran the shop into the ground and I had to bail it out before it went under. I later just let it go because I couldn’t be in two places at once. It seemed the further I got from my customers the more my reputation suffered. Designer North is still there and it is owned and operated by the VERY capable ex-partner and window tinter extraordinaire, Joe Teeters. Like many partnerships, we had some disagreements and went our separate ways. And although we went a long time at odds with each other, we have since buried the hatchet and today I consider him a very close friend.
Mobil-Tech Glass Tinting - Gainesville
Shortly after I left Gainesville, Stereo-To-Go went out of business and Jack Matheny, who built and managed both Stereo-To-Go's went out on his own with a partner, Frank Curtis. Their company was called Mobil Tech. After a brief start-up period where they operated the business on a shoestring budget, installing car stereos on location out of a van. (Hence, the name.) They opened their first showroom location on Main Street in Gainesville. Right next to him was Custom Glass Tinting, the largest volume tint shop in town. On the other side of Custom Glass Tinting’s two install bays was Mobil Tech’s install bays. So Custom Glass Tinting was between Mobil Tech’s showroom and install bays. During the summer of 1988 Jack was calling me up every couple of weeks complaining that the guys who were running the tint shop next door were dealing drugs and drinking beer all day long at the shop and making his business look bad. The manager didn’t show up with the keys to the shop until 10:00a.m., leaving 4 installers, two 8:00a.m. appointments, two 9:00a.m. appointments and two 10:00a.m. appointments wondering what the hell’s going on. The irate customers were walking next door to Jack’s showroom and asking him “what kind of business are you running here?” and he would have to explain that it wasn’t his business during a period when he didn’t have the time or the patience to deal with it. He repeatedly tried to get the owners, who lived and worked in Panama City, to handle the situation, but to no avail. Then he began calling me to chase them out of town. He knew that I ran a first class operation and that I had the intestinal fortitude (juevos) to deal with these guys. However, I had my hands full running two shops already and I didn’t have the time or the energy to do it at the time. So we planned to wait it out until things slowed down during the winter. The plan was that I would get some rest and take a vacation at the end of the busy summer season. When I got back, I would move to Gainesville, we would knock a hole in the wall of Jack’s install bay facing Main Street and open up a garage door right next to theirs and then slash prices all winter long until they caved in. We didn’t care about making any money from tinting at the time. I would make my money from my Sarasota shop. Jack and Frank would make their money from the stereo shop. We would then take over their location and raise the prices back up to the market rate. Then I would move back to Sarasota and get a small piece of the pie from then on. That was the plan. So Frank Curtis and I had planned this wonderful 10-day get-away to Belize. We had connections with some locals who owned a hotel, an island 8 miles off the coast and the only bus line through the country. So, suffice it to say, we were totally hooked up. The night before we left we went to a Johnny Winter concert at the Great Southern Music Hall in Gainesville. The next day we were sitting in the Gainesville Regional Airport waiting for our plane to Miami and the front-page story in the Gainesville Sun newspaper was about a local window tint shop manager who killed his employee. Apparently, the employee owed the manager money for drugs and the manager drove all over town looking for him. After finally locating the employee and demanding the money, there was a fight and the manager stabbed the employee, then rolled him up in a rug and lit him on fire. Consequently, when I got back from Belize, there had been a changing of the guard at Custom Glass Tinting and the new crew wasn’t going to be as easy to take down as the old one. The wheels were already in motion and we were NOT deterred. The tint war that ensued was some of the funnest times I’ve ever had tinting car windows. The exact location of my garage door was strategically advantageous, about 12 inches from the property line and 20 feet closer to Main Street than theirs. So as we stood in the opening of our garage, we could see down both sides of the street and the guys at Custom Glass Tinting couldn’t see us. We would patrol the street from our vantage point and when we saw a car with their blinker on we would usher them over to our shop. Also, we put a sign on our wall facing their parking lot that said $49.00 MOST CARS (familiar?). We also had a microphone with a loud speaker pointed at their shop and every time they had a customer with a problem (which was pretty often) my minions and I would get out in the parking lot and chant RE-DO! RE-DO! RE-DO! through the loudspeaker! Pretty juvenile I know, but we had a great time doing it. There was constant harassment on both sides and soon came the legal battle. They had a restraining order against us and we had one against them. So, every time we had to go to the office to get paperwork or keys to a car, we had to walk around the property line or risk getting arrested. We walked the line as if it were a tight rope, pretending to almost fall onto the property which would have meant jail time for the