Preston Petty, owner of Blinds & Designs, Tiburon, CA, knows the answers to these questions because that’s how well his business did last year. If you do the math, it comes out to $2.25 million in sales from one 1,800-square-foot showroom.
Petty is open and honest about his formula for success. It’s based on his approach to business, generating referrals and qualified leads, conveying an “overwhelming sense of helpfulness, service and knowledge” and letting others know about it. “Just as in real estate they say, ‘location, location, location,’ what we do is ‘marketing, marketing, marketing,’” Petty says.
There’s still one more quality that’s an important factor in Blinds & Designs’ success: Petty’s constant challenging with more what-if questions. “What if we could get our lead volume up to six leads a day? What if we could close 85 percent instead of 80? What if we could get our average ticket to $2,000 instead of $1,700? That,” he says, “could put us up to $3.6 million.”
CENTERS OF INFLUENCE
Petty’s approach to sales is honest and helpful. “We do not go in with the idea of selling anything. We don’t try to close on the spot. We don’t use any of the traditional selling techniques,” he explains. “We just try to ask the right questions and be well enough schooled in all of the options so that we can fairly quickly narrow down for the customer what may have seemed like a complex issue, and let them know what the budgetary impact is of each of the options in a real straightforward manner.”
Whether the sale begins with a phone call, a visit to the showroom on an in-home consultation, the first step is to establish a rapport with the customer. The next step is to ask questions to learn why the customer is interested in window coverings. “We find out if they are looking for a more complete, finished look to their home,” Petty says, “or maybe it’s a recent remodel, maybe they want to upgrade the look, maybe there are privacy issues. A lot of issues here involve views. People want view retention as well as UV protection, so sun shades are probably the fastest growing part of our business in addition to motorization.”
Throughout this process, the most important thing is to communicate that at Blinds & Designs they really know what they are doing—it’s what separates them from all others, especially the Big Box stores. “It’s impossible for someone who is in every possible area of home improvement to know every nuance of window coverings unless that’s something they do every day,” Petty says. “We try to impart in customers an overwhelming sense of helpfulness, service, knowledge.”
Petty’s marketing strategy is a little unusual based on his target market. Marin County, CA, is a “fairly affluent area” with a population of about 250,000, he says. It’s also pretty much built out, with very few new home developments to go after, so Petty has to be aggressive in the remodeling market. That might mean stopping at a home because there is a debris dumpster outside—a sure sign that some remodeling is going on. “If there is a construction trailer outside, we’ll go and introduce ourselves to the construction foreman, leave some information, brochures and photographs with an offer and ask them to give that to the owner,” Petty says.
“What drives our business is referrals and leads,” he continues, so his marketing efforts concentrate on what he calls “centers of influence.” “We do very little newspaper advertising, very little advertising directed to the end user, but a tremendous amount of repeat mailings to realtors, designers, architects, builders, developers—people who influence others in the purchase of window coverings,” he explains.
In addition, Petty belongs to three networking groups—groups that allow only one member from each industry represented. From these, Petty gets leads from members involved in window replacement, painting and flooring—“professional people who are in homes all the time,” he explains.
Still, there is no better lead than a happy customer. Petty maintains a database of current customers and tries to mail to them every six to eight weeks. He credits his high closing ratio partly to the fact that many of the calls Blinds & Designs receives are referrals from other customers. The remainder of the company’s marketing effort is based on two key points: high visibility and specialization.
Blinds & Designs’ 1,800-square-foot showroom is located in Tiburon’s Cove Shopping Center, an upscale area just minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is clean, spacious and uncluttered, offering a large and eclectic selection of custom hard and soft window coverings options including shades, blinds and shutters as well as domestic and imported fabrics.
Blinds & Designs’ showroom opened early last year. Before that, Petty operated out of his home, then shared office and warehouse space. The new showroom had an immediate impact on his business. “When we opened our showroom, our dollar volume went up 25 percent, even though 2001 was a tough year,” Petty says. Even though most sales take place in the customer’s home, customers will stop by the showroom at some point in the process, which adds validity to the sales presentation. “The showroom makes a very positive impression on them,” Petty says. “They see that we are a real business and not just someone with a van, a cell phone number and a sample line.”
Don’t discount the vans, however. Blinds & Designs operates a small fleet of vans for in-home sales and installations. Each is clearly and uniformly marked with the store logo and telephone number. Petty admits he gets a lot of business from customers who see the van and remember the name and number.
Customer service and product knowledge are two important ways Blinds & Designs distinguishes itself from competition. Another is by specializing in plantation shutters and motorization options—both high-end product lines with market growth potential.
Petty believes that too many retailers, especially those new to the industry, obsess about the competition, particularly the mass merchandisers. “What they do and what we do is very different. We cannot be as good as they are at what they do, but what we can do is provide incredible service. Someday they may become as good as we are at what we do, and so my insurance policy against that is to develop expertise—both in myself and in my key staff people—in motorization,” he says.
In fact, Petty admits that motorization is a big part of why his average sales ticket is so high, adding that Blinds & Designs is doing quite a few motorization jobs these days. “In fact, we have one job going on right now in one home that is about a $45,000 job, which involves 28 motorized Duettes,” he says.
BUSINESS IS BUSINESS
Petty himself is fairly new to the industry, although he’s not new to running a successful business. He began 27 years ago in the apparel industry where he built sales from $1.8 million dollars to $45 million a year before leaving to start his own fashion clothing line. By the time he sold his company in 1990, he was doing $22 million a year in sales.
Petty took a few years off, keeping busy doing volunteer work in his community. He got involved in the window coverings industry when he felt it was time to start a new career and an ad for a window blinds franchise caught his eye. He left there in 1995, however, to start Blinds & Designs. “I fairly quickly figured out that their way of doing business and mine were different. So we parted company,” he says.
Petty’s way of doing business has had its obvious rewards, and his background in business (with a Master’s degree in business administration) has served him well. What’s more, Petty believes basic, good business skills can work for others. “At some point you have to have a global view of your business as a business. It’s not unlike any other business. It boils down to what your overall sales and margin objectives are on an annual basis, and that should break down to a monthly or weekly goal, and that should break down to a daily goal, and that breaks down to each sale.
“You have to find what your average sale is going to be realistically and how many closes you have to make at that average sale amount to reach your objective, and to get that many closes how many leads you will need to generate. Then, how are you going to generate those leads?” he explains.
Petty says early in his career he tried everything to get those leads: radio, television and newspapers. “I’ve never been afraid to throw money at various things to see what worked,” he says. “Nothing works better or is more valuable than a referral. That is the most precious type of lead generation.” And that is what Petty has taught his four designer/salespeople. They always ask for a referral—sometimes, he laughs, more strongly than they ask for the sale.
Will Petty’s business approach continue working given the economic uncertainties some say lay ahead? He thinks so, but he also knows it will require challenging himself and his employees with those what-if questions. “Whether times are good or bad, no matter how well you’re doing, you can’t take anything for granted. As soon as you start patting yourself on the back and thinking how great you’re doing things can start to go wrong,” he says. “I don’t think we’ve necessarily weathered the storm, but I think there will always be an opportunity for a business with integrity that is highly service oriented in which the people know their products.”