Staying on the Cutting Edge
Suntrol Company finds windows of opportunity in challenging times
To encourage someone to keep trying after a disappointment or failure, often people will console: “When a door closes, a window opens.” In the case of Suntrol Company (Suntrol), a window-tinting opportunity opened.
Suntrol has been a leader in Ohio’s window film industry since 1975. The company provides solar control, custom design and security solutions for residences and commercial buildings, including hospitals, medical campuses, schools, universities, banks, libraries, museums, stadiums and government buildings.
As Suntrol began celebrating its 45th anniversary in 2020, the global pandemic effectively slammed the door on the company’s business. “Customers we had booked for window film installations called and canceled. Other projects were put on hold,” says John Hansen, Suntrol President. “We hit a brick wall, with suddenly nothing to do.”
But just as his staff began a temporary 30-day layoff in March, three windows of opportunity emerged that helped keep his team at work, excited and challenged.
From Health Care to Homes
The first break came in the form of window film installations for health care facilities. “Hospitals were retrofitting their spaces to take care of COVID-19 patients, taking down drapes and blinds and privacy curtains that required sterilization after every patient use. They called us to put frost film on glass windows that not only provided privacy, but could also be wiped down and sterilized to quickly turn a room over for another patient,” Hansen says.
A former customer, the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic Health Education Campus, where Suntrol installed 15,000 square feet of custom film, now needed Suntrol to put privacy film on two floors of an office building that had been transformed into a COVID-19 ward. “Everything was under a time limit to get things done quickly. It was like a beehive,” he says of the job.
Word spread and Suntrol began custom window film jobs for other medical centers in the Cleveland area, where Suntrol is headquartered.
Then when the hospital retrofits began tapering off, the company picked up a whole new book of business as it began applying solar window film at residences. “Everyone was suddenly working from home, and we applied solar window film to make residences more comfortable,” Hansen says.
Suntrol window film insulates windows to provide maximum sun protection and year-round energy savings. Glass often fails to protect from heat and ultraviolet (UV) rays. According to the company, Suntrol window film filters up to 99.9% of damaging UV rays and up to 84% of solar heat, helping to save up to 40% on energy costs year-round. In cold weather, Suntrol window film keeps radiant heat in the room, saving up to one-third on winter heating costs.
“Window film is the home improvement that pays for itself within five years,” Hansen says. “It’s more affordable than replacement windows and offers nearly endless options when it comes to custom design.”
Custom Window Film Design
And that brings up the third window of opportunity that presented itself in 2020—a growth in custom window film design. “We’ve always done window graphics,” Hansen says, “but we’ve evolved from hand-cut graphics to designing, printing and die-cutting unique designs for windows.”
The demand for custom window film design has skyrocketed with the latest trend of using interior glass walls in new architecture and for renovations to existing buildings.
Clients looking for something new and fresh are turning to Suntrol for custom designs for glass office and meeting room walls.
“When you do a custom sunset, logo or a colorful design on a wall of glass, everyone takes notice. They say, ‘This is awesome, where did you get that done?’ and it’s bringing work back to us,” Hansen says. “And, it’s fun.”
Suntrol’s in-house designer works with architects and interior designers to create the custom film designs for glass walls as well as regular walls. “If we create a custom design for a glass wall in a reception area, we can also do a back wall to complement the glass artwork and design,” Hansen says. The purchase of a larger printer has enabled the company to print custom window graphics faster and quicker.
At TransDigm Group Inc., a leading supplier of highly engineered aircraft components headquartered in Cleveland, Suntrol created a unique aerospace design of an airplane in clouds for a four-panel, angled glass wall that wraps around a corner office.
Great Lakes Cheese, which used glass office walls for visibility and accessibility in its office headquarters in Cleveland, turned to Suntrol for custom window film to add both flare and additional privacy in anticipation of the return of employees following the COVID-19 shutdown. The design is a modern mix of circles and triangles.
When The Albert M. Higley Co. (AMHigley), a construction firm, wanted something sophisticated for its glass office meeting room walls to enhance privacy, display branding and convey excellence, Suntrol designed a custom map of the city of Cleveland along the Lake Erie shoreline.
At Naväge, a nasal care solutions company, Suntrol created a custom design for a glass wall that reflects the power and beauty of water while conveying the strong visual branding of the company. The custom window film adds both privacy and a visually appealing, creative interior design.