offender. Occasionally, a car would pull up ON the property line. I would put my head in one window, they would put their head in the other side and a bidding war would break out in the front seat of the customer’s car. It was too funny. I would start at $49.00, they would say $45, I would say $39, they would say $35, I would say $29, and they would say “two-for Tuesday, TWO cars for $29.00!” I then said “you got a deal!” then I would take the next car that came in for $49.00 while they were stuck doing two for $29.00. Either, they were real busy and we were dead, or we were busy and they were dead. One day I put a hundred dollar bill on the hook of a fishing pole and cast it out over the parking lot into their bay just within reach of one of their installers. Then, as he tried to pick it up I would yank it away. One particular day I’ll never forget was a cold windy day in November. We were killing them. We had cars lined up and they were sitting in their garage bay on lawn chairs all day long. On that day, the new manager decided it was time to sweep the parking lot, so he started sweeping the lot. He must have swept up that lot for about three hours. He swept the whole lot and put the pile of road dust right next to my garage door and the wind was blowing the road dust right into my bay. One of my installers, Paul Butterfield, told me that he had a gas leaf blower so I told him to go get it right away. We had cars lined up and waiting but I told Paul to go anyway! Right now! So he took off in his RX-7 with a Holly 4 barrel carburetor and quickly returned with the tool. I fired it up inside my bay and put the microphone right next to the exhaust pipe, cranked up the volume on the amp and revved up the blower and blasted the noise throughout their parking lot. I then stepped out from inside my garage door so they could see what was making all the noise and then planted the blower nozzle into the pile of road dust just the other side of the property line and completely covered their shop with dust. One of their installers was recently discharged from the army and this guy was huge. He came running across the parking lot ready to kill me. His veins were popping out of his neck and I was ready to take the hit, but he wasn’t dumb enough to cross the property line. That was the last straw. The owners of Custom Glass Tinting, Jack, Frank and I came to an agreement and the war was over. I went back to Sarasota, Custom Glass Tinting straightened up their act, and life went on.
Precision Solar Films, North Bergen, NJ
A few months later I got married and my new wife lived in New Jersey and worked for USAir. We would fly back and forth to spend time together a couple of times a month. That Winter I met a 19 year old Cuban kid in Jersey that had a tint shop. His name is Jose Egues and his shop was called Midnight Expressions.
I couldn’t believe he survived so long with hardly anything to work with. I showed him some tricks, got him some lights, changed the name to something more appropriate, painted him a sign got him some tools and he made me a partner. Jose’s shop now offers the finest quality window film installations in Bergen County. He gives me way too much credit for his success. I just showed him a couple of tricks and made him a sign.
Designer Hurricane Protection
Just about this time a couple of new companies moved into Sarasota selling hurricane security window film. I guess it was shortly after Hurricane Andrew hit Miami. What was happening was after Andrew, a bunch of security film companies sprang up in Miami and the market got saturated with dealers and installers so a few of them moved into Naples. Then as the Naples area became saturated with dealers, they moved north to Ft. Meyers and so on until they finally made it to Sarasota. I knew nothing about security window film except that there were two new guys on the block doing what I was doing and making a lot of money doing it in MY neighborhood. So the first time a saw a advertisement for security film in the paper, my immediate reaction was to put a competing ad right next to it. The first person that responded to the ad asked me how the film is attached to the frame. Of course, I had no idea. So I called my distributor and he had no idea so he referred me to the manufacturer, who also was no authority on the subject at the time and they referred me to a guy named Bill Winter who owned a company called Clear Defense in Jacksonville. So I called Bill up and asked him about it and he was very knowledgeable and helpful. My competitors in Sarasota were using 4mil and 8mil films. Bill was using 12 and 14mil films with a variety of attachment systems. He took me under his wing, worked with me on several projects, large and small, and told me pretty much everything there was to know about handling high impact window films. I worked with him on several Suntrust Bank jobs installing 12mil film with a “screwed and glued” metal attachment system. We also worked together installing 12mil film with a flexible tape attachment system on Winn Dixie’s corporate headquarters in Jacksonville and on the University of North Florida. The knowledge and experience I gained working with Bill immediately gave me a competitive edge over my competitors. After that introduction to the much more lucrative hurricane protection industry, I became less interested in the automotive window tinting industry that I had dominated for 16 years in the Sarasota area. I was familiar with the market trends and I saw another tough year coming because there were a bunch of new car tinters that had opened