Bob Rossignol, author of How To Easily Start a Window Tinting Business and Generate up to $300 Per Day, talks with us about how to start an automotive window tinting business. He covers the step-by-step process of tinting a car, cutting tinting film, security laminates, marketing, and more. [18 min.]
Tell us a little bit about how the window tinting business works.
Well, there’s two aspects to the window tinting business. There’s what we call the automotive side of the business and the flat glass side. I specialize in the automotive. The flat glass is tinting houses and businesses. And pretty much what it is is the application of a window film onto the glass. And there’s different procedures for doing that, different techniques that a person needs to learn for applying it to cars. It’s much easier to learn to apply to houses and businesses. And then once a person installs it, of course, they make good money. $50-100 an hour is not uncommon in this business.
Walk us through the process you use to install window tint on a car.
Well, there’s three basic steps to tinting a car. So we teach how to cut patterns, you need to know how to clean the glass, and then you need to know how to squeegee the tint onto the windows so that there’s no bubbles and it doesn’t peel off. That’s basically the three main steps, and there’s various techniques because you have to work around different components in the car, the door panels and things like that, and we show people how to do that without taking door panels off.
How much does it cost to get started? What kind of window tinting equipment and supplies will you need?
In this business, a person can get started with as little as $50-$60 for their initial supplies. But to get really setup maybe a couple hundred dollars, and that’s it. Other than the window film you’ll spend maybe $200-$300 for film, so to really get started right about $500-$600 is all it takes to get into a business that makes $50 an hour.
Is there a lot of competition in most areas of the country?
There is competition in most metropolitan areas, and that’s a good thing. People call me and say well, great, I want to start a window tinting company and there’s no competitors in my area, that’s when I think there’s a red flag to be thrown up. So competition is always good, it means that there’s a demand.
Is it hard to learn how to tint windows?
It is if you learned the way I learned: trial and error without any training. But if you learn from someone who started from scratch, didn’t know anything about it, and learn that way, or get a job somewhere and learn, those are the best ways to learn. Getting some kind of training is the best way to get into this business.
Do you need to have employees, or can you do this business by yourself?
I’ve done it both ways. I currently just work by myself, and my wife does the bookkeeping and appointment setting and things like that. But you can make six figures doing this by yourself. There’s people all across the country doing just that.
How much does a window tinting service typically charge to tint the standard size car or SUV or minivan?
Well, I think the average in the country is about $200 for those. In some parts of the country it’s much higher, $350, $400 depending on the vehicle. But I think if you were to average it out, about $200 to tint most vehicles.
How many cars can you realistically tint in one day?
An average tinter like myself can tint 3-4 cars per day. Some days, depending on the cars, we can do six cars. When a person is starting out and just learning, they should set realistic expectations. To finish a car in a day is realistic, and probably if they did that every day for a month, by the end of the month they should be able to get up to two cars in a day.
Are certain cars and trucks harder to tint than others?
That’s a great question. The answer is absolutely! You know, a Volkswagen Beetle is probably one of the hardest cars. I just did a recent Bonneville, and those are pretty difficult as well. But for the most part about 95% of the cars are pretty simple once you learn the techniques.
Do you cut the film yourself, or do you buy pre-cut window tint film?
In my opinion buying pre-cut is the worst way. We cut our own tint. Everyone who’s been in the business for any amount of time who knows what they’re doing cuts their own tint. There’s these machines out now that will cut the tint for you, and I personally think they’re a complete waste of money. They’re several thousand dollars. You don’t need to use those. They’re a waste because they’re very expensive. If you’re out on a mobile installation and you brought pre-cut tint and you’ve messed up that window, you have to re-cut a piece, so if you’re out there tinting this window and you waste a piece and you need to re-tint it, if you don’t know how to cut your own patterns manually, well, then you’re going to waste your time, you’re going to have to go back and cut out another pattern, and then install it. There’s really no advantage to the machine, other than it sounds cool to have a machine that pre-cuts your tint, because even when it’s pre-cut you still have to shrink it with a heat gun to make it fit the glass, and you still have to go through all the other steps, so really it’s just an expensive way to do something a human being can do in the same amount of time or less.
Can window tinting be done outdoors right at the customer’s home or office, or does it have to be done in a garage somewhere?
99% of the time it should be done in an enclosed area, although there are days that you can tint outside.
