“Every other problem in this industry has been solved by somebody somewhere,” Bursten says, but no one has a solution for the problem facing every independent retailer who wants to really grow his business: How do I hire inexperienced decorators and build a successful sales force? This is the challenge Bursten and Steve Wishnow, vice president of advertising, Exciting Windows!, Bethesda, MD, devote most of their energy to today. “It’s one I’m going to master for our industry,” Bursten promises.
Bursten is likely to solve this problem by asking a lot of questions,
learning everything he can and integrating it into everything else
he has picked up over the years. That is what he has been doing
since 1960, when he took a job with Great Western Textiles selling
fabric samples to interior designers and drapery shops in Kansas.
Along the way he has racked up a number of successes and an impressive
list of industry “firsts.”
His perspective today covers it all, from franchising to marketing, from computers to competition, and he is putting everything he has learned into Exciting Windows! and his newest venture: Window Coverings University. “We have to have education,” Bursten says. “I think education continues to be a cornerstone of our industry. People want information. In the past it had been, ‘How do I measure?’ Then it was, ‘How do the products work?’ Today it’s, ‘How do I manage my business and make money?’ Nobody knows how to advertise. Nobody knows how to market. We’re going to bring those things to them.”
Exciting Windows! is a way for Bursten to combine what he has learned are the strengths of franchising with the strengths of local independent dealers. For dealers who have been in the industry for at least two years, Exciting Windows! offers a brand of service aimed at helping them increase business while maintaining their individual identities.
“Franchising today is so successful. They will sell as much in the first year as an independent will in five years,” Bursten says. “The reason is they have training in who to market to and there is a profile of the buyer; they have the advertising programs to go after them with words the customers want to hear; and they have systems of operation. We put all those things together—everything that a person would get in a franchise—but because it is for people in our own industry, we have a brand of service that is a trademark they can use in their businesses with their own business names. They get all the business support services that they would if they spent money for a franchise.”
Bursten understands this as well as anyone because he has done it and because he continues to study it. “I consider myself a student of the business as much as an executer because the very first store I went to I asked, What makes you successful? I asked that at least a thousand—probably two or three thousand—times, and I kept finding different answers. It took me two or three years to figure out the things that really were common among people who were successful.
“The common denominator among everyone who had a successful drapery business was the ability to sell top treatments,” he says. “That doubled the sale and got them triple the referrals.”
Another thing Bursten learned is, simply, customers love service and that has become the underlining philosophy behind Exciting Windows!
“The segments [of our industry] that are served and under-served are really fascinating to me. For example, if you take the median home value of $200,000 in America today, that means the basic custom window coverings market of alternative products is serving homeowners with $100,000 to $300,000 homes. Everyone is advertising products. They’re showing the products by name, they’re showing the prices. No one has been talking about the service. At the upper end, customers want people who have ideas. They want people who are going to come to their homes at no cost. They want people who can show them a variety of products, more than only blinds and shadings.
“I think the great opportunity of tomorrow is homeowners in the $300,000 to $800,000 segment. It is totally under-served. Nobody is advertising to that segment . . . And I think people who position themselves for that market and go after that market are going to be the real moneymakers.”
Basically, Bursten’s idea for Window Coverings University is to formalize all of the training he has done throughout his life into a standardized format to be presented in one- to three-day classes.
Part of the curriculum will focus on business training and feature advertising and marketing—the areas of greatest need in the industry. Another part will focus on products—technical know-how, functions, motorization, etc. Fabrication and installation will be covered in a third part followed by decorating and design.
“Our goal with the Window Coverings University is to develop
the content that does not exist and to license and to get the best
people for content that does exist,” Bursten says. “We
want to bring it together as one university so one person can continue
to come back and gain a professional level of knowledge and skill,
which is missing and not available in our industry today.”
By the late 1960s Bursten had decided to make window coverings his career. At the time, franchises such as McDonald’s restaurants and Holiday Inn motels were exploding across the landscape. Taking their concepts of quality, professionalism and standardization and bringing them to window coverings, he created American Drapery Consultants, Inc. in 1969. Working with Jesse Cox of Aero Drapery Co., Aero Drapery Franchise soon followed.
Bursten sold his first franchise in February 1970 for $1,200 and five percent royalty. Three years later he had sold about 40. When he broadened the business to offer carpeting and wall coverings, Bursten changed the name to Decorating Den. That’s when things really started happening.
In the early 1970s Bursten wrote the first training manuals for selling draperies and developed the first training program to bring in new, inexperienced people into the industry. A regional training event was held in Bowling Green, KY, in 1971 and a national convention for drapery sellers was held in Indianapolis, IN, in 1972.
In 1973 Decorating Den unveiled a new registered trademark and what would become the cornerstone of its marketing plan: the ColorVan. “It was magnificent,” Bursten remembers. “We were having a Christmas party and they just finished the paint job and they drove it up and the snow was falling lightly and it was the very first Decorating Den van, with that ColorVan logo on it . . . we had tears in our eyes, it was so exciting.
