The Transformative Tint Technicians
Behind the scenes of Sun Control of Minnesota’s signature film services
From its handiwork on the glass ceilings of historic structures to fun welcome walls at animal rescues, Sun Control of Minnesota (Sun Control) is not your conventional window film contractor.
Randy Jensen, Founder and Co-Owner, and his team of talented designers and installers see these micro-thin laminates as an ideal forum for creativity, innovation and enormous opportunity, with applications that range from automotive to architectural. Since the 1980s, Sun Control has grown from a four-person, one-office operation based in Little Canada, Minnesota, to a 40-person company with four offices in two states and a wide range of public and private clients.
The company’s expansion, particularly in the last decade, can be attributed to a number of factors, most especially a leader who pushes conventional boundaries and a team built on mentorship and working as one.
When Randy established Sun Control, he didn’t anticipate that he was taking the first steps to establishing a family-owned business. He was just managing a company in the best way he knew—one step at a time, and with an eye on taking care of his people.
In the beginning, the company only installed residential and commercial solar tinting. Randy adds, “With the up-and-down economy over the years, I expanded into auto tinting and vehicle wraps to make sure our installers were always busy. Then we needed someone to answer the phone, help with accounting and project management, etc. Before I knew it, we had multiple locations and a bunch of people on our payroll.”
Among the growing team was his son, Todd Jensen, who came to the company in July 1998 by accident, literally. Todd was hit by a car in his second year of college, which required considerable physical therapy.
He recalls, “Dad started taking me into the office with him to give me something to do. That’s the first time I really had any understanding of what his business was all about. I started answering the phone and helping out with administrative activities…and learning the business.”
But it’s the Sun Control “family” that changed the course of Todd’s life. “Our installers, in particular, took me under their wings to teach me the tools and techniques of working with film. As a teenager, I loved cars, so this was a natural fit. Then I moved to the commercial and residential applications,” he adds.
That encouragement from the team and his dad while he healed inspired his commitment to the company and new perspective about the future. While working as an installer, he also began to help his dad on the business side, seeking ways to strategically build the company in ways that would provide new opportunities and a solid future for the employees who had done so much for him.
That willingness to teach and support one another is integral to the company culture, and likely emerged as a consequence of window film technology’s evolution.
Expanding the Craft
While window tinting in the 1980s and 1990s was largely focused on solar film for UV protection, new advancements made way for decorative film, frosted film, printing on film and, more recently, safety and security film in the 2000s.
As some might expect, learning to install film on various surfaces is not a common career choice or something that’s offered in a high school or college class. It takes some training in best practices and continuous learning to keep up with advances in materials and processes—opportunities that are integral to Sun Control’s core business principles.
“We get help from 3M, our primary product vendor,” Randy says, “though a majority of our skills have been developed through in-house training. Today, all of our senior installers are also mentors and a critical piece of building our talented team and ensuring quality solutions for our customers.”
Todd adds, “This is a very hands-on skill. There’s no machine (yet) that can place these films with the skills that we have, so we have to work together to develop the best practices.”
Another way the company builds and retains talent is through professional growth opportunities and listening to each other. “We have over 200 years of combined film installation experience on projects of all scope and scale. But there’s always something more to learn—and our people like to be on the forefront of advances,” Randy says.
As an example, the company sent several installers to Washington over the summer to be trained by one of the industry’s most renowned expert caulking professionals on new techniques.
“Details are critical in our business,” Todd says. “Caulking may seem like a small part of our security film installation, but it’s extremely important. So, we focus on making sure our people have all the opportunities they can get, to be the best at all facets of our installation process.”
That curiosity and willingness to learn have come in handy on several particularly challenging projects in recent years.
“This is a very hands-on skill. There’s no machine (yet) that can place these films with the skills that we have, so we have to work together to develop the best practices.” Todd Jensen, Co-Owner, Sun Control of Minnesota
Ropes and Risks
One of those opportunities came about on the International Market Square atrium project. The historic building located in downtown Minneapolis is a former factory constructed in 1915; now, it is a design center. One of the beautiful and unique aspects of the structure is a soaring five-story atrium with a glass roof that needed solar tinting to improve energy efficiency.
Randy says, “This was a challenging job, not just in scope and scale, but in application. Our installers had to rappel across the glass roof to complete the job.”
Heidi Lohmann, Project Manager with Sun Control, emphasized the importance of experience and industry relationships that have formed over the years. For instance, prior to installation, she and her team performed glass checks to make sure the film products selected were appropriate.
She adds, “It is one of the reasons our clients trust us. We won’t use a product that could damage their property or wouldn’t work well for the intended purpose.”
She also relied on BrandSafway for scaffolding and safety equipment on the roof. It took approximately two weeks to install all the film, which included 3M Prestige 70 Exterior Window Film on the 216 skylights and 3M Sun Control Film Neutral 35 on the 180 curtain wall windows.
“A lot of planning and preparation went into the setup of this project to make sure everyone would be safe and the final products effective,” Heidi says.
In fact, every Sun Control project manager works closely with clients from proposal to completion to ensure safety and quality. That’s one of the reasons why the company’s reputation has grown well beyond its base of operations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. The expert film design and installation teams have also been called to work on projects in South Dakota, North Dakota, Florida, Texas, Kansas and Colorado.
With an eye on continuous improvement and growth, Randy and Todd are always on the lookout for new opportunities. One of the most recent has been the expansion of the company’s decorative film services. Decorative film is a way to provide privacy or beauty on ordinarily plain surfaces. These films range from etched and frosted films to highly realistic stained glass designs.
Todd says, “Our addition of this service came about largely from demand. People used to sandblast glass to apply a logo—and that was expensive. Film is a much better alternative and we’ve been installing this type for years, but used to always outsource the designs.”
That changed in 2013. Randy recalls, “When you outsource work, it takes considerable time and energy to track, with very little quality control. So we opted to do it all in-house.”
Mark Hargrove, nephew to Randy and cousin to Todd, is a big part of growing this aspect of the business. He has considerable computer-aided design and production skills, which works well with the talents of the installers. The Jensens bought the necessary equipment, which opened the door for the company to handle custom designs from concept to installation.
And it’s not always windows that need a film-enabled decorative improvement. One of the most fun jobs was for Secondhand Hounds in Minnetonka, Minnesota. The organization had just moved into a new location when Todd, a self-described dog lover, paid a visit. He saw the plain white wall at the entrance and volunteered to have his company donate a wall graphic that would attach to the Sheetrock wall at the entry. Other potential applications for decorative film include privacy protection, sunlight control and safety.
Randy adds, “We don’t want to get stagnant, so our staff is continuously exploring new opportunities.”
Outlets of Opportunity
Moving forward, Randy and Todd anticipate an increasing demand for safety and security films that maintain glass integrity during severe weather conditions, accidental impact or vandalism. Sun Control has installed security film for more than 15 years.
“It takes considerable patience and skill as these films are thicker and a little more unwieldy to install,” Todd explains.
The company recently added DefenseLite and BulletShield, products manufactured by Impact Security, LLC, to its safety and security product lines. These polycarbonate systems can be retrofitted to fit onto most existing storefronts and curtain wall systems. In the last year and a half, Sun Control has helped many business owners in the Minneapolis and St. Paul areas reopen their businesses following the pandemic with confidence that they are secure.
When asked about the road ahead, Randy concludes, “It’s amazing what people can achieve when they work together as a team—and our team is the best. Our job is to make sure they’re taken care of and to keep seeking new opportunities, providing outlets for learning and creativity and taking care of family—because that’s what they are, my family.”