I’ve seen window tinting that has bubbles or has faded or even turned purple. Are these signs of a bad tint job, or cheap tinting film?
It can be a sign of a bad tinting job, but most often it’s cheap film or the wrong kind of film for a certain region of the country, and so a person who’s getting in the business needs to know what the different options are and educate the customers and let the customer choose.
Can you recommend any specific brands of window tinting film? Do you have a preference for 3M or Solar Gard or Suntech?
I’ve used everybody. Pretty much all of the manufacturers, a lot of them here in the U.S., are high quality. It boils down to what you prefer for customer service, and what kind of films you want to use for your particular market. The names that you’ve mentioned, they’re all good quality companies, and I guess I’ll leave it at that. In my trainings I tell people where I think they should go to, and then I leave it up to them to decide where they want to purchase from.
Who are some of the more reputable window tint film and equipment suppliers?
You mentioned Suntech, they’re good. Llumar, they’re very good. There’s several others, there’s Johnson Window Films and a whole lot of others that are out there. A person needs to be careful that they’re not purchasing from a middle man, other than the direct manufacturers. A lot of these manufacturers require, though, that you are licensed as a window tinting business, or you’re in the car business and window tinting is one of the services you offer. They don’t sell generally to the public.
How much can you make tinting car windows?
For everybody it’s different. When a person’s starting out, if we use the average of $200 to tint a car, it takes about $25 in materials, so you can make $175 doing one car. If a person did just two cars a day, they would net about $350, for the day, after the material costs. So there’s people in this business that work as employees that are making $40-50,000 a year, and there’s owners making six figures a year. So as an employee a person can make a pretty good living, but if they work for themselves you can control your income and make as much as you want. My brothers are three hours north of me and their business is doing between $50-60,000 a month, and they have no shop and no overhead. They do everything completely mobile by going to the customer.
What are your thoughts on window tinting franchises like Ziebart and Alta Mere?
Well, without beating down those great companies, in my personal opinion if someone wants to get into this business, why waste tens of thousands of dollars to invest in a company when you can invest several hundred dollars to get the same business, and you never have to pay ongoing royalties like you do with franchises? And franchises also handcuff you in the way that you can market and do other things as far as add-on services and things like that. So a person who’s looking for a good business and wants to make the same income as these franchises, this is the way to go. Don’t go the franchise route. Just go to a quality training program, and invest in yourself. Learn this and you can make as much money as you want.
What about residential window tinting or commercial building work? Can you take the skills you’ve learned while tinting vehicle windows and expand your business into these other areas?
Absolutely. Actually the learning curve for doing flat glass work such as businesses and residences is one day. A person literally can go out and start tinting those types of windows the same day that they get their tools and their materials. They’re easy and extremely lucrative once you get your marketing down.
Bob, how does a professional window tinting job differ from the results obtained with a do-it-yourself kit?
First of all, the do-it-yourself kits that are available out there don’t use the high-quality tint, and when a person’s doing it themselves you’re going to see all the mistakes that a person who’s learning this business is going to make. You’re going to look at when you roll the windows down you’ll see big gaps along the edges of the tops of the windows. You’re going to see lots of big bubbles and white specks. Even if the big bubbles aren’t there, you’ll see a lot of little white specks, that’s dirt and dust. There’s a process for making sure that’s very limited and it’s invisible once you’ve completed the tint. Also the difference with doing back windows, those do-it-yourself kits don’t teach a person how to do a back window in one piece, and so they do them in several pieces and it’s very easy to see all the lines where those pieces are overlapping, so there’s a big difference in the way it looks.
Do some places have laws that prohibit or limit the amount you can tint a car window?
Oh, absolutely. Every state, and some cities and counties, have their own laws, so a person getting in this industry is responsible for finding out what’s legal in their area. For example, in Oregon, we’re allowed to tint cars to a 35% degree of tint, but the SUVs, minivans and trucks we can tint much darker. Each state has it’s own set of rules, some don’t allow you to tint the front windows for example, but you can tint the back windows.
What is the difference between dyed and metallic automotive window film?
