Successful Franchising With Charles Bonfiglio, CEO at Tint World
Charles Bonfiglio is CEO at Tint World, a privately-owned window tinting and vehicle accessory center. His areas of expertise include leading automotive companies to maximize profits and market share, along with franchising, e-commerce, web design, software development, and financial management. Charles is also Founder of Cars Cafe and Auto Parts Network, and previously served as CEO and Franchise Developer at Meineke Car Care Centers for over 30 years.
In this episode…
Have you seen a service in the tire and auto industry that you thought you could turn into a worldwide brand? According to Charles Bonfiglio from Tint World, he purchased a chain of six stores — which focus on tinting car windows — and used his franchising expertise to grow the brand to 120 open locations with about 140 more in development. To hear his amazing story, don’t miss this episode of Gain Traction!
On this episode of Gain Traction, Neal Maier and Matthew Peters welcome Charles for a conversation about franchising in the automotive aftermarket. Charles discusses how he became intrigued by a six-location window tinting brand, took the owner to lunch, purchased the brand, started franchising, and grew the brand to hundreds of locations spanning the U.S, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Tune in to hear about this and much, much more!
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Charles Bonfiglio explains how his journey began in the automotive industry
- Why becoming a franchisee appealed to Charles
- How Tint World prospered during the pandemic
- Why Tint World is currently experiencing exponential growth
- What characterizes the typical Tint World franchisee?
- How changes in technology impact Tint World
- Charles’ advice for new franchisees
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Charles Bonfiglio on LinkedIn
- Tint World
- Neal Maier on LinkedIn
- Matthew Peters on LinkedIn
- Tread Partners
Welcome to the Gain Traction podcast, where we feature top automotive entrepreneurs and experts and share their inspiring stories. Now, let’s get started with the show.
Hi. This is Neal Maier, along with Matt Peters. We’re hosts of Gain Traction, where we talk with top automotive business leaders about their journeys. Before we jump in with today’s guest, this episode is brought to you by Tread Partners. Tread Partners is the home of ReTread, our new customer re-engagement program. By using targeted digital ads and communications, we’ll help win back your best lost customers, and even guarantee a 10X ROI. So, what are you waiting for? Visit us at treadpartners.com.
Today, we’re joined by Charles Bonfiglio, the Founder and CEO of Tint World, rated number-one automotive franchise for 2023 by Entrepreneur magazine. Charles, welcome to Gain Traction.
Thanks, guys. It’s a pleasure to be here.
So Charles, looking back, you’ve had a pretty storied career in the automotive aftermarket. Talk to us a little bit about how you got here.
Well, it started out when I grew up in New York, in Brooklyn. I learned some skills from my family with their family business in the clothing and design wear and just by working in auto shops.
A friend of mine had an older brother with a car stereo shop, it was called Dr. Car, and I would go there and when I started getting a car I wanted to work with him on customizing it. So I went by there and I just started hanging around, and next thing you know, I started working with them and they would tell me, “Charles, fix that. Put the speakers in that car. Do that.” So I really just learned the skill by the love of automobiles and customized my own cars. That just got me excited about it, and as I grew a little older I decided I just wanted to go in the aftermarket accessory business, but I didn’t want to do it in New York. I wanted to move to Florida where there was palm trees, I can picture myself riding in a convertible in a really cool car and doing that. It was a dream I had, and so I sold everything that I had, including my Corvette, and I took two suitcases and one way plane ticket to Florida and I began my journey to go into the automotive business.
No kidding. So where did you land in Florida?
I landed in, actually, Fort Lauderdale and my quest to open up a car automotive business I didn’t even have any plans. I literally just took the ticket in two suitcases of things I thought I needed. I had a good savings from working when I was a teenager. I was 21 years old, I had about $30,000, and so I wanted to go into business but I felt like I needed to get at leased location and I needed to get some funding secured by the bank.
My business plan had it in it for about an $80,000 investment and I had 30 of it, but the landlords wouldn’t rent to me and the banks wouldn’t loan to me cause they felt it was a startup business by some young entrepreneur rather than a brand name. “What do you mean brand name? How do you start if you’re not going to lend me the money and you’re not going to give me a lease?” But that’s where my journey began.
Got it. So what became your first location?
So being here a little while I found franchising, a cousin of mine that I started speaking with. He was living in New Jersey. While I got myself set up into an apartment and I bought a used car, I went from a Corvette in New York to a Ford EXP that was 7 years old cause I wanted to [inaudible 00:03:48] and a cousin of mine told me that he just opened up about a year earlier, a Meineke Discount muffler shop in New Jersey and that he was doing very well.
