Nestled in Midtown St. Petersburg's industrial area is a 90,000-square-foot manufacturing operation that aims to help people keep their cool.
Madico Window Films has been, in one form or another over the past 40 years, a leader in an industry seen as one of the cheapest ways to aid homeowners and businesses improve the efficiency of their air conditioners.
With customers in 70 countries, the privately owned business has secured its place as the fourth-leading window film manufacturer in the country.
Window film is playing a key role in "net-zero" energy buildings that have been constructed in Tampa Bay recently, including an almost year-old building on Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg and a South Tampa home.
Though these residential and commercial buildings have many energy-efficient products, the window film is seen as an important component to keep facilities cool because it helps prevent the sun from heating them up in the first place.
"At the consumer level, I don't think they understand the effectiveness of window films," said Shawn R. Kitchell, senior vice president for operations at Madico. "Window films are incredibly effective."
The Tampa Bay Times sat down with Kitchell recently to talk about Madico:
Where do you rank among window film manufacturers?
The largest in the country is Eastman. Then there's 3M and Saint-Gobain. Madico is fourth. There's a wide gap after the top four in this country.
What share of your business goes to residential and what share goes to commercial?
Approximately two-thirds of our business is residential and one-third commercial. The commercial side is definitely the sleeping giant. It lowers your utility needs. It also protects the furnishings and the draperies.
What does it cost?
Between $5 and $10 a square foot. The premium window film products would be $10 a square foot. So in a large house, say 500 square feet of glass — that's a lot of glass — at $5 per square foot would be $2,500. You're looking at about a three-year payback.
What other purposes does the window film serve?
We sell window film for safety and security. And we sell window film strictly for aesthetic purposes. As far as safety and security, sadly, we sell a lot in the Middle East.
Is that to guard against explosives and shrapnel?
We sell it for different reasons. One is the explosive issue, but one is to keep people from breaking in homes. As far as explosives, most of the harm is not from anything coming through and hitting you. It's the shards of glass. Window film does a good job of holding the shards of glass together.
Was Madico always called Madico?
The original company was Industrial Textile Distribution, started here in 1975 by an entrepreneurial scientist (Joseph O'Brien) who really was one of the founders of the industry. He started developing window film very early. I think there is some argument in the industry about whether he was first or Madico was first. He managed and grew that business.
In January 2008, after various changes, there was no film company here at all. We started up again later that year.
We had to restart the company. But we had all of the equipment, all of the intellectual property. We had an employee base that dated back those 30 years.
Why did Madico buy the company?
They were out of capacity at the time. They were a competitor in the window film market but also highly involved in the energy industry in making components for solar cells.
How did the St. Petersburg location become the primary window film manufacturer for the company?
Partly because of our expertise and we did such a good job. They acquired us for that very reason. Also because they were out of capacity at the time.
The photovoltaic (solar panel) industry really peaked for the components that they made about the time that they acquired us. So they could not keep up with demand for their photovoltaic products, much less the window film products. So it made a lot of sense to transition that to us and they would focus on the voltaic side of the business.
Is all of the company's window film produced in St. Petersburg?
This is the primary manufacturing location. We do have some of our products that are made at our Woburn, Mass., site. A small amount (is) made at Madico's parent company, Lintec, which is a Japanese corporation.
What is the size of the company now?
We have 140 people. A hundred of them here in St. Pete, and 40 out in our distribution locations and salespeople out in the field. That's the window films division. And Madico Inc., headquartered in Woburn, Mass., also has an additional 140 people.
You have a research and development department. In R&D, what are you looking to do?
One is to meet customer requirements. Can you make it more reflective? Can you make it stronger? We also do research on new products.
Ivan Penn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2332.