Oh, that’s another good question, and now there’s a third type of window film, hybrid films. But the dyed films are films that get their color from a dye process, and those are the ones that will turn purple and bubble in a very short period of time, anywhere from six months to a couple years. The metallic films are real high-tech. They don’t look a whole lot different, they have a little bit more reflectivity, but you can’t really see the difference. The manufacturing process is much different. The color of the tint is derived from the metallics that are used to manufacture the film, and the advantage is it rejects a little bit more heat, and it will never turn purple, so it comes with a lifetime warranty. But there’s a new film that’s come on the market, all the suppliers have them now, it’s a hybrid film, and it does not have metallics, it makes it easier to install, and it has a lifetime guarantee as well that it will not turn purple.
Are there other services such as car alarm installation, paintless dent removal, or maybe even windshield repair that could complement a window tinting business?
Oh, of course. In fact, we used to do almost all the different automotive services, and we shrunk back to just concentrating on a core group of services, but anyone getting in this business, they might already be in the alarm business, and they’re going to add window tinting, or vice versa. So yes, all the other services are just natural, the person getting in the business needs to be careful that they’re marketing correctly, and then they can add these other services to their customer base.
Is installing safety and security films like Ace products something that can be lucrative?
Extremely lucrative. In fact, I almost had a heart attack when I looked at some of Ace’s ads, because essentially what they’re offering a person for the price that they’re offering, a person can get in this business, for example, through me and many of my training programs, without putting up that kind of investment. Like I said, they can get into that same business, the same products, for five or six hundred bucks total outlay. The difference is, Ace is one of the big manufacturers that I mention in my training programs, and what they’ve done is they’ve just spun off a division to create these franchises in the hopes of, I think, selling more film, and attacking that market specifically. But there’s films for that entire market, doing these security films, and these laminates, the same films have been available for several years, and a person that, once you’re in the business and you have contacts with all the suppliers, you can buy that film yourself, and go out and start installing it. If a person can clean a window with a scraper and use a little razor blade and a squeegee, you can do that business without putting out that kind of money. And basically the difference is you’re not paying for an expensive name.
What are some effective ways to get new business and market your window tinting business?
I’ve tried them all, and most of them did not work, like little ads in craigslist and things like that. People use them, I know they do, but what’s worked best for me is the Internet, car dealerships, and a referral system that I put in place, and once a person has systems in place, they just need to make sure the marketing is continual. It’s not a stop and go process. It’s something that they do continually each week. The most important part in most businesses, I would say 99% of all businesses, not just window tinting business, fail. They fail to first of all capture information anytime they get an e-mail or a call, they should be capturing the name and phone number and e-mail on every contact. And then they need to be following up with those people until those people say don’t contact me anymore, or they become a client. And then once they become a client, they need to go into a separate database or file, whatever, where you’re staying in contact with them at the very least once a month. We use a postcard system to keep in contact and encourage our customers to send us people. I would say probably 40% is referral and repeat. The other 60% is Internet and car dealers.
Do you offer your customers a financial incentive to refer business?
At times. It just depends on the promotion I’m doing. But I’ve done that, yes.
There are some pretty active discussion groups out there, like TintDude.com. Can you recommend some other websites or forums where tinting professionals can share information and network with each other?
Actually, TintDude, that’s the only one that I would recommend. There’s some smaller ones out there, but they’re not worth anyone’s time. TintDude.com is very good, and once a person comes into the business or adds it to their existing business, they’ll have access to the manufacturer’s websites and information and newsletters that will keep them up-to-date on the latest techniques and everything like that going on in the industry.
Bob, from your experience, what are the biggest mistakes people make when they start a window tinting business?
They think that learning to tint is all they need to do to make a lot of money. When really, just like any other business, knowing how to market and acquire customers, how to build your profit base, is really the most important thing a person needs to learn. So I see a lot of people in this business come and go, constantly, even in my area, that’s usually where it is, though. Not knowing how to market effectively, and that’s where I think people need to spend a lot of time while they’re learning the tinting business. Of course, they need to know how to do that.
What final piece of advice would you give someone looking to start an auto window tinting service?
Go to someone reputable, who has a proven track record, and if you can get live hands-on training go that route. If you can’t take the time or the expense to do that, get some video training or even look for an e-book, some kind of a training manual, and just get started and set yourself on a schedule. If you have a full-time job or another business, set aside so many hours each week where you’re going to devote to practicing so that you get it down.
Bob Rossignol is the author of How to Easily Start a Window Tinting Business and Generate up to $300 Per Day.