As blinds, shades
and “alternative” window coverings steal the stage from
draperies, a new way to sell window products is now an industry
standard. Custom drapery sales have always been about design, decoration,
ornamentation, beauty, personalization, creativity and the “feeling”
in a room set by window fashions. Functional considerations are
important in custom draperies, but are secondary to design and color.
The new way to sell window coverings started with the functional benefits of blinds and shades. Design, personalization and ornamentation were—and are—secondary. This is not criticism, just observation. In fact, drapery retailers can learn a lot about the value of simplifying their businesses. Blinds and shades retailers reach high sales levels more quickly than has ever been achieved through selling draperies. There are multiple reasons for that; a lot of it has to do with mass-market appeal and other factors. But that is a different story.
HIGH SALES—NEW CHALLENGE
The issue today is to recognize that thousands of window coverings specialists have no knowledge of draperies and a limited knowledge of decorating. Their selling features are functional values of durability, performance, light control, privacy and thermal benefits. This functional sales approach is new to our industry. And it works!
The benefit to homeowners of branded alternative window coverings is indisputable. The rapid growth in the number of new window coverings dealers is obvious to anyone who looks in the yellow pages. The ability of these dealers to achieve high sales quickly leaves drapery dealers in awe. With continued innovation in branded window products, this segment will outpace drapery sales growth for years to come. That’s the good news. Now the challenge: Functional features lead to commodity pricing.
Branded products that serve functional needs become commodities in the marketplace. Window products are becoming similar to appliances such as washers, dryers and refrigerators. Consumers compare brands and model numbers and buy from the dealer with the best price. The result is eroding profit margins and a new challenge for leaders to lift themselves out of the rat race of price competition. The good news is, there is a solution. From years of marketing custom draperies there is a wealth of experience to call on.
TWO SALES CULTURES
In our industry there are actually two selling cultures: One is function and price; the other is beauty, pride in home and long-term relationships. Let’s call these cultures “Commodity Selling” and “Concept Selling.”
This second culture is one in which we sell ideas and feelings above products and price. There is no equivalent in flooring sales, in appliances, or other manufactured products. Only when customization exists will a “Concept Culture” emerge.
Concept selling evolved from decorating and design. The exciting discovery is that you don’t have to be a decorator to apply this culture! You can apply the same principles to selling blinds, fashion shadings and shutters, even if you don’t sell draperies and you are not a decorator. If you do sell draperies, Concept Selling is even more powerful.
Commodity Selling—promoting function and price—is standard technique for moderate-income homeowners. But the power is to discover that upscale and moderate income homeowners respond even more to Concept Selling—ideas, beauty, pride and personal attention for long-term relationships.
Any retailer who serves upscale clients in better homes will earn bigger sales and higher margins by selling beauty and personal service.
COMMODITY VS. CONCEPT SELLING
The new task is to transition to Concept Selling and to use it with every customer, upscale or moderate. Concept Selling begins by learning about the customer’s goals and dreams for her home. If she is buying new window coverings, chances are other things are in the works—new flooring, furniture, wall coverings and more. The more you are aware, the more you can personalize a window covering solution to fit her needs.
Next is to realize that beauty and pride in home are important to every homeowner. Your ideas are powerful. When you sell the homeowner on the concept of a beautiful room her friends will love, then functional features—and pricing—are less important.
Homeowners will always pay more for ideas than for products. This does not mean you must be a decorator. It does mean you should be more than a product specialist. You want to become a consultant with an understanding of home decorating projects, even products you don’t sell. Then your knowledge becomes part of the value the customer buys.
THE CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY
The challenge is to know when to change and how to go about it. The time to start is after you have gained confidence from two years in business and, ideally, less than five years at which point you may become entrenched.
Whether you sell only hard products or a combination of hard and soft treatments, you can accelerate growth and add five to 10 percent in gross margins. The result will be more satisfied customers and thousands of dollars more income every year.
How to go about it is the next task. If you would like to learn more, request my “Ten Tips to Stop Selling Commodities and Start Selling Concepts.” Just send an email to concept.selling@custEmers.com. Be sure to include your name and city.
PROFESSIONALS AND SPECIALISTS
If you want to be different, learn to sell concepts and ideas. For example, selling wood blinds might involve selling the ideas of nature, authenticity, a warm look in the room and a sense of finely crafted wood furniture. When the customer buys these ideas, wood blinds become a perfect solution. Only after the ideas win the customer should you discuss functional benefits as a clincher. When you sell concepts first, the product just tags along. You can do it! Start today.
Steven C. Bursten is the retired founder of Decorating Den Interiors and author of a how-to book on new business start up, Bootstrap Entrepreneur. He is president of custEmers.com, specializing in affordable Internet marketing tools along with tried and true techniques. Bursten welcomes your questions about marketing, sales and customer relationships. Request his new report for businesses that sell $1 million a year—or want to: “Solutions for Million Dollar Managers” via e-mail: million.dwc@custEmers.com.