Matt O’s love for cars began with a flashlight. Holding it aloft while his father worked on the family’s Nissan Maxima, he soaked up information, as most 6-year-olds do.
Though at times, he admits, both his attention and the beam would flicker.
“My dad would yell at me, ‘Put the flashlight back on,’ on whatever he was working on,” O said, laughing. “But I learned so much by doing that, just by watching him.”
Almost two decades later, O, 25, is now the founder of his own automotive vinyl wrapping, tint and paint protection company. The Penn State grad started SC Vinyl out of his two-car Port Matilda garage three years ago, developing a following through social media and word of mouth. Since then, the business has branched out from sporty, “Fast and Furious”-esque revamps to commercial tints and protective films for fleet vehicles and storefronts. One project, done in two days, transformed a firetruck into a Penn State basketball-themed version of Optimus Prime.
To keep up with demand, O and his older brother and co-owner, Titus, and business partner Mike Conkey moved the company to a larger commercial space in Bellefonte at the beginning of January. The growth, he says, has outpaced his expectations.
But while he loves his job, he added, it may always come in second to his first gig: the hours spent hovering over Dad and the car that would eventually become his.
“I thought I had the coolest job ever,” O said, laughing.
Below, O shared his journey from Dad’s assistant mechanic to young entrepreneur.
Q: How did you get into cars?
A: My dad. He was an electrical engineer and he always loved to tinker with vehicles ever since I was a little kid. As I got older, my father trusted me to work on cars without his supervision and I began doing that throughout high school and college. I was always tinkering or messing with something in the garage.
Q: How did you start your company?
A: After I graduated from college, I had a pretty good job, but I just kind of got fed up with the corporate world. It just wasn’t for me. I’ve never been a suit-and-tie person; I’ve always been happy rolling around a dirty garage floor. It’s therapeutic for me. So I knew pretty quickly on that this corporate lifestyle was not for me. Probably a month afterward is when I really got serious about the business.
Q: Your company now does commercial and residential work after starting out as mainly a vinyl wrapping outfit. How has the business evolved in your eyes?
A: When we started, we wanted to offer products to customize high-end vehicles — that was our initial idea. As the company evolved, we really started seeing that the commercial aspect of it was kind of neglected. There weren’t too many people offering lettering for fleet vehicles or vinyl wrapping a big printed image on storefront glass panels to market the business. So we’re still passionate about customizing vehicles, but also we’re starting to open up to commercial applications and it’s really caught on in probably the last year, I’d say.
Q: What is vinyl wrapping?
A: Vinyl wrapping has been around for a while, but it’s more of a recent occurrence where people were taking wrapping vinyl to change the color of a vehicle. It’s a really hard thing to do —you’re using a flat 2-D piece of film on a 3-D complex curve. So a lot of these nicer cars in wild colors that you see driving around, that’s all vinyl wrapped. The beauty of it is with these expensive vehicles, we can maintain their value by protecting the paint. And vinyl wrap can be fully removed without leaving any residue, so the car can be brought back to its original condition.
Q: How about your commercial projects?
A: There are a lot of small businesses who see the benefit of window tint on their buildings, especially those who sell clothing. Because anything that has a pigment will fade out if it’s exposed to UV (light). So we offer specialty films that greatly reduce the chances of fading or glare or even heat in the building to help cut utility costs down. There are a lot of applications as far as flat glass window applications are concerned. That’s the newest line of things we’re concentrating on. We brought on flat glass about six months ago.
Q: What advice would you give Matt from three years ago?
A: That’s a hard one. If I were to tell myself three years ago — and this is actually what I did tell myself three years ago, but I would reinforce this even more — is to follow what your passions are, do what you love to do and don’t listen to anyone who sees otherwise because you are the only one who knows yourself the best. I think anyone who starts a business, especially at a young age, they have a lot of naysayers around them. But I was fortunate enough to have a really strong support system in my family. They let me know that you are the only one who is going to be able to make this happen.