“The reason I developed it was that I learned years ago whatever
you’re most afraid of you’ve got to brag about. I realized
that when we added all the window coverings samples and carpeting
and wall covering samples we would have to have a truck!”
In 1976 Bursten formed the first decorating schools for business owners and their sales consultants with the help of Gordon Cremers of Minneapolis, MN. With his wife, Valerie, who had been involved in the business since the two married in 1964, they taught people how to succeed.
“It was because we had introduced carpet and wall covering, and so we showed people how to use window treatments as a focal point and how to bring the carpet and wall covering in to work all the surfaces,” Bursten explains. As part of the course, people would take shirt boards and put together swatches of carpeting, wall covering and drapery and he and Valerie would show them how to use window treatment design. “The decorating was always related to window treatment design and making a room more beautiful for less money for customers who never had an interior designer,” he says.
That very idea is as current today as it ever was. “I think even more so. I’ve found there are so many customers who want a beautiful room and they want to get there through their window treatments. I think the boom coming for draperies is going to make that even more prevalent. To me, beautifully designed window treatments will create more beauty for the money than anything they can do. ”
As illustration, Bursten tells of a colleague who admits to spending
$10,000 on a custom designed sofa and $2,000 to $3,000 on a custom
designed window treatment in the same room. “Every time someone
comes into the room do they notice the sofa? No, they see the window
treatment,” Bursten says.
The ideas kept coming. In the late ’70s Bursten created the Target Neighborhood Marketing Plan with help from Len Casey of DuPont. The plan was based on four points: 1.) Getting flyers out in the neighborhood; 2.) Canvassing (Bursten calls it friend finding); 3.) Workshops showing new trends; 4.) Follow up telephone calls.
This program led to ZIP code marketing and began the idea of focusing on demographics. “We assigned only 1,000 carefully selected targeted homes and we found that we could do $100,000 in business within a year out of 1,000 homes—that would not all come from those 1,000, but it would come from their co-workers, their friends, their relatives . . . but 30 to 50 percent would come from those homes alone,” says Bursten. “Then we realized that we should be making our assignments by ZIP codes and using ZIP code demographics to select the best areas to go.” From 1987 to 1989 using the ZIP code system and area managers Bursten supervised, Valerie sold more than 150 franchises in California.
In the 1990s Bursten created CustEmers.com, a business providing
a la carte services to the window coverings industry. The services
include Internet technology and the use of Web sites, e-mail newsletters
and Bursten’s own NameBank Vault database for customer follow
up and management. “Nobody goes after their past customers,”
Bursten says. “Why? Because they don’t have past customer
lists. Everybody has a job folder where the customer’s name
is, but no one has a computer program—or maybe five percent
do—and enter the data into a computer or even onto a Roll-a-dex.
They just don’t do it. If they want to call a customer they
go to the file, pull out the file.”
CustEmers.com also provides complete advertising services relying on Steve Wishnow’s skill and knowledge in this area. The former senior vice president of advertising for Hecht’s department store, Wishnow managed a $140 million budget for more than 20 years. “He’s very good in knowing when to use newspaper inserts and getting them developed and even TV, radio and broadcast,” Bursten says of Wishnow.
“If you tell him how much sales you want to make—at whatever level, whether it’s $100,000 a year or $1 million a year—he’s got a computer program that will now estimate a proposal for you on exactly how to spend: how much you should budget, how much should go into each media . . . it’s a baseline draft for you to refine to your own individual operation. ”
ALWAYS LOOKING AHEAD
It should be obvious by now that Bursten has had a productive past. But as noted earlier, he is not a man who is winding down his career. He still has to conquer that final frontier.
In the meantime, Bursten is very encouraging about the future of the window coverings industry. There are a lot of successes ahead, and he believes they begin right now with an upsurge in draperies.
“If you ask any of the [successful dealers] you’ll find
that their share of draperies of their total business is increasing.
And you will find that the consumer is starting to want them. What’s
happening is people are getting into the best homes they can, they’re
using all their down payment, they get blinds for privacy and light
control and about six months to a year-and-a-half later they say
‘I want to start making my home look beautiful.’ That’s
where the draperies come in. I’m confident that we have at
least six to eight years before it peaks.
“The greatest future [the industry] has ever had is ahead of it. Look at the million-dollar homes, the half-million-dollar homes, look at the affluence in America . . . what a life!”
Steve Bursten uses his unique perspective to look into the
future of the window coverings industry. What does he see?
Continue this interview with him with “What’s Ahead?”
available only on D&WC’s Web site:
Find out what Bursten says about:
• Draperies: “You can expect a boom . . . and it will be another eight years before reaching a peak.”
• Alternative Products: “We are reaching the peak of product introductions and innovation.”
• Competition: “It will get worse . . . and worse . . . and worse.”
• Finding sales consultants: “You cannot find experienced sales consultants. They aren’t looking for work.”
• Personal Promotion: “This method . . . is more powerful and costs less than any other form of client development. ”