For Team Wendy, a leading designer and developer of cutting-edge headborne systems and other products for military, law enforcement, search and rescue, and adventure applications, Suntrol installed a custom film for numerous glass office and meeting room walls to complement this unique brand, its product offering and mission.
An Ohio Institution
The list of major Cleveland landmarks that have benefited from Suntrol’s work is long and includes the Frank Lloyd Wright Louis Penfield House, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the William McKinley Presidential Library & Museum, the Cleveland Public Library and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, to name a few.
“We’ve been in business so long and we have quality customer service, so our customers continue to call us and refer us,” says Hansen, who started in the window-tinting business in the mid-1970s while in high school, where he learned to solar tint windows of custom classic cars that he restored. He soon began tinting the cars of friends, then patio doors and bay windows, and slowly the business grew into the well-established company it is today.
Suntrol specializes in Vista and LLumar window films manufactured by Eastman Chemical Company (Eastman), the world’s largest producer of window film, and Decorative Films, LLC, which manufactures and distributes SOLYX and SimGlas decorative window films. “These are the best films in the marketplace. Over the years, you get to know the quality and longevity of the products and the commitment by the manufacturer to take care of warranties,” Hansen notes.
In 2018, Suntrol earned Eastman’s coveted National Dealer of the Year Award for Window Film Excellence for 2017, when it had year-over-year sales growth of nearly 200%. As one of Eastman’s Top 10 dealers in the country, Suntrol is often named Regional Dealer of the Year, Hansen says. Suntrol is also a seven-time Angie’s List (now known as Angi) Super Service Award winner.
Under the leadership of Hansen, a U.S. Navy veteran, Suntrol is a registered Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB). While it has several national accounts, the majority of Suntrol’s business is in northern Ohio, where the firm’s reputation is well-known, Hansen says.
Protection with Security Film
Suntrol also sells security film designed to enhance safety and security, delay aggressive entry, and protect everyone and everything inside.
In 2020, several county boards of elections used Suntrol security film to enhance safety and security at their locations. Suntrol also provided custom security film for the site of the first 2020 presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion.
Suntrol has also made more than 30 Ohio schools safer with security film, which helps to delay aggressive entry through glass, even when shot or shattered, giving schools and universities critical time to implement security protocols and lockdown procedures. The high-tech, multilayer film is engineered to withstand more than 32,000 pounds per square inch of pressure.
Focus on Customer Service
Suntrol’s staff focuses on offering the highest level of customer service from first contact through project completion. “I want my employees to know they don’t work for me; they work for the client and they need to perform the same way they would expect a job to be done if they hired someone themselves. If there’s a problem, we rectify it right away. And when we’re done with an installation, we leave the job site as clean as we found it,” Hansen says.
His wife, Kathie, works by his side as Vice President of Suntrol and manages sales of the eastern territory. “In the beginning, I coaxed her into the business to help because we were growing. The fact that we’ve lived and worked together for many years and have been married for more than 30 years is one for the record books,” he says.
Hansen hires people who want to be part of a team. “I want them to belong to our family and bring their talents and ideas to share in our success. We all work together in slow times and do whatever it takes when we’re super busy and we’re just slammed,” he adds.
His proudest accomplishment has been the charitable work the company has done to help children with XP (xeroderma pigmentosum), a rare, genetic, life-threatening sensitivity to UV rays from sunlight. The firm installs window film for the young patients’ homes, cars or schools for free to keep them protected from ultraviolet rays. “I came across a news article about a little girl in southern Ohio who had to live in complete darkness because of this hereditary condition, and I knew we had to help,” he says. Hansen started a foundation that has assisted around 15 children across the U.S. by applying window film to their homes. He continues to take on projects when he learns of a need.
In other charitable work, Suntrol partners with the American National Skyline, Inc. window cleaning company for Akron Children’s Hospital’s superheroes day, donating 150 gift bags stuffed with coloring books and gifts for hospitalized children, during which window cleaners scale the building dressed as superheroes.
“We have a huge heart for children, and this is an annual passion project for us,” Hansen says. “Giving to children in need, especially those who are ill, is something we’ve done since we founded Suntrol, and it means a lot to us.”
Having been in the business so long, Suntrol stays on the leading edge of window film developments. “Some of our manufacturers are developing cutting-edge films that do different things. We now have an antimicrobial film that can be applied to frost films to help protect from the spread of bacteria and germs,” Hansen says.
After overcoming a challenging year by capitalizing on new opportunities, Hansen has a bottom-line message for current and potential customers: “We can handle any work, any design, any type of film for any client’s needs no matter where they are located.”