Cruising to Success
Suntrol Company grows from classic car renovations to leader in window film
One might say John Hansen has cruised into success as a Founder and the President of Suntrol Company and Custom Tint, Inc. (Suntrol), a leader in Ohio’s window film industry celebrating 45 years. That’s because the origins of his dream began with a 1966 Dodge Dart GT convertible restoration while he was just in high school.
It was the mid-1970s; owning a muscle car was the cool thing for teenagers in his hometown of Mentor, Ohio, an eastern suburb of Cleveland. Hansen’s grandfather had retired to Florida and his uncle lived in Savannah, Georgia, both places where he could find clean cars for restoration to earn extra income.
“I’d buy old classic collectibles, like a ’66 Mustang or a Ford Falcon convertible, repaint them and redo the interiors. In the area where I grew up, everybody had a muscle car. The louder, faster and more beautiful body styles, the better,” he says. “Every time I’d bring a car back from Florida or Georgia, the people in my area would want to know where I found such a clean car without any rust on it.”
Some of those cars also had window film, and Hansen felt that adding tinting would make his cars attract even more attention, so he taught himself how to install window film. Soon, he began tinting car windows for friends and their families.
During his senior year in high school, Hansen worked a shift at a factory job, while running his tinting business on the side. “I would do my friends’ cars, and they would say, ‘My dad has a boat, can you do that? I started tinting patio doors and bay windows, and slowly the business kept growing,” he says.
Hansen ultimately decided to give up the steady factory job with benefits to continue his window tinting business, which he named Rainbow Window Tinting. “I decided to run with it and not look back. I wanted to make window tinting a signature trade, just like carpentry and plumbing,” he says. Hansen would later tint windows at that factory where he’d once worked, as well as add film to windows at the home of its CEO.
In 1988, he purchased Suntrol, a residential and commercial window film company, and Custom Tint, an auto tinting company, to form Suntrol Company and Custom Tint, Inc., specializing in window tinting for residential, commercial, automotive and marine customers. At one point, Hansen had three automotive tinting locations in the Cleveland area, but closed them down in 1999 when restrictive window shading laws were adopted. “It killed the whole market,” he says, “but my core focus was window film, whether homes, cars, businesses or boats.” In 2007, he purchased Solar Control Products in Columbus, Ohio, to expand the company’s market share and customer base.
Today, Suntrol is well-known across the state for its solar control, custom design and security solutions for residences and commercial buildings, including hospitals, medical campuses, schools, universities, banks, libraries, museums, stadiums and casinos. Under the leadership of Hansen, a U.S. Navy veteran, Suntrol is a registered veteran-owned small business (VOSB). While it has a few national accounts, the majority of its business is in northern Ohio.
A Wise Investment
Suntrol window film insulates windows to provide maximum sun protection and year-round energy savings. Glass often fails to protect from heat and ultraviolet rays (UV). 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.”
The firm 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 in 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 Super Service Award winner.
The Phone Inevitably Rings
Like in Hansen’s early days restoring cars, his business has grown by word-of-mouth referrals from architects, interior designers, builders, building managers and glass companies. “If there is anyone who would ever get a phone call about security film, we want our name to be on the top of the list as a resource,” he says.
The majority of the firm’s work is commercial. One past memorable project is the Cleveland Browns’ new stadium in 1999, where Suntrol had one week’s time to install security film on all viewing glass, totaling 1,544 panes, before the season’s opening game. The company also recently installed 15,000 square feet of custom film for the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University’s Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion, the centerpiece of the Health Education Campus opened in 2019. Another 41,000 square feet of solar and decorative film was installed at the Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton to reduce heat load and improve aesthetics for 1,371 panels of spandrel glass, saving the health network millions of dollars in glass replacement costs with minimal disruption to operations.
The list of major Cleveland landmarks that have benefited from Suntrol’s work is long and includes the Louis Penfield House built by Frank Lloyd Wright, The Cleveland Museum of Art, the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum, the Cleveland Public Library and the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, to name a few.
Employees ‘Don’t Work for Me’
Suntrol’s staff of 15 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 cleaner than we found it,” Hansen says.
The team includes two office staff, six salespeople and seven installers. Hansen’s wife, Kathie, works by his side as Vice President of Suntrol and oversees sales in 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,” Hansen 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,” he says. “We all work together in slow times and do whatever it takes when we’re super busy and we’re just slammed.” 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.”
Suntrol has also made more than 30 Ohio schools safer with security film, which helps delay aggressive entry through glass, even when shot or shattered, giving schools and universities critical time to implement security protocols and lock-down procedures.
The company has weathered some difficulties—from a case of employee theft, to new laws restricting its product line in the auto industry, to the repercussions of the 9/11 tragedy and the Great Recession—all events that almost closed the business each time. But Hansen always managed to get over the hurdles to come out stronger.
“It’s not easy building a top-of-the-line, respected company that’s celebrating 45 years,” he says. “I started with very little knowledge about all the aspects of running a business, and there was a lot of learning and personal self-reflection crash courses along the way.”
As the company celebrates its 45th anniversary alongside Eastman’s centennial year, Hansen says he will take a victory lap in the ’66 Dodge Dart GT convertible that he still drives today.