Tint World’s CEO: ‘Don’t hire dirtbags’
“Never be so big as a franchisor that your franchisees can’t teach you something,” says Chales Bonfiglio, CEO of Tint World, an auto accessories franchise.
Charles Bonfiglio, a Brooklyn native with the accent to prove it, started his business career in high school, when he opened a pizzeria. Next he designed a clothing line and then sold it, while working at a car stereo shop. Then he discovered Meineke, and “all of a sudden things turned on for me,” he says.
He became an instrumental franchisee in the Meineke system, building mega-stores in Florida, before deciding to buy a little company called Tint World, and trying to franchise the auto accessories chain. We asked him to describe the latest chapter in his franchise journey, and he obliged, colorfully.
FT: You say you don’t worry much about competitors, even though Tint World operates in a crowded category.
Charles Bonfiglio, Tint World: I’m not worried about their ability. I know that I have to be one-up on them. I train my staff to be like me. Love your customers and they’ll love you. They’ll have these teenaged kids that they hire, low-end people. You have to have the best.
FT: What do you look for, when hiring?
Bonfiglio: I only hire people that I would actually hang out with myself. The reason is, if I liked them and my wife liked them, chances are my customers will like them. If I hire a dirtbag, how could I expect customers to like them? It’s hard to do that, but if you treat them like family and you pay them compensation and you let them move up, those people start talking. I was the only person to ever do $2 million per year, at my Meineke stores, but I did it 13 years in a row.
FT: What attracted you to Tint World?
Bonfiglio: I was going to start from scratch but I ran into the guy who had these six Tint World stores. I said how are you doing? He said, I made my money, they’re not doing so well. I said: How do you run your system? He had no point-of-sales system. He took his invoices every week and threw them in the garbage. I said, I’ll make this thing awesome and you’ll make a lot of money, but I’ve got to be the guy who runs the franchise. I did two Tint Worlds co-branded in my Meineke stores, and then I started writing the UFOC.
FT: What’s known today as the FDD or franchise disclosure documents.
Bonfiglio: I read 50 different FDDs when developing mine. I chose the option to replicate a restaurant franchise document, because they were the most strict. What scales the fastest in this world, it’s burger shops and sub shops. It’s not that I want to be strict because I’m a franchisee first, but I want to have the continuity to build this thing.
FT: You opened 10 new Tint World’s last year—describe them.
Bonfiglio: We have 20 main categories of services. Tint World’s main business was always window tinting; so we do that on cars, homes, boats and office buildings, so that’s solar protection. Secondarily we do paint protection film. And then we do vehicle wraps. We started franchising in 2007. We have 44 stores open, 42 in the U.S. In Saudi Arabia we sold a 30-store license. In Abu Dhabi, it’s going to be a showcase like no other.
FT: Did you think you’d have more units than this by now?
Bonfiglio: It takes some time to get traction, and we’ve really evolved the system.
FT: What’s the most difficult thing about being a franchisor, rather than a franchisee?
Bonfiglio: My personal quest was always to be No. 1 in the franchise. At Meineke, every year I would get top shelf awards. It was always me, and I only had to worry about me, and my managers and my employees. The hardest thing in being a franchisor is to get each franchisee’s potential to the level of what I want it to be. My benchmark is not my store—I don’t have any stores. I want the highest gross sales compared to every other franchise out there. So if mine costs $150,000, I want their sales to be over $500,000. Why? Because I know Meineke’s sales, and I’m kicking their butt.
FT: You’ve had a lot of lessons learned in a long career in franchising. Share some.
Bonfiglio: No. 1, never be so big as a franchisor that your franchisees can’t teach you something. Meineke used to fight me on giving them the lessons until they were desperate. Give the franchisees all the tools they need so that they can’t possibly comprehend operating as an independent. Take the heavy off their load and let them focus on two things: their employees and their customers. If we do all that hard work in the background, that is what’s going to allow them to scale. Don’t think of what your next quarterly profit is, think about what’s going to evolve the system. I’m not looking to build a profit, I’m looking to build an advanced system.