Hundreds of husbands and wives work together part-time and full-time in window coverings businesses across the nation. How does it work out? What are the pros and cons? Does it strengthen or rupture a marriage? Two events drive this analysis front and center.
END IT OR BUILD IT
If your marriage is rocky, working together probably will end it.
If you’re grounded in mutual respect and friendship, beyond even
love, then working together can build your marriage to new levels
and strengthen it everlasting.
I am inspired to write this column by two events: My wife and I just
returned from Cheryl Strickland’s Custom Home Furnishings Trade
Show in Greenville, SC. I conducted two classes there: one on my book
Bootstrap Entrepreneur, relating it to the window coverings business,
and a second class, “How to Manage Your Business Without Losing
Your Money or Your Mind (The Science of Management).” In both
classes roughly 20 percent of attendees were men taking notes for
their wives. (Both classes will be repeated in Philadelphia’s
Fort Washington Expo Center, September 30—see page 45) I have
been giving sales and management classes for some 20 years and this
is the highest number of note-taking husbands I have seen. Could it
be a trend?
The second event to inspire this article occurred last week as Valerie
and I celebrated our 40th anniversary of marriage. Having dated together
only 11 weeks before tying the knot, we shared this event marking
four decades of marriage with special pleasure. We have worked as
a team since the year we married. Valerie helped roll and cut goods
in the backroom of our drapery fabric jobbing operation in Kansas
City. Later, she helped me start Decorating Den and was a key instructor
for our decorating schools that launched our growth. In California
Valerie took on franchise sales and set an all-time record for more
than 150 franchises awarded in three years. So, yes, we enjoy ourselves
as an example of a husband and a wife working together in this industry.
(My special thanks to good friend, Harvey Nudelman, president of Fabricut,
for introducing us!)
PRO AND CON
The pro of working together is to share common goals and work as a
team for achievement. Husbands and wives communicate intuitively,
much better than with an employer and an employee. As owners they
give a higher standard of customer service. By working together on
challenges and opportunities, husbands and wives bring different perspectives.
Men and women see things through separate prisms and decisions are
always better when they exchange views. Finally, with children, husbands
and wives can share responsibilities.
On the con side, there are two main downsides of working together.
One is too much togetherness. Living with a person after being separated
all day is one thing. Sharing the entire day, the evening and the
night can be a bit much for many couples, especially if one partner
likes to have a little space to him- or herself occasionally. The
second is financial. A small business may not be stable enough to
support two people with no outside income. Sales may be there, but
net profits may not. There is definitely more risk. If you are determined
to do it, read chapter 15 in my book.
ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Over the years we have seen about every combination of marriage and
business roles you can find in window coverings. There are traditional
roles where one spouse keeps a full-time job and the other provides
part-time support in office administration or window products installing.
And we’ve seen unconventional roles such as Bob and Nancy Dervaes
in Richmond, VA. Nancy sells draperies; husband Bob, a savvy ex-corporate
manager with an industrial engineering degree, does the sewing for
A common role, and successful one, is when one spouse continues his
or her career and brings income to the family while the other builds
the business. This works when the spouse is helpful and supportive,
but not necessarily active in the business. Support can vary from
helping with occasional projects to attending regional and industry
events for the company and to understand the industry.
On the other hand, if a spouse is separate, not involved, not supporting,
saying, “Don’t ask me, it’s her business,” or
when things get rough advises, “Just drop this thing, we don’t
need the grief,” then it is counterproductive. The likelihood
of failure is increased because of a spouse’s distant attitude.
There are two or three very successful roles, one that always fails
and one that is exceptional in driving the business to a higher level.
By the way, couples do not have to be married for these roles to work.
Think of any man and woman bringing gender differences to the business
when they work closely as a team.
Role 1: She sells, he installs. Classic and common, you will see this
role often. She is good with draperies and decorating. Her husband
installs part-time or full-time. If he is full-time, he may do other
things in the business, such as manage finances or marketing by getting
flyers out, handling advertising and promotion, etc.
Role 2: He sells, she handles phones and administration. Another classic,
usually he specializes in blinds, shadings, shutters and “hard”
window products. Often his wife will cover the insider role—and
often has another job: raising children.
Role 3: Both sell. This is rare, but can be powerful. Where sales
rarely top $400,000 with
one person selling and $300,000 is more common, this combination can
push the business upwards of $600,000. A good inside person is essential.
The strength of this business is high family income. The downside:
few days off and almost no vacations together. Ideal is to add one
more decorator to cover things when both are gone.
ONE UNSUCCESSFUL ROLE
Once in a while a loving husband will see his wife selling $300,000
a year and be stressed from so much work. So he quits his job to help
take the pressure off. They figure sales will go up to off-set his
loss of job income. They don’t. Now the business doesn’t
stress them, but losing $40,000 to 50,000 or so in income does. Don’t
ONE EXCEPTIONAL ROLE
Sometimes a wife has an exceptionally pleasant personality—positive,
humorous and seemingly soft and lighthearted. But underneath she has
a steely determination to achieve high potential. With a supportive
husband who also is goal driven, this couple can do something very
rare together: recruit and build a sales team. The wife attracts women
and men who want to decorate and sell window coverings. The husband
provides stability and direction. Managed correctly, this team can
build an exceptional business and everyone has a lot of fun.
If you are a husband and wife thinking about working in the business
as a team, consider it carefully. if your marriage is solid, then
years from today you will look back and remember your times together
as some of your fondest memories. Even better, as you age, you will
have interests in common and your marriage will withstand the tests
of time as you go the distance into retirement years.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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