“Window coverings is the best business in the world! Why? Because it is equal parts product and service. There is no other business like it.”
Things you buy for your home are predominantly either a product or a service. Flooring, lamps and furniture require some degree of service, but are predominantly products. Architects, remodeling, lawn care, cleaning and maintenance are predominantly services.
Only custom window coverings, conducted at the professional level, is equal parts product and service. The products—blinds, shadings, shutters and draperies—exist as tangible items and represent an important share of what the customer pays for. However, the service aspect represents an equal part of the value. This is unusual in American business. I challenge you to find another business like it.
• When you take samples to the home, present them under the customers’ lighting and with their furniture, that is a service.
• When you take measurements, write specification orders and supervise fabrication to your specifications, that is a service.
• When you present good ideas about how to make the windows exciting so her room comes alive with beauty and personality, that is a service.
• When you arrange installation, and go on the job to be sure it is installed correctly, that is a service.
• When you come back to fix the cords or adjust the length, that is a service.
• When you call to remind your customer about a special offer or to introduce new products, that is a service.
• When you distribute flyers with decorating tips, product information and special savings, that is a service.
Customers can buy products without service, but your best customers want service and will pay for it.
Customers can buy products on the Internet, from catalogues and from building materials store. They can buy them for less if they forgo the service. Without service, the product’s inherent worth is 40 to 50 percent less. But the benefit the customer receives with professional service makes the product more valuable. The bundle of product and service combined may double the price of the product alone!
PROFESSIONALS WIN WITH
The word professional implies education, skill and experience. Architects, medical doctors, accountants and interior designers are professionals who acquire skills through education and experience. Here is a simple truth about our wonderful window coverings business: The more professional you are, the more you can beat competitors without lowering your prices. You will win with knowledge and ideas, not commodity pricing.
Just as you tell a child to go to college to increase lifetime earnings, the same is true about a window coverings professional. The more education you have, the more money you can make. You make more on the original sale, and you win more repeat and referral sales. Why? Because your best customers like to do business with professionals. They will remember your great service long after they remember whether you charged $100 more or less.
EDUCATION IS MORE THAN PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE
Education also is more than decorating knowledge. Our industry is very good at teaching product knowledge, generally from manufacturers, and that is important. We are very good at learning decorating and color. There are hundreds of sources, and anyone who wants to learn window treatment design and room decorating can do so. But to be a professional, you need more education than knowing products and decorating alone.
If you are an employee:
• You need education to promote more appointments with phone calls and flyers.
• You need education to close larger sales at higher profit margins so you earn more commission.
• You need to know how to build a following so customers call you and consult with you before they do anything in their home.
• You need to know how to encourage repeat purchases and referrals.
• You need to know how to use your time wisely to see more customers without feeling rushed.
If you are a business owner:
• You need to know how to advertise.
• You need to know how to plan your growth.
• You need to know how to hire employees.
• You need to know how to plan an exit strategy when you are ready to sell your business or have others manage it for you.
• You need to know special marketing programs for realtors, builders, new home buyers and redecorators.
NEED FOR LEARNING AS A
Sometime ago, I realized how much there is to learn in this great industry. I started training business owners to sell almost 30 years ago, writing the first glossary of terms and the first sales manuals in the window coverings industry. Today, I have the help of Jo Ann Brezette and others. We know that professionals want to win against competition by selling to better customers, not by selling for less to price-shopping bargain hunters.
If you are committed to a lifetime career in window coverings because you recognize the unique nature of products and services that exists nowhere else, and if you are committed to educating yourself as a professional, there is no doubt you will achieve the financial rewards and status you seek. I look forward to hearing from you, meeting you and sharing the treasure that this industry brings to all of us.
Author’s Note: I want to express my appreciation to Howard Shingle, Carolyn Silberman and John Clark for the exceptional story about my 45 years in the industry published in last month’s issue (see D&WC, July 2005, page 22). This was an exceptional tribute and Valerie and I appreciate it. I also want to thank the readers of this column for passing on to D&WC the value you find in reading these articles. It is because of your interest that D&WC continues this forum for me to share ideas and experiences from more than four decades of learning and service to this great industry.
This 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 call (888) 333-8981.