A light bulb went off while presenting a class at the Custom Home Furnishings Educational Conference and Trade Show event in Fort Washington, PA, in September. Maybe some of you knew it all along. With years of experience in this wonderful industry I should have seen it clearly long before this. What I discovered was the reality of how fear keeps businesses small.
Fear holds business owners back for years while they try to gain confidence.
It may never lose its grip for a person’s entire career. In fact,
our industry has created a crutch to prevent a person from mastering
his fear. Fear applies to both men and women in our industry, but
holds women back more so than men. I know the gender issue is the
“third rail” in our business, but it is too important to
too many business owners to sweep under the rug any longer.
HOW FEAR HOLDS BACK MEN
Our window fashions industry has evolved in the last 10 years into
two separate specialties: men sell blinds, shadings, shutters and
“hard” products. Women sell draperies, fabrics and decorative
window designs. Of course, there are exceptions, but anyone who studies
the more than 2,000 new business owners that start up each year knows
this is the general rule.
So, how does fear hold men back? Men reach about $200,000 to $300,000
in sales, often installing their own products. Men often build their
customer base on new home construction. It’s a perfect, identifiable
market segment. They can find new construction areas, send direct
mail pieces, knock on doors, distribute door hangers, meet builders
and promote themselves. When a homeowner moves in, they need privacy
and light control. That’s perfect for the products men typically
But, after two or three years men sense they are missing a big opportunity.
They realize that the homeowners who originally could afford only
blinds and shadings, now want their homes to look beautiful. These
homeowners begin buying draperies . . . and will do so the rest of
their lives, room by room, and on into their next homes. Men miss
out on this repeat business.
MEN ARE AFRAID TO SELL DRAPERIES
Men soon learn that blinds and hard products are competitive commodities,
difficult to earn good margins. But they are afraid to do something
about it. Drapery sales would solve the problem, but men fear how
complicated draperies are. They are afraid to learn the one thing
that could lift them above competition and give them a more profitable
Yes, draperies are complicated, but when you follow a system of charting
and pricing correctly, they are actually easier to measure and more
forgiving than blinds. Solving this fear could make men a lot more
money and give them experience to manage decorators and build an organization.
HOW FEAR HOLDS WOMEN BACK
Fear is even worse for women. This was the insight I discovered in
Pennsylvania. When I asked the audience why they don’t call back
customers for more business, they told me they were afraid something
would be wrong. They feared hearing about a problem.
When we discussed the dynamics of errors in this business, women in
the audience agreed they wanted their draperies to be perfect. Even
after discussing the true customer dynamics, that it is better to
have an occasional error and make it right than it is to be perfect,
they couldn’t accept the idea. (Large window coverings businesses
know that customers like them better when they fix something that
goes wrong. It’s better than if nothing went wrong in the first
PERFECTION IS BORN OF FEAR
That is when the truth came out. When I asked why is it so important
to be perfect, women in the audience said they were afraid the customer
would not like them if they were not perfect. Wow! There it is. The
issue is not so much striving for perfection, but fear of rejection!
(I expect your flames of disagreement to be rising, but I urge you
to look in the mirror and think about whether this might be true.
Most every woman in our audience agreed that it is.)
We talked more and learned that fear is the reason that women don’t
distribute flyers in neighborhoods—fear that people will question
their status, and might reject them. Fear is why they don’t like
to make phone calls—fear they will intrude at dinnertime, and
a customer will reject them. Fear is why they don’t ask for e-mail
addresses to send a newsletter—fear that someone considers it
personal and might tell them no. That is the real reason that many
women charge a fee for a sales call . . . even though they may have
less than two sales calls a week. They would rather charge a fee to
be sure someone is likely to buy, because they fear the rejection
when someone does not buy.
IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW
This year, our company, custEmers.com, has trained more than 100 experienced
business owners and sales consultants to learn new techniques. We
have helped others to jumpstart their businesses to a new level with
our Exciting Windows! program. After the Pennsylvania show, I thought
about business owners who struggled with the ideas we presented. I
realized, it is not whether they believed the ideas in their mind
but, instead, they resisted because of fear of rejection.
Our industry tells designers to charge for a consultation and to question
callers on the phone to be sure they know how much custom products
sell for. These business owners may have only one customer phone call
a week, but they are told, “Don’t waste your time on unqualified
customers.” Yet, that is how every great business owner got started
. . . going on a lot of calls where people said no, until they learned
how to persuade customers to say yes.
If you have all the business you can handle and choose to charge a
consulting fee because you cannot accept many more customers, that
is a different story. If you have an outside source of income and
are not selling to earn a living, then that is not the point I am
making here. I am talking about the thousands of drapery designers
that sell less than $100,000 a year and need a larger business to
be financially viable. For those owners, overcoming fear may be the
most important thing they can do.
I urge all those who do not need appointments to encourage women who
do to overcome their fears and go on every appointment they can. Don’t
give them a crutch to avoid rejection by charging for appointments.
It is a guaranteed formula to stay small.
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
Change is never easy. Confidence is the opposite of fear. So how does
one acquire confidence? Only two ways: training and experience. Our
industry places priority on design and product skills, but little
priority on sales skills. Few small business owners have a system
for pricing quickly and closing a sale on the first call. (Every large
business has such a system.) The solution is simple, but it isn’t
easy: Face your fear. The first order of business every day is to
make the phone call you most do not want to make and to see the person
you do not want to see.
If you really want to grow, send for my “Ten Tips to Overcome
Fear and Build Your Business.” Send an e-mail to no.fear@custEmers.com.
You will find exactly what to do and the exact order to do it. With
2004 coming to a close and time for New Year resolutions at hand,
it may be time to become the confident business owner you want to
be. I will tell you the first step: Be proud of yourself and who you
are. You do not have to be perfect. Just strive to do your best. Then
meet people every chance you can. As you face your fears they will
evaporate and you will wonder why they controlled you for so long.
article is based on Steven C. Bursten’s actual experience with
sales and financial information working with hundreds of window coverings
businesses. Whether you are a sole manager who aspires to higher sales
or you manage 50 window fashion decorators in a multi-million dollar
business, this series will help you manage sales better and increase
your profitability. Bursten is the retired founder of Decorating Den
Interiors and author of a how-to book on new business start up, “Bootstrap
Entrepreneur,” and is a leading expert in window coverings marketing,
sales systems and sales management through his company, custEmers.com.
Questions and comments welcome: email@example.com or (888) 333-8981.
For a report, “Why your customers love shop-at-home, and so should
you,”send a request with your business name and address to sah@custEmers.com