So that got me to thinking about franchising. “What do they do for you?” Asked, and he said, “Well, they help you get a loan, to get the financing. They give you a blueprint on how to operate, and they help you get a location that’s going to be good for you.” And I’m like, “Wow, those are the things I’m really needing.”
So I started to look around for franchising in aftermarket, whether it be car stereo or some kind of auto accessories, and there was nothing. But because he was successful at the Meineke I thought, “Okay. Well maybe I’ll just do that for now, and as I get better at it and I learn, I’ll eventually go into the other business that I wanted.” Which was after market accessories.
Got it. Got it. So the Tint World, I assume, formed out of that first auto repair?
Oh yes. There was a lot of learning curves. The first business that I had with a Meineke was in Hallandale, Florida, Hallandale Beach Boulevard. I opened up that. About a year later, I opened up the second one. About two years later I opened the third, and then I started buying the property and building my own buildings and leasing them to my franchise. I felt that would be a good long-term plan. I wound up building a total of 10 businesses in Florida like that.
By around 2005 I just told my wife, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I’m doing really well, I owned a lot of the properties. It’s not a money thing. It’s like, I’m at a time of my life if I don’t do what I came down here to do it’s never going to happen. And rather than start from scratch, there was a six store chain called Tint World, and they did mostly tinting but they did some alarms and some stereo work.
I thought that was a cool little brand. I brought my car there before to get it tinted, and I figured, “You know what? Let me buy these. I know enough about franchising now, I think I could do it better.” I think there’s a lot more people like me that want this type of a business that really don’t know how to do it, and there’s a lot of mom and pops, but those are few and far between and there’s no really standardized model for this. So I figured, why not?
So I began my journey. I called the guy up that had six locations, I took him out to lunch, and within a month we were secured into a contract where I bought the six store brand and I launched franchising in 2007.
Wow. So that was a quick turnaround. Those stores must have been doing pretty well to start with.
They were doing okay. They were small, they were definitely on a shoestring budget. The guy didn’t have any computers running them or anything. It was 2005 or 6 when I first approached him. Everything was just basic, but it was good. It was a nice little brand. I like the name. They did a pretty good job, and for six locations, that was more than any other custom shop that I knew with some small business owner. So because it had longevity, I felt if I could just add the things that this person doesn’t know about into this business, put a point of sale in there, the right marketing, the right systems, maybe get a little bigger footprint of a business and also expand some of the product categories that he’s serving; I think it would do a lot better. So I began to do that. In 2007 we launched, I sold my first three franchises, and so we took it from six doors to nine.
Then really for the next 10 years, I just was focused on really making it a really automated, predictable model before I really started scaling. We got to about 60ish stores by 2019, and that’s when I realized this is really going to work. It’s not only going to work, it’s built so well from my past knowledge of what I always wanted as a franchisee. I finally was able to leverage all those pieces and make it run right that it was time to really start awarding a lot of franchises out. So I started that in the end of 2019, and we started awarding a lot more stores. I think the most we did up until 2019 was 21 stores, and in the last two years we’ve done between 55 and 70 stores each year.
So we now have about 140 stores in development, and we have 120 open and operating across the US as well as Canada and Saudi Arabia we have a store, someone [inaudible 00:08:19] selling stores over there, and we have in Dubai. We have a one store and a second one’s being open soon.
That is fantastic.
Thank you. Thank you. It’s been a wild ride, but it’s a labor of love. I love what I do, I love helping people be successful with a system I was able to create in a marketplace that there really wasn’t this type of a business. So I just took everything I learned from being in a franchise and then being an aftermarket repair franchise, which eventually moved over to being an attire franchise.It was hard just to move from mufflers to full service and then to tires, completely different model. It is really hard to go from a high gross profit margin muffler job to a low profit margin tire with a very big expensive inventory that you have to tap into.
Now, of course, technology has enabled us to be able to not have so much inventory, but still you really have to understand the mindset of buying so much product at a big price to have so little margin from buying a very low cost product to have a very big margin, which is more service related. So it was a really good learning curve, and I learned one really important thing. I love high profit margin businesses.
I don’t think anybody will argue with you there. So it sounds like Tint World prospered through COVID, and sounds like your growth has grown. You’re seeing some exponential growth at this point. Why is that?
Well, I think people always look at what’s happening on the environment as if they’re looking at it through the lens of what’s going on in the news or what’s happening that people are telling their story, but there’s opportunities. Rather than being concerned about the market is up, the market is down, car sales are up, car sales are down. We’re in the automotive industry guys, it doesn’t really matter whether that’s up or down. What matters is people have a car, they got to get it fixed. Yes, when they do less miles driven it’s going to have less maintenance, but there’s other things you can sell and do in maintenance.
