Beginning as a one-man installation company in 1983, the Scotts made the leap into retail when they moved into a storefront location in 1986. Since then, In The Shade has become a full-service window coverings operation that also offers clients fabric, decorative hardware, accessories, wallpaper and upholstery. The Scotts also have built In The Shade from $114,000 in sales to $760,000 in 1995, "a banner year," Wesley Scott says.
Success for In The Shade is based on several factors: the knowledge and commitment Wesley and Jan bring to the business, a diverse product line that includes high-end fabrics and window treatments and providing customers with honest, helpful service.
Making the Sale
Scott has been in retail long enough to begin seeing 10-year repeat customers. They are area residents who may have purchased $6,000 in shutters when the store opened in 1986, he explains, and now are ready to remodel with $4,000 in new window treatments.
Most customers are single-family home owners, in fact, they are second-home owners coming to Florida to escape the winter. "About 60 percent of the population is snowbirds," Scott says. As a result, In The Shade's busy season runs from September to May, with three-fourths of its annual business coming in the five-month span from November to April.
What are customers looking for? "Help," Scott answers. "Often, customers will immediately put up a wall of defense," he says. "Most are afraid they can't afford what they want, but they'll never know until they ask." Scott tries to make customers feel comfortable. "We tell them, 'We don't blame you for shopping.'" he says.
The first step in making a sale is "to invite customers into the store and show them who we are," Scott says. "We show customers their options, then begin narrowing down the product and color selections," he says. Finally, samples are taken to the customers' home so they can see what they look like there.
Customer satisfaction is paramount for In The Shade. "Next to price, service is the most important thing for customers," Scott says. His advice: "Give them what they want, and be honest."
"When there's a back-order or a shipping delay we'll contact the customer immediately, explain it to them, and ask if they would like to choose a different pattern or design," Scott says. "We try to confront every issue head on," he adds. "I will lose money on a sale or break even to keep that customer satisfied," he claims. "They didn't come into my store to make compromises," he says.
The In The Shade formula is this: Find a customer with a need, fulfill that need, and the end result is a sale and a satisfied customer who will tell friends. For In The Shade, an average sale ranges from $5,700 to $7,000, Scott estimates, but adds that doing $25,000 in window treatments is not uncommon. And there are customers who have become like family. "Some customers stop by the store just to say 'Hello,'" Scott says.
"Knowledge and commitment to customers" are necessary ingredients for a successful retailer, Scott says. "Customers must feel that you know what you're doing. That instills in them the confidence to make the buying decision," he says.
For Wesley and Jan Scott, that would come almost as second nature. Both have solid backgrounds in the business. Jan Scott is an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). She also has a degree in interior design, and operated her own design business for a time.
Wesley grew up in the business, starting in his home town of Knoxville, TN, where both his mother and grandmother had workrooms. "I did my first installation for my grandmother when I probably was in the third grade," he says. In those days, installations were pretty simple, he recalls. Just about every drapery rod went up four inches above and four inches out from the window trim. He says his grandfather made a template for him, so all he needed was an awl to place starter holes. Several years later, Wesley moved to Miami with his mother and started his own installation business. He worked with several designers as a sub-contractor with between 15 and 20 accounts. Often, while taking measurements at a customer's home, Scott would have ideas about what treatments would work well and pass the ideas on to the designer. He later realized that more and more often he was installing the treatments he had recommended. "On a gut feeling" he moved to Stuart and opened for retail. Scott's philosophy of being the best at one thing applies to workrooms. In The Shade does not have its own, instead Scott deals with several workrooms based on which products each does best. For example, draperies, bedspreads and upholstery are handled by different workrooms.
Scott has one sub-contract installer who dedicates two days a week to In The Shade. But even so, he has stand-bys if needed. In the store, coordinator Mary Caldwell is responsible for accounts payable and setting appointments. She also helps with customers and, along with Jan, fills in any gaps.