up so I decided that this was a good time to get out. However, I was NOT familiar with the hurricane protection market trends and I was in for an education. Unbeknownst to me, by the time I finally jumped onto the security film bandwagon, the market was already saturated with dealers. In fact, Sarasota County had more security film dealers than any other county in the ENTIRE COUNTRY making it one of the most difficult places in the state to earn a living installing security window film. I started out small, working out of my house by myself. Then I hired a telemarketer to generate leads for me. I knew nothing about telemarketing, and I had no professional sales training. The telemarketer I hired was a really smart marketing guy. Way overqualified for the job he was hired for and the business grew quickly. After a couple of weeks we moved into a small office. After a couple of months we moved into a large warehouse with an office and another room for telemarketing. I was having trouble making any money selling and installing high impact window film because the competition was so fierce. There was one guy who used to work for one of the big companies that came from down south. He was their best installer and he decided to go out on his own. He worked out of his house. His wife did the sales and he did the installations with one other helper. He had no overhead and he did a first class job with a first class film and he killed the market for anyone else with low prices. I couldn’t compete so I diversified. I began dealing in other hurricane protection devices. Aluminum storm panels, garage door braces and we began custom manufacturing accordion shutters. So now I had a crew of installers, a couple of sales people, a secretary, a few telemarketers and a manufacturing warehouse. We were really cooking right along there for a while. Then the storm season came to an end. We made a fortune for about 4 months, and then the bottom fell out of the market. NOT something I was prepared for. I was stuck with a lot of overhead and not enough revenue to cover it. I began laying off people and selling off inventory, but I waited too long to make adjustments and lost everything I earned. Right about this time my wife and I divorced and she moved to Tampa with the kids. Well, I couldn’t live without the kids so I moved too. I gave up a 20 year clientele and started all over again in Tampa. I knew nothing about Tampa except that my kids were there. I was unemployed and broke so I started working for Solar Security, the local 3M dealer. It was the only steady work I could find. I think it lasted about a month or 6 weeks when I found a beautiful shop in a lousy neighborhood.
I was back in the car tinting business again. That was February 2001. It’s nice to know I’ve always got car tinting to fall back on if I need to. By the end of the Summer I was back on my feet again. I had paid off all my debts and things were going pretty smooth as the season began to slow down. Then 9/11 happened. And what had been a difficult beginning became impossible. Everything stopped. Right about that time The Yellow Pages came out and a call came in from my ad from somebody who wanted their house tinted. They lived out in New Tampa. I never had an occasion to go out to New Tampa before (or anywhere else at the time) and I was pleasantly surprised to see all of the homes being built. I began direct marketing the New Tampa area. Hanging flyers on mailboxes first, then I paid a company to send out 3000 direct mail pieces because the flyer thing took too much time. But I didn’t get a good response from the 3000 pieces and it cost too much, so I bought a printer and developed my own in-house direct marketing program that was very successful. I still use it today. The house tinting business took off and the car tinting business languished. Anthony Fonseco who owned Anthony’s Upholstery next door to my shop wanted my company and I wanted out of the car tinting business so I sold it to him and concentrated all my efforts toward residential and commercial window film. That shop is still tinting cars today with a different owner, but the same installer, Bobby Restieri, is still there ten years later.
I have been professionally installing window film all over the state of Florida for over thirty years. Tampa is my home now, and has been for over 10 years. I’ve seen good years and bad. I’ve seen hundreds of competitors come and go. I’ve owned and operated two or three high volume auto tinting shops on several different occasions. I’ve supervised crews of installers on many large commercial jobs, trained and managed dozens of first class installers over the years, some have gone on to long and satisfying careers raising their families like me. I’ve worked as a one-man show as well. I’ve had a long, diverse career in this industry. I’m good at it. I enjoy it. One thing that has never changed is my strong work ethic and dedication to quality craftsmanship and customer satisfaction. After all, it’s MY reputation on the line with every job.
Well, that’s my story. I know it’s kind of long-winded…probably pretty boring too - if you weren’t there. But I’ve had fun.
If you feel confident that I am qualified to provide you with a quality installation and would like to see what I can do for you call 813-936-9339. Of course, estimates are always free.
Owner, Sundown Glass Tinting
Sundown Glass Tinting
26052 Foamflower Blvd.
Wesley Chapel, FL 33544
Phone: (813) 936-9339
Come visit our booth at The Tampa Bay Boat Show, January 2nd - 3rd at The Florida State Fairgrounds, Tampa, Fla.