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Andy Babiak wanted to spend more time with his family and less time working. He later wanted to say thank you. And he turned both those simple desires into successful businesses. While working for himself was a means to an end, one business has transformed an industry world-wide and the other continues to hold a unique place for catering options throughout the region.
It is the Belleville Chamber of Commerce’s honour to acknowledge Andy Babiak as the recipient of the Cornerstone Visionary award for 2023. The Visionary award is presented to a member who has created something different in a traditional industry, recreated something old or developed something new.
These days, Andy may be best known for BBQ Party in a Box, but his real vision inspired Tint Tek, a business he began in 1987 because of two ideas: he wanted to be an entrepreneur and he wanted to do something in the automotive business. One of his first jobs was at a dealership, where the GM told him he had the makings of a business owner. He jokes about the letters after his name being ADD, OCC & OBCT.
He came up with window tinting – a product having some success in the west, figured out how to source the film and came up with his first job…
“I owed the guy who ran the coffee truck $100 so said, ‘Hey, I’ll pay that with window tinting’,” he recalled, sitting in his office – proudly identified as Cowboy Andy’s Toy Store -- at what has become a compound off Shannonville Road.
“So I tinted his truck. I had no idea how to do it but I did it.”
From there, Andy, who was raised in Brampton before moving back to Belleville, offered to tint the world’s largest limousine, being constructed by a friend. He recalls he had “no idea” how he was going to do it and it took him six hours but he got it done and was on his way.
He later used the limo and 15 models from Mode Elle at the Quinte Mall to promote the business and it blossomed from there.
But success had its drawbacks. As the business grew, Andy and his wife, Becky, found themselves busier and busier, with local car dealerships feeding the North Front Street business to the tune of thousands of cars a year.
Cutting the film for tinting was a repetitive task and took considerable time for each vehicle. When his employees went home at 5 p.m., he and Becky would return to the shop to finish up.
“Becky would cut the pattern and I would follow her around the car and install it on the inside,” he said. “Becky’s patterns fit beautifully. And I wondered if there was a way of duplicating them. So I went up the street to MicroAge and told them my idea. They gave me this big digitizing board, and then I found a cutter.
“I tweaked and tweaked and finally got it to work. Then I took Becky’s pattern, digitized it and duplicated it. It fit perfect. And it was the first of its kind in our industry.”
At the time, the invention was a way to help Becky and him to be home more with their daughters – Cindy, Christine and Britney. Then a guy offered to buy the CNC cutting machine. Then another and another and soon Andy was hiring programmers to upload to a website so customers around the world could use Tint-Tek templates to be used with the machine.
“Apparently we were the first machine of its kind,” he said. “The largest window film manufacturer in the world wanted to see it. Then they said it wasn’t going to work. I said, ‘Guys, it’s going to work because it is working.’ But they shot us down.
“A year later, they came back and said, ‘We want exclusivity.’ So I gave them exclusivity.”
That led to more success and more growth. Tint-Tek grew to Number 1 in the world with customers all around the world (including Brazil, Europe & South Africa) which gave Andy and his family opportunities to travel, meet new people and build new markets.
“Today this is the normal way to tint windows now, with this software,” he said.
But that success led to some tough decisions.
In the late 1990s, facing the reality that winters in Canada – when Becky and her team were visiting car lots to cut templates – were making things more difficult for Tint-Tek, Andy had to decide whether to move his business and family south.
“I love family and I love friends, and I didn’t want to lose that,” he said. “I would forfeit a bigger company for better relationships with my family and friends. That’s why we stayed here.” He also noted there was a dark period about 20 years ago when he struggled with feeling he could justify being anything.
“I feel that my success, really, is only 20 per cent me. My wife is 50 per cent -- Becky, she is bigger than my rock, she is my boulder. And my friends and family are the other 30 per cent. Britney, my daughter, will say to me, ‘Dad you can do this,’ or ‘You can do that.’ That means so much.
“I can see how stuff will fit – I have always been able to see how stuff fits so maybe I am the visionary but others make it all work.”
He also acknowledges that when it comes to business, he “likes the journey not the maintenance,” and prefers seeking new opportunities rather than focusing on what is underway.
Which is one reason he sought new challenges. One was JaJingle, a smartphone marketing app that he developed. But better known is BBQ Party in a Box, which grew out of his desire to thank local car dealers who were allowing Tint Tek to use their vehicles to design templates.
“I always felt I wanted to do something to show we appreciated them,” he notes. “But gifts like tickets or whatever, that would usually go to just one guy, but the dealership team had helped us.
“So I had a pickup truck that I converted into a barbecue and I bought tables and tents and chairs and I said, ‘I am going to take this barbecue around every Friday to a different car dealership and my way of saying thank you to them for letting us use the cars is I am going to put on lunch’.”
The first was Peter Smith where people were so taken with the idea, he started getting requests to serve at personal events.
“In my mind, I was thinking ‘We’re software people, we’re not caterers’ but finally it was ‘OK we’ll do it.’ The first two weeks, I booked in six parties. And then I thought, ‘This is kind of cool.’ So that is how BBQ Party in a Box started.”
Following the truck, the first car made into a barbecue was a 1957 Chevy that is still used today. And every car or vehicle has a theme, whether it be the ’57 Chevy, the 1969 Camaro, the Snowbird plane, the A-Team van, the ZZ Top car or the Indy Car race car.
About half the BBQ Party events are corporate events and about half are parties.
“My thing has always been no matter what I got into, I had to make it work, because I never really had a lot to fall back on,” he recalled. “And all the things I have come up with I have quite enjoyed because I am setting my own bar, I don’t have to chase my competitors.
“I have always been in my own league. We kind of have a racetrack where we don’t have a lot of competition.”
Andy’s newest vision involves his 33 acres at Belleville’s easternmost boundary that he is slowly turning into something extraordinary, although even he isn’t sure exactly what it will ultimately be.
He does know that so far has cost $40,000 in grass seed, 1,000 dump trucks of gravel and involved the installation of some 30 speakers.
It has multiple waterspouts, a water area for bumper boats, what will be the Hotel Not So Grand, a stage for live music and more, all of which may be open to the public.
“I started this for my family, but it continues to grow,” he said. “Now I am thinking of opening it up for car shows, music nights, things that can help groups raise money and help give back.
“I like to think really, really outside the box, in areas no one else wants to be in. I think it gives you more opportunities when you think outside the box. And I never gave up. I made it work, made it work, made it work.”