As part of Draperies & Window Coverings' 20th anniversary celebration, each month we will return to early issues of the magazine to revisit interviews, advice and columns providing interesting, pertinent and fun historical perspectives on our industry.
Weathering the past few years hasn't been easy for anyone associated with the housing market, but perhaps those of us selling window coverings have faced the most unique aspect of the situation.
Many consumers, with fewer decorating dollars, began shopping strictly for price. Still, partially due to expensive energy, they kept buying—if only a single window covering. This encouraged a broader variety of retail outlets to enter the field.
Simultaneously, style options multiplied. Along came woven woods, mini-blinds, etc. Any one of which could perform the same basic functions as a drapery. And all of which could be easily added to a retail line because they required minimum investment and floor space.
So more and more outlets, offering more and more products, began competing for fewer and fewer dollars. What happened? Massive discounting. Per-unit profit deteriorated. In-store service became "too expensive" and, in many cases, was abandoned. In the wild price scramble that followed, everyone was hurt—including consumers, left to their own devices when it came to help with style and product knowledge. Today, it's a brighter picture. Housing starts are up. Dollars are returning to the marketplace. And each of us must decide whether we wish to perpetuate the puny per-unit profit—or try to up the profit on each sale.
Can we really break the discount cycle? I think so, simply by returning to the way we all used to earn our keep. In those profitable years, qualified sales people assisted confused customers. In the process, those specialists had opportunities to sell up—not just for the sake of extra dollars, but for the ultimate good of the consumer. Their homes were more beautiful and more comfortable, and customers were more than willing to pay for services rendered.
Some retailers are undoubtedly saying, "I don't have time or money for sales training," and it may be true if they had been riding the discount merry-go-round.
Manufacturers must help.
All of us who supply goods to the industry, whether custom treatments, ready-mades or drapery rods, must offer support in the training effort with qualified people who can help train your staff, and we must provide definitive sales literature. Then, even if sales personnel don't have all the answers, they'll know where to find them quickly. And that makes them the experts.
Another step is heating up the market, and what an opportunity! During the lean years, millions of prospects simply postponed buying. They're ready now. Millions more cost-conscious customers settled for a single window treatment—a shade, a mini-blind, etc. Although these are practical ways of covering a window, they are not aesthetically complete. And appearance is still the overriding factor in the selection of a window treatment.
Now is the time to whet their appetites with layered window treatments. By adding curtains or draperies (ready-made or custom, depending on your clientele), the window takes on a finished look. Not only is the treatment functional, it's an enhancement to the total home. At the least, you sell an overtreatment and a rod; at the most, a total package.
The variety is almost endless. You have the mini-blinds, shades, pleated shades, woven woods, etc. that are ideal for undertreatments, but there have been innovations in overtreatments, too. Super-full ruffled curtains to hang on bright pole sets or fat wood poles; deep-pocket curtains to hang (on four-inch wide curtain rods) for a shirred, valance look; specialized systems that produce roll pleats, knife-edged pleats or simply sliding panels. Even some undertreatments can be teamed—vertical blinds over pleated shades, etc.
Fabric choice is far more flexible today. Because undertreatments take care of function and sun fading, the field is open to the use of lighter weight materials, more trendy prints and geometrics, and more fashionable colors.
The potential is there. To maximize it, manufacturers must continue to develop new products and easy-to-use, in-store merchandising. But we must all push the layered look in national advertising and consumer literature. (Somewhat immodestly, I point to the Kirsch advertising campaign and our "Window Shopping" book.)
The window coverings retailer can support this effort at the local level by showing layered looks in dress displays, in local ads, in photos, in model homes, etc. The sales staff should never stop with just the first half of the purchase, but must explain the second.
If we all work together, offering service and pressing for the second sale, profits will improve. The time to trade up to the layered look is now!