So our industry has all these little profit centers, we got to focus on the right profit centers that are in the times rather than worry about the masses. I always concern myself with what’s the opportunity in this given market? Not how well the market is based on how well I’m going to do. That’s a really important thing to think about. It’s hard for people to leverage all that, but there’s a lot of really smart people in the aftermarket business. You can’t not be smart and be in the aftermarket business.
You’re dealing with retail, you’re dealing with wholesale, you’re dealing with manufacturers, and you’ve got really well-educated people. They cut to chase and there’s no polish to us. We just go out and do it every day, work with customers, and we really know a lot. So you could just really focus and find the opportunity. Whether it’s buying real estate on the low and getting it, or whether the financing is down and you could refinance your property and actually pull. There’s so many things you could do by being smart if you’re steady right through and just pluck off what’s going to be working for you in that given environment.
During COVID, I worked with a number of manufacturers and they had banner, banner years during COVID. If we think about it, people, their biggest investments in their life is going to be a home and a car. They’re probably their two biggest investments that they’re going to make. During COVID, people found themselves getting out and going offroading, and buying accessories, and doing things to their vehicle to accommodate a outdoor lifestyle that they didn’t really pay much attention to prior to COVID. So, COVID had some good things that came out of it in that respect for the automotive aftermarket that I’ve seen.
I mean, there was the essential businesses that got sort lucky. We got put in the place where our business was allowed to be open and operating and fully. And there was people who didn’t do so well. I think that part of that is a little bit of luck, but if I was on the bottom end of that and we weren’t, I’d figure out a way how we’re going to make this work. It’s just a matter of you got to look at it from the view of what’s going to work for you and the people around you. That’s kind of how I governed the franchise system. It’s really I think about my franchisees like family. “How do I help them the most best way I can?” And a lot of it’s really just giving them the tools and the knowledge of what they need to know so they can grow, because they’re pretty savvy as well.
We literally had our bankers on the phone with them giving seminars in the beginning of COVID, telling them how they can get PPP loans. Then we had other people that were talking about why you shouldn’t let people go and keep them on staff, because then you’re going to lose your staff. It’s the things that we were trying to empower them. We did very well. We really did. We had a good mindset, good strong of view from all the franchisees. We grew that year again by 30% that year just on that. We came up with new products that would appeal to people that were very concerned with COVID, with the Biochem cleaning supplies, to get them into the store and help them take it.
We did all the measures that it would be good by the social distancing and seating inside, as well as outside the business. We did everything that we can do to make the customers feel comfortable, but realized they were getting money and getting paid sitting home and they just wanted to get out of the house cause restaurants are closed. Where are they going to spend their money? I just wanted to give them a place to spend their money. Make them comfortable.
Hey, I think that you’ve provided a really good service both to your franchisees and to the public by providing them with a really reputable outlet and building this brand across the country.
So thinking more about franchising, who buys Tint World franchises? Who opens Tint World franchises? What’s that person look like?
Well they come from all walks of life, I got to tell you. Our franchisees, there’s some of them, not a lot, but a few, that have been in the automotive industry and the repair industry. Kind of like me, they got a little tired of doing the repair stuff and it’s very competitive. There’s every different brand out there. It’s a rollercoaster, the changing systems, but it’s a good business and you have to be in the right position to be able to want to jump over from that. Most of them are people that never been in business at all and whether it’s coming from the corporate world, the construction world, or maybe they were attached somewhere, maybe they were a detailer. They actually built enough to where they have enough to invest into a Tint World, and it’s going to give them 20 different categories of services that they never could offer and most other companies won’t or don’t. Everything from window tinting, paint protection film, ceramic coating, vehicle wraps, electronics, mobile electronic car audio, remote starts, alarm systems, lighting, and all kinds of accessories on cars and trucks. Suspension kits, lift kits. Those things really get done and people really like spending the money on those.
Comparatively, when I was with Meineke people would leave and say, “Yeah, I went there for a $20 oil change and I left with a thousand dollars job for brakes and shocks.” They’re not really crazily happy, but it’s done. With Tint World they leave, “I went there for a $300 tint job and I left there with $3,000 in wheels. I got ceramic coating.” And now all of a sudden it’s an exciting spend. So it lends itself to a more fun, good environment. People like it.
We also do residential commercial window tinting on homes. So we get to know our customers, it gives us another channel of reaching out and doing additional services that help them save their interior homes from fading, and peeling, and cracking to heat inside the home. It actually will save money. Usually between two to three years it pays for itself, and you have a lifetime on the film. So the savings on electric by keeping the solar heat out really helps out, keeps the home cooler in the summers.
