An interview with Maria Angelova
Plan ahead. I’ve found it’s best to have a strategy in place before a problem comes up. When you identify an issue, you should already have a goal in mind for where you want to be when the crisis or situation is over.
As a leader, some things are just unavoidable. Being faced with hard choices is one of them. Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. What’s the best way to go about this? Is there a “toolkit” or a skill set to help leaders sort out their feelings and make the best possible decisions? As part of our series about “How Leaders Make Difficult Decisions,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Charles Bonfiglio.
Charles Bonfiglio is president and CEO of Tint World, a provider of automotive, residential, commercial, and marine window tinting and security film services. With Automotive Styling Centers in the U.S. and abroad, each franchise location houses approximately 20 profit centers, ranging from in-store accessory installations to offsite sales and installation.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’m the CEO and president of Tint World®, the leading auto accessory and window tinting franchise. I grew up in Brooklyn and moved to Florida when I was 21. I love automobiles, so my dream was to open my own car audio and accessory shop.
As a young entrepreneur with limited experience and capital, opening my dream shop proved challenging. After a lot of research, I discovered the world of franchising, which developed into a passion I’ve pursued throughout my life and career.
Taking my first steps into franchising, I became a franchise location owner of a well-known national automotive repair company in South Florida. With the support of the franchise behind me, I was able to unlock opportunities that hadn’t been available to me before, let alone as a stand-alone business owner. Leveraging their support to build success, I opened a second franchise store, and then another. Eventually, I grew to own nine franchise locations.
After more than 20 years of success within that franchise, I knew it was time for me to take the next step. In 2007, I took everything I knew about automobiles, the aftermarket accessory and service industry, and the franchise industry and revisited my dream of owning my own car audio and accessory shop. As fate would have it, I discovered a chain of independent shops that resembled what I’d wanted to open back when I first came to Florida, and I acquired and converted those six auto accessory and window tinting centers in Florida into beginning of an Automotive Styling Centers™ franchise we would eventually take internationally.
Present day, Tint World® is the largest and fastest-growing automotive accessories and window tinting franchise in the U.S., and we have locations in four different countries.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Not long after I’d opened my first franchise, a young real estate developer from Miami visited the store. Howard was a recent college graduate and just starting his career. He needed some expensive work done on his Saab. I liked him immediately and offered to do the job for free.
A few months later, Howard stopped by the shop and we had lunch. We talked about a lot of things, but eventually we got around to real estate. Pretty soon, he was reviewing our financial records and helping us develop a strategy that allowed me to invest in income-generating property for future franchise locations. With his guidance, I was able to leverage the value of the franchise for a long-term investment that continues to pay off years later.
Helping Howard turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. He helped me reach a new level of success.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
When the pandemic began in 2020, there was a lot of uncertainty. No one knew what the future would hold. Many business starting shutting their doors to comply with local, state and national restrictions. Customers were unsure and reluctant, so businesses had to develop a new approach to gain trust and encourage patronage.
Despite this challenging environment, Tint World® locations were able to remain open as essential businesses, achieving greater growth in part to the customer connections established in their local communities. In times of uncertainty, it’s important to ensure survival and growth by identifying areas of opportunity and leaning on core strengths of the business.
One of our first steps was to review the operations of each Tint World® franchise. We confirmed they were each in compliance with their local city/state mandates, following best practices recommended by the CDC, and operating their businesses efficiently. The next step in this approach was to communicate these efforts to our customers, letting them know our stores were safe to visit, while earning their trust and confidence.
Tint World® was proud to report that no location permanently closed their doors throughout 2020. Operating as an essential business not only allowed us to provide critical services to the front-lines, it also permitted us to engage with our local customer bases in new ways. Leveraging our classification as an essential business, we developed communication campaigns to ensure our customers knew we were going above and beyond to stay in compliance with local city/state mandates, and following all best practices recommended by the CDC.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through challenges? What sustains your drive?
When I moved to Florida, I was determined to enter the automotive aftermarket industry — but banks and property owners weren’t willing to invest in the dream of an unproven kid without capital or experience. It was frustrating, but franchising offered me a way to pursue my ambition. I bought an automotive service franchise and suddenly had access to all the people who wouldn’t support me as an independent entrepreneur. Through that experience, I learned that these investors weren’t rejecting me personally, I just needed to understand how to leverage franchising to my advantage.
What is the best way to boost morale when the future seems uncertain? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team during uncertaiun times?
Be the kind of leader you’d want to work for — whether it’s during the good times, or the bad times. Everyone has a story about a bad boss, someone who made the workplace so bad that they got out as soon as possible. Don’t be that boss.
Especially during times of uncertainty, your employees need a vision of security, growth, and direction. Set clear expectations, treat them with respect, and be there for them. Make time for short meetings to find out how they are doing and what they can do to grow and improve. When you show your team that you care for them and value them above and beyond writing paychecks, you’ll create a culture of loyalty and teamwork that will benefit your franchise.
Your business, whether it’s an established franchise brand or a startup, begins as an extension of you. Your vision, your values, your lifestyle are all baked into the DNA of the company you created. When you find the right people to carry that vision forward, it’s not something you can easily measure. But I guarantee you’ll see the results.
While it might not show up right away in your metrics and KPIs, you’ll see better collaboration, a more positive atmosphere, and real buy-in when it comes to your mission. Your core team’s energy will carry over to your franchise location owners, their local teams and even their customers.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the important things a leader should do when making difficult decisions? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Plan ahead. I’ve found it’s best to have a strategy in place before a problem comes up. When you identify an issue, you should already have a goal in mind for where you want to be when the crisis or situation is over.
- Focus on people. That was my biggest takeaway from 2020 and 2021. The issue our business had to confront was figuring out the mindset of the corporate staff and the franchisees. Our main objective was to keep them positive while also making it comfortable for them to come into work on every day. We thought about the people first. During any crisis, you need to talk to everyone in your organization. We needed to talk to the people in the corporate office to make sure their heads were in the right space.
- Communicate. Staying in constant communication with staff at headquarters as well as franchise owners has been key for us when facing tough decisions. We focus on continually boosting our communications across all platforms, from emails to video meetings. During COVID-19, this was critical. By doing this, we are able to keep our employees and franchise owners focused on the future and our continued growth.
How can our readers further follow your work?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.
Thank you for the amazing opportunity!
About The Interviewer: Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl. As a disruptor, Maria is on a mission to change the face of the wellness industry by shifting the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike. As a mind-body coach, Maria’s superpower is alignment which helps clients create a strong body and a calm mind so they can live a life of freedom, happiness and fulfillment. Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and Insurance industries. Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and the University of Georgia (BBA, Finance). Maria’s favorite job is being a mom. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with her tribe. To contact Maria, email her at [email protected]. To schedule a free consultation, click here.
Charles Bonfiglio Of Tint World On How Leaders Make Difficult Decisions was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.