Display of Perfection
Wesley and Jan Scott may strive to be the best at one thing, but In The Shade presents a full gamut of the best in interior fashion products and services. The 1,200-square-foot storefront features several vignettes displaying products from custom cornices with swags, to fabrics, shades and blinds, drapery hardware, accessories, shutters and upholstered furniture.
Inside the store, and visible from outside though the eight-foot-tall expanse of windows, these vignettes feature a bit of everything. An old Singer sewing machine stands draped in fabric samples and surrounded by a Queen Anne chair with an upholstered seat, a miniature bed with a custom bedspread and matching upholstered headboard and several shutter samples. Beyond that are two freestanding displays showcasing the complete line of Hunter Douglas products and a blinds display that includes decorative ropes and tassels.
A 10-foot rack of layered fabric sample books, a bookcase of wallpaper sample books and a complete display of shutters from Biltmore Shutter Co. are the largest product displays in the store. Scott says all of the shutters are operational and the showcase includes different louver sizes, arches and French doors with shutters and wood blinds.
Shutters are a big part of In The Shade's business, about 40 percent of sales, Scott estimates. Wall coverings represent 10 to 15 percent with draperies and fabric making up the balance. Jan Scott is master of the wallpaper sample books, selecting and culling them to keep them up to date and with a minimum of repeat patterns. The sample books represent "quite an investment," Scott says, but he adds "sales are up 60 percent, mostly from walk-in customers."
For the last four years, In The Shade has been located in Regency Square, a strip mall that houses what Scott calls "a selective group of merchants." Among them are a grocery store, lighting fixtures store and movie theater. Moving here from the city's north end has "really improved business," Scott says, proving the real estate adage about the importance of location.
Recently, a shipment of 34 boxes of shutters was expected to arrive any day. With a store room no bigger than 12 feet by 16 feet, the Scotts must be ready to sell product as soon as it's received. To help, a variety of advertising methods are targeted. Most used are newspaper ads, mainly because "co-op money is available," Scott says. But he adds that newspaper advertising returns the lowest response rate. The store gets a better response from door-hanger promotional pieces and even better response from an ad in the local yellow pages.
An unusual place to find ads for In The Shade is on the movie screens in the nearby theater. Before a movie starts, there are the coming attractions. But before the coming attractions, movie theaters often run bits of motion picture trivia, and spots for local businesses. The In The Shade ads feature three or four seconds of live action (he and Jan walking through the showroom) followed by the store's name, address and telephone number. These ads often lead to walk-in sales, which, Scott explains, are his next largest source of customers. Beyond that, of course, are referrals -- solid, qualified potential customers who have sought out the store thanks to a recommendation from a satisfied client. But Scott's most successful advertising venue is his van. "It's paid for; it has the company name on it; it has product names on it; and people see it in customers' driveways," he says. Scott describes the competition in Stuart as "everything you can imagine." There are national chain box stores and warehouse home stores, other storefront retailers and home-based operations. There are even people selling window treatments from the trunks of their cars, he adds. "Those last two are the most difficult to deal with because they sell products that are easy to price shop," he says. "Retailers can't get caught up in the dog-eat-dog price wars," Scott advises. He adds that In The Shade's success is based on diversity of product lines, which allows him to add on sales.
This past summer Scott did something other successful retailers have done before -- he opened a second location. Unlike most others, the second store is six states away, in Scottsdale, AZ. Scott has other business dealings in the state, so locating a store "in the heart of Scottsdale" was a logical choice.
At 1,600 square feet, the Scottsdale store is slightly larger than his Florida operation, but it sells alternate window treatments almost exclusively.
Future plans call for opening even more stores, Scott says. "I'd like to take every opportunity that knocks and go with it, act upon it," he says. "Owning our own company means there's nobody to tell us we can't do something. We can be positive every day," Scott says. "Everyone has a dream," he adds. "Sometimes it's far-fetched. Sometimes it nearer to reality than you'd expect."