We spend a lot of time talking about changing technologies and the impact on the tire industry, impact on the auto auto repair industry with EVs and that sort of thing. It sounds like Tint world’s able to take a little different view. It sounds like as new technologies come out, new products evolve, it’s a new opportunity for you.
Well, it’s no different than the auto repair. Whatever is new that’s coming out that people like, whether it’s a better widget, new style of tire, new style of shocks. Whatever that’s coming out from OE, in five years they still don’t even have 5% of the marketplace. So it’s just people that they educate customers and on their existing cars. They want to figure out, “What else can I adapt and add on?”
So that’s where we come right in. Whether it’s Tint World and accessories, or whether it’s a car market where you start offering ceramic brakes.TYhose things were not a thing before the factory let it out, now it’s a thing. Now they’re doing it. So there’s always going to be stemming off of new technology and processes that are coming out from the manufacturers, but the aftermarket is always going to be there with whatever’s the latest and they get the bigger part of the market because that’s the 95% that’s still on the road. No matter what they come out new, it’s only a small piece of the market. So they say, “Oh, it’s going to kill the market.” No, every car still has to be [inaudible 00:18:29] again.
When you look the next three, five years, what do you see for Tint World and for the aftermarket?
In general the aftermarket, all those forecasts and stats are really relevant out there. It’s nothing like I’m the decider of what’s going to happen. I’m just looking for the categories in the industry of where the most profit is, where Tint World as a company is positioned to do better than most because we do certain things in a certain way outside of the typical repair and tire market. The way they operate is they’re operating and looking how they’re going to strategically add on and grow to their business. With Tint World, every sector that we have, of all the ones that I mentioned to you, they’re all in upward trend growth and we’re positioned really well right now as a leader to be able to grow even faster to be able to accommodate that growth. As long as we do a good job of continually innovating, which I am committed to doing, this will be a sustainable, long growing business.
It’s been around. We celebrated last year 40 year anniversary. I want this to be a legacy brand that’s going to go on and actually be a staple in the industry like other businesses are where it came out of nowhere. There was no aftermarket franchise system that had units throughout the United States, a thousand units. It was mom and pops that made up these little pieces of the business, and they’d only do a portion of it. Maybe leather interiors, or maybe they do wheels, all these different things. They can only do so much. So my job was to come in and say, “Listen, the same way we built all these categories in automotive, repair, maintenance, tires, let’s do that in aftermarket with all the categories they offer and let the customers know it is not going to avoid your warranty, it is an upgrade. It is something that’s not just for the 18 year old kids, it’s also for mom and dad, and the sons and daughters, and aunts and uncles.”
There’s a business model for everybody, for families, where a lot of the mom and pops only catered to their people of their age type that they’re excited about. It’s definitely one of those business that you’re excited about and you enjoy it, so you wind up catering just the people around you. What I realized is that this is really a big market. Whether you’re 16 years old or whether you’re 65 or 70 years old, you still want to go and take care of your car properly with aftermarket accessories that are more comfortable and appealing to people. You just have to deliver them the message of what’s important to them, what’s your options are, and it’s a normal item. It’s not like, “Oh, it’s custom. It’s going to avoid my warranty.” It’s not. We’re only selling things that are improving quality of life, accessibility, the pleasure of it. We personalize it, make it a little different and keep it cleaner and make it look at all the time.
So Charles, I feel like as a franchisor you probably get asked for advice a lot, especially as new franchisees come on board. Before I ask you about your best advice to a new franchisee, I want to ask you personally, who do you look to for inspiration? Where do you look for advice as you grow this company?
At this point right now, I look both internally and externally. Prior to last year, my father passed away. He’s my leader, my mentor. He gave me the basic fundamentals in life. No matter how simplified my dad was, when they get older they’re very simple, they’re very basic. They don’t know all the stuff that’s going on cause you’re in front, but the basic advice that he would give was always the sound advice that I would listen to. Aside from that, it would be my teammates cause they’re out in the field, they’re talking to franchisees, they’re getting the feedback from them, what’s good, what they’re like, what they’re coming against. We need to get that back in cause it’s important for us to know it. Then from that point, I go with my internal team.
So my external team is the people on the field and my franchisees. They can talk to me directly. Then it’s internally from my team leaders, which we’re all on these committees. Whether it’s [inaudible 00:22:48] or Consumer Technology Association, or the Rapt associations that they have out there, science groups. We’re on all these trying to see what’s happening, what’s right, what’s good, what do we implement, how do we evolve, and then we listen to the people out in the field that give us that. That allows us to make good decisions going forward.
