In February 2002, Donna Buice, Jeff Erbeck and John Edwards formed Window Products Management, Inc., Ventura, CA, out of a home office on what most people would consider a shoestring budget: an initial investment of $10,000. Three months later this management company purchased its first window treatments business. Eighteen months later, it purchased its second. Now, three years later, after doubling sales each year, Window Products Management (WPM) is anticipating $5 million in sales.
Is that possible—so quickly? “It’s been phenomenal,”
says Edwards. “All along the process we’ve gotten raised
eyebrows and people shaking their heads—our accountant particularly.
Those numbers are quite real.”
You don’t have to be much of a detective, or have the sharp,
inquisitive mind of Ventura native Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry
Mason to discover the secret of their success, it’s printed
right on WPM’s business cards: “Planning, Implementation
& Management.” For our purposes, we’ll add: People.
Buice, Erbeck and Edwards agree that they work for the three nicest
people in town.
“John, Jeff and I are a good team,” Buice says. “We
check each other. I don’t think one person can offer what the
three of us do.”
“We have three great people here with very different things
to bring to the table,” Erbeck adds. “We’re a good
blend. We drive each other. We have goals. We’re a great team.
We push each other. We’re dedicated to our customers, and they
The same can be said for the seven other employees, including three
full-time installers. “Our people are great. Our employees
have a great reputation. We get calls all the time about our salespeople,”
Buice says. “It’s more like a family-operated business.”
Finding, training and keeping good people can seem a monumentally
difficult task, but that, too, is handled with planning and hard
work. “It’s a chore. We’ve gone through a few, but
we have very good salespeople now,” Erbeck says. “I think
the key is, we train our salespeople very well. Knowledge is king.
The more you know than your competitors the better off you are.”
But it all comes back to planning, implementation and management.
“We run our little business like a big business,” Edwards
says. “We have a business plan, a marketing plan, an operations
manual and an employee manual. We have a very clear vision of what
we are and who we are in today’s market, constantly tracking,
measuring results and making changes to improve our business. Our
marketing has made the phones ring, and we make sure that our customers
are well taken care of throughout the process.”
MAKING THE MOVE
Edwards and Erbeck first met when they worked for a national window
treatments manufacturer based on the West Coast. During those years
they visited literally hundreds of window coverings businesses across
the country and brought what they learned from their most successful
customers to WPM’s business plan. Buice worked for 10 years
as a schoolteacher, challenging students to a higher level of learning.
She also brings an administrative and accounting services background
and experience with setting up a computerized bookkeeping system.
Today, Edwards is responsible for marketing WPM’s companies.
Erbeck trains the sales staff and reviews all products and pricing.
Buice manages all aspects of day-to-day operations. Edwards and
Erbeck call her the “architect behind the internal workings
of the company.”
When they first got together to begin planning for WPM, the three
weren’t sure what their first move should be. “We weren’t
sure when we first started if we wanted to create a brand new entity.
All of us were working at the time so we weren’t under any
real pressure to start generating revenue immediately,” Edwards
explains. “We started planning, and putting our business plan
together, and then a local company became available and we decided
to make the move and buy.”
That company was Arjay’s Window Fashions. The company had a
good reputation and Edwards and Erbeck knew the owner as a former
customer. Under WPM management, it wasn’t long before Arjay’s
began affecting local competition. That’s when they were approached
by the owner of Mr. B’s Shutters & Blinds.
“The owner of Mr. B’s came to us. We had taken a lot of
his market,” Edwards says. “He had been there [in business]
for quite some time. It was a typical one-man show, trying to do
everything. We kept him on in an employment contract and, frankly,
he is happier now and a great member of our team.”
WPM now manages these two window treatment companies, keeping their
original identities. But the two companies really are very different.
“Arjay’s, to look at our advertising, is a little higher-end
looking. The pictures are glamour shots of room settings,”
Edwards says. “You go from that over to Mr. B’s Shutters
& Blinds. For example, our radio ads have a Rastafarian guy,
and it’s kind of this Tommy >> Bahama theme, and our
advertising has a talking Macaw saying, ‘We install for free.’
So it’s more edgy and in-your-face than Arjay’s.”
Both companies emphasize sales and service offering in-home consultation,
measuring and installation. “Our business plan is to provide
a complete turnkey window covering service,” says Edwards.
Although as much as 95 percent of sales are completed in the customer’s
home, both companies also have showrooms.
“There is a number of reasons for having the showroom. It grounds
you, it validates you,” says Edwards. “You can’t
do the type of volume we do and work out of your home and be sane.
You wouldn’t have a home life. And it’s good for customers
when you’re trying to describe how a top-down/ bottom-up works
and they can’t quite visualize that.
“We have very attractive showrooms, also two different themes.
Mr. B’s looks like a rainforest. Sandra Hilliard, the woman
who painted the mural on our wall, also did John Travolta’s
home in Florida and was featured in Architectural Digest.”
Both Arjay’s and Mr. B’s sell lots of shutters these days—about
50 percent of business, divided almost equally between wood and
vinyl. Horizontal blinds, cellular shades, vertical blinds and woven
woods top the list of their other best-selling products—all
custom-made, nothing stocked.
“We are right at this moment interviewing and looking to bring
a drapery person on,” Edwards says, “more because when
somebody calls us we want to be able to take care of them and we
don’t want to say ‘No’ or refer them to someone else.
We realize we need to be full-service to protect ourselves. Business
Trend Analysis out of New York noted a 3.3 percent increase in hard
treatments last year and soft treatments only increased by one percent,
so it’s not because we feel like we’re missing out not
selling draperies or that it’s going to be a double-digit gain
for us. It’s more about protecting our turf, so to speak.”
WPM’s marketing plan is aimed at making the phone ring and
calls for fairly aggressive advertising. The company earmarks five
percent of its sales budget for advertising, which includes yellow
pages; newspapers nearly daily, and weekly in the most-read newspaper
locally (Ventura County Star); coupon books; magazines; radio;
direct mail and home shows. For the last home show WPM sent out
1,600 complementary tickets to previous customers.
“We are always marketing on all different levels,” Edwards
says. “That’s not to say that we blindly throw money at
advertising. Donna tracks every single sale that goes through. For
example, if a salesperson turns a piece of paperwork in and the
little box isn’t filled out saying exactly, precisely where
that came from, that paperwork goes back and the salesperson gets
a phone call. They’re told we can’t process this, the
paperwork isn’t complete. So it’s really no mystery to
us. We don’t have to sit back and scratch our heads and say,
Wow, I wonder where it’s all coming from. We know where it’s
all coming from. And each avenue is given a respectable amount of
time to work and if it doesn’t work, we don’t use it anymore.”
Arjay’s and Mr. B’s also have Web sites (arjayswf.com
and mrbsblinds.com) designed to be informational. “We hear
it all the time that people checked us out on the Internet, and
that’s a great thing that someone has done that before you
go on a sales call because they’re already comfortable. There’s
pictures of us [on the sites], our biographies are there, contractor’s
license, all the information they should be looking for before they
do business with somebody,” Edwards says.
Although WPM is looking at $5 million in sales this year, it’s
not quite double last year, which has been its growth rate the first
three years. If direct-mail responses are any indication, the company
is seeing fewer sales leads from new home sales and home mortgage
refinancing. The local economy is slowing, Edwards says. For a few
years the area was in what he calls a “raging wildfire”
of real estate sales. It’s not really bad now, it’s just
not as “insane” as it was, he says.
Looking ahead, WPM is planning to build local business alliances
to attract sales. For example, the biggest window replacement contractor
in the area has its own showroom and WPM will be placing displays
DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT
WPM’s primary customers are homeowners in Ventura County and
the surrounding area. Known as the Gateway to the Channel Islands
and for its Spanish Mission San Buenaventura, the area covers a
wide demographic. “In one day our salespeople could be selling
blinds in a starter track home, then later calling on a multi-million-dollar
home overlooking the ocean,” Edwards says. “We take care
of every customer with the same high level of respect and enthusiasm.”
Typically, the average job for Arjay’s or Mr. B’s is eight
to 10 windows in a single home with an average invoice of about
$1,500. But they both are full-service companies. “We have
no issue with selling one blind at a time,” Erbeck says.
“We’ll drive across town to put a 24-inch-by-24-inch mini-blind
in somebody’s bathroom if that’s what they want. That’s
what we’re here for. We want to build such a great company
that somebody goes to their neighbor and says, Don’t even think
about it, you have got to buy from these people, it was great, the
pricing was great, they showed up on time, the installer was super
. . .”
There are plenty of other retailers in the area trying to service
this business, “and it is competitive,” Erbeck adds. But
WPM focuses on going out and doing the best job that it can. “The
key to our success is that our planning, our implementation and
our management—our infrastructure—works very well here.
The phones get answered, they’re answered quickly, appointments
are set immediately, you don’t get a recorded message that
says, ‘Hey, we’re out helping great people like you. Leave
your name and address and we’ll get back with you.’ By
the time they get back to them, we’ve already been out to their
When it comes to the Big Box home improvement stores, it becomes
a question of who is competing with whom. “With respect to
the Big Box stores, if you see our advertising, we put a bull’s-eye
right on them,” Edwards says. “We say compare us [to them].
Look at the throughput or the chain that has to occur for a sale
to go though: They sub-contract their installations out, the installer
goes out and pre-measures, the measure has to come back, the salesperson
has to work the quote up. Oftentimes, we will actually go on a sales
call, sell the job and install the product before the customer even
has the quote back from [a Big Box]. It’s just not as tightly
managed with as much professionalism and enthusiasm as a business
like ours. This is our total focus. There just ain’t no way,
no how that a Big Box store is going to compete with us.”