D&WC: Please give a detailed description of your company and its history.
Ron Militello: Our company was founded in late 1990. At that time, my business partner Kevin Wohlert and I were involved in building custom homes for ourselves. The gentleman from whom we were buying our custom window coverings showed us an invention he came up with for new homes. The invention was essentially the same as the Redi Shades we sell today in stores.
Seeing the commercial possibilities for the product, we entered into an agreement with the inventor and obtained a patent. As a result, Shades Unlimited was incorporated in June 1991. We first started producing Redi Shade in late 1991. In the early days, Kevin and I did all the work ourselves, and on several occasions would bring our families in to help. We sometimes reminisce about the time we, along with our wives, worked all night long making shades for one particularly large order.
Initial response to the product was incredible. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked, "Why didn't I think of that?" As with any new company, it takes a while to get it off the ground. I can remember when a good day was shipping six boxes of shades. Sales have grown steadily every year since then and today we employ more than 40 full time employees. Last month we moved into a new 27,000-square-foot facility, doubling the size of our production space.
D&WC: Is your business computerized? Do you have a company Web site, and how is it uses to communicate with customers?
Militello: Yes, we are completely computerized and capable of receiving orders via EDI with our larger vendors.
We also have a Web site, www.redishade.com, that we use to educate and communicate with our customers. Comments, suggestions and questions can be received through the site. Customers visiting our site can find out where to buy Redi Shade in their state by pointing and clicking on a map.
D&WC: Who are your customers? What parts of the country do you service?
Militello: Redi Shades are currently available through a variety of sources. We sell to the major home centers and several mass merchandisers. Additionally, most major window coverings distributors carry our products and we sell directly to the trade.
When we talk specifically about whom our customers are, a recent survey we conducted showed us that about 70 percent of Redi Shade purchases are made by females. This figure was in the range of what we expected, but what was interesting was that we found 60 percent of Redi Shade installations also were done by females.
D&WC: How has your segment of the industry changed since you first began?
Militello: Temporary window shades weren't even a segment of the industry until we introduced Redi Shade. Some people in the industry immediately saw the benefits of a temporary shade while others had to be educated as to its benefits. We still use trade shows as a means of educating industry professionals as to how a Redi Shade can help them increase sales.
I hear stories all the time from our customers about how they close sales for large custom orders by simply giving away a few Redi Shades. It really does work. When you think of it, what better way to close a sale for custom window coverings than to provide an instant window covering before you even leave the customer's house? Most of our customers in the industry keep a box of Redi Shades in their vehicles just for that purpose.
The perceived value from the customer's point of view is far more than the actual cost of the product. Service is what makes one individual or company stand out from the rest, and Redi Shades provides a simple way of raising service to another level. Redi Shade is also valuable when there are delays beyond the promised date for custom orders. By providing a temporary shade, the customer is less likely to complain about that bare window.
D&WC: What best describes your niche in the marketplace?
Militello: Redi Shade dominates the temporary window coverings market. The category really didn't exist until we introduced Redi Shade. As we all know, traditionally, a temporary window covering was a bed sheet tacked up over a window. The introduction of an attractive, easy-to-install window covering no longer means your customers need to have unsightly sheets hanging in their windows. Now people can keep their sheets on their beds.
The peel-and-stick aspect of Redi Shade makes it simple; a child could install it. And because it's peel and stick, there are no holes or damage to the walls when they are taken down. In addition to the ease and functionality of Redi Shade, it just looks good when it hangs in the window. From the street, you can't tell them from permanent pleated shades. Redi Shade also provides a very inexpensive way of covering arched windows.
D&WC: What are some of the key factors involved in your growth and success?
Militello: Again, when we first introduced Redi Shade we basically produced a product that filled a need. The premise of a temporary window covering was easily understood. The timing of launching a product in the early '90s when the economy was taking off didn't hurt either. With housing starts what they were, it helped that the number of bare windows was increasing.
Today, one of our biggest hurdles is in creating recognition for the product. Most people still aren't aware that the Redi Shade product exists. It is by increasing the recognition that we are seeing sales grow even though the industry as a whole may be down.
We have recently launched two line extensions that have been very successful. The first was a 48-inch wide Redi Shade. This product meant customers could use one shade for applications in windows that were between 36 and 48 inches wide instead of having to overlap two shades. The other was a room darkening shade. We call it room darkening, but it is very nearly a blackout shade. Very little light penetrates the shade. This has proven successful for nurseries and home occupants who need to sleep during the day.
D&WC: What are your strengths in the marketplace?
Militello: Our strengths are what I previously talked about. We make an attractive, low cost, cut-to-size, peel-and-stick window covering. The product has universally been accepted and is readily available through a number of outlets, and may I also add, Redi Shade is 100 percent made in America.