Some of the stuff is just research. I’m always looking for the new and latest and greatest of what’s coming down the pike. What’s happening in the next 1, 2, 3 years. To think more than that is probably a little too much, you can conceive it, but things are happening so fast that I think if you’re thinking more than three years out it’s really hard to plan for that because it could be a moving target.
That makes a ton of sense. As you’re helping new franchisees get opened up and get started, what’s your best piece of advice for them?
It’s a long game. Anything that you do in life, I don’t care what profession, whether you’re going to be a doctor, a lawyer, you’re going to get some kind of a service job, just think of buying a franchise or a business as a long-term career, not like, “I’m going to go and I’m going to hit it and be done.” You really should go and buy something that you like, you can afford, you can grow with. If you enjoy doing what you do every day, you’re going to likely do better at it. Make sure you do something that you’re good at and that you’re capable of. I think that if you go in and you follow the system, specifically with a franchise, we have a proven model. Yeah, there’s some little adjustments that we can do from here to here, but use good communication with the franchisor and the staffing.
Follow the system, stick to it, and just go through it. Just enjoy your ride and you will get there. You’ll get all your peers, all your other franchisees that started just like you. You could look at them and just expand on their stories, and you know that you are going to be there.
What happens is a lot of people don’t want to put the time in and they think it’s going to be a get rich, and that’s nothing like that. We happen to be very lucky. We disclose all our data from all the stores, how much they make the first year, the second year the average, the top average. It’s there for them to understand, but when you go in, go in with the three to five year plan. If I’m going all in on this, situate yourself properly where you’re going to enjoy your life and you’re going to grow it, not only just with Tint World Business. Any franchise that you go with is giving you a blueprint and a roadmap. You know the investment level, you know the history, you know what’s going on. So if you like it, it gives you a real good platform to run with. Most people think that they can do better than the average, so look at what the above average is and someway you’re going to be up there.
Yeah, that’s good advice. Stay the course. I think that that’s the advantage of coming in, that you’re giving them the course. You just got to put the work in.
Yeah. And keep the communication open. I get some franchisees sometimes and they come in, they’re good in the first couple of months and then they don’t want to participate in anything. They don’t contribute, they don’t give feedback, they don’t call and ask. Again, some of them do really well even though they’re like that, but I still think that good communication with the company that you are with is going to help you grow, because you’ve got a lot of opinions, a lot of support. Especially when the company’s really strong and they care as much as everybody in our corporate office does. They really, really want the franchisee to take another level. But when we see things and we try to help them go further, sometimes I feel like I want to help them more than they really want to be. I want them to be more than they wanted to be at the time.
It just feels like I really want to grab them and drag them over the finish line, kicking and screaming all away if I have to. But they know that. They do know that. They know that we’re really motivated on growth and making everybody successful, but sometimes they just quiet up and they don’t reach out. That really is harder for us to help them when they’re not engaging. So, good communication is probably one of the key things if you’re a franchise. Engage it, love the brand, grow with the brand, and just make the most of it and get really friendly with all the other franchisees. You can learn things from them. I did. I used to fly all over the country when new stores opened up with Meineke, and I would just go and I’d visit them. I’d think I would help them first, but when I would go there sometimes they would teach me some things I didn’t expect. Every little nugget is going to help you grow in life. Starts with helping others, and somehow that makes you better.
I love it. I love it. I think that approach gives us a lot of insight into why you’ve seen such great success.
Great story. Thank you, Charles.
Yeah, absolutely. Today, I think, as we look forward and see multiple opportunities it’s certainly worth reaching out and talking with Tint World.
Charles, where do people learn more about you and Tint World?
I’m pretty friendly with most everybody in the automotive world and other franchised world on LinkedIn. So you could always tag me there and follow me. I have got some good content that I have to put out. You can go to tintworld.com if you’re a consumer and just want to learn all the things we do. There’s a button on there that you can click to go to franchise information, take a look at a bunch of the pages on that website. It really is informative, gives you a good overview of some videos. If you just want to know about it, there’s no sale here, it’s just information. Just contact our franchise development manager. They’ll have a welcome call. They’ll give you a download kit that you can know what it takes. If it seems to be a good opportunity for you, they’ll take you through the process. Usually about six to eight weeks after you’re done of a couple of calls and we welcome you to speak with franchisees, by the time you’re done, you’ll know this is the right business for you, and we step with you every step of the way.
I love it. Well, thank you. Thank you, Charles. It’s been a pleasure talking to you today.
Thank you very much, gentlemen. I appreciate it. It was a pleasure to be here.
Thanks for listening to the Gain Traction podcast. We’ll see you again next time and be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes.