If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Your best customer is your current customer. The trick is to know who your best customers are and to keep in touch with them—and that’s what Window Fashions and Fabrics Inc., Auburn, MA, has been quick to learn and put to use.
Four years ago, this family-run custom window treatment company
started keeping all its records on computer using one of the most
popular financial management software products available. Getting
away from paper files stored in folders somewhere has meant faster,
more consistent price quotations; fewer mistakes or lost invoices;
better tracking of sales and marketing efforts; and a customer database
that has proved invaluable in making future sales.
It’s all about keeping good records of customers and having
the information right at hand. “We run our whole business
on QuickBooks so that we have a database of our customers,”
says Dawn Lang, who oversees the workroom and is one of four family
members running Window Fashions and Fabrics. “We can print
out mailing labels—it takes about five minutes—and we’re
able to track each customer and the type of customer they are. We
can ask them when they call how they heard of us and we can categorize
them as referrals from this person or that person. We can accurately
keep track of our marketing and what’s working.”
And that’s just part of it. Accounting is included in this
system, of course, but when the company found it needed a way to
provide estimates and price quotes, Lang began working with the
software using her own workroom to develop an easy-to-use method
of estimating material and labor requirements for custom treatments
and for developing estimates. (Her work will be commercially available
beginning this month through another industry vendor.) The company
keeps track of every project it has worked on for each customer,
and now every estimate and invoice is stored as well. That has meant
better business. “If someone comes in now and says, ‘You
did my living room and I’ve moved,’ we can go look at
exactly what we did in her living room and go from there,”
This kind of information, combined with a little marketing savvy,
has led to other ways of getting customers to buy again. “One
of the sales we started this year we call The Pending Sale,”
Lang says. “We can track estimates that we’ve done,
they’re not just sitting in a folder somewhere. I can go in
and do a report on any invoice that is still only an estimate and
has never turned into a sale. We went out there, we wrote it up
for them, but they didn’t go with it. We go through and call
each one of these individually.
“People enjoy when you are honest with them. We have no problem
saying this is a slower time of year, our workroom has time, we’re
offering a percentage off if you want to go ahead with that job
that we wrote up for you. And that works very well, because we have
access to all of that information,” she explains.
A detailed and handy customer database also helps with direct mailings
to customers for things like the Holiday Deadline Sale reminding
them when the workroom has to stop taking orders for Christmas (those
mailed out in mid-September). Then there is the “J”
“About three times a year we do a mailing,” says Lang.
“We have a sale that our customers have come to know over
the years—we call it the ‘J’ Sale. It’s
January, June and July. All of the months that begin with ‘J’
turn out to be our slowest months in the workroom, so it’s
a way of turning over our fabric stock so it doesn’t get old
and as a way of keeping our workroom busy in slower months. We offer
25 percent off the total price of a custom window treatment made
with in-stock fabric.”
The whole idea, not just behind the sales and marketing, but for
the way Window Fashions and Fabric runs the entire business, is
to make things easy for the customer.
NEW SHOWROOM, NEW PROGRAM
Window Fashions and Fabrics, Inc. is a strictly retail custom window
treatment dealer that fabricates all of its soft treatments in an
on-premise workroom with five employees. “Customers come in,
pick the treatments, pick the fabrics and it’s all made here,”
says Lang. Could it be much easier?
The store’s showroom features plenty of samples of its custom
work along with decorative hardware, finals, blinds and shades,
and fabrics, of course. Lang says they try to display one of every
design they offer. Some displays change seasonally. “We try
to make it as easy for the client as possible,” she continues.
“That is one thing that keeps them returning. We try to take
the mystery out of custom window treatments. We have up a number
of treatments with names and starting prices, whether it be a traditional
style or one of our original designs. Customers can select that
style, they can refer to it by name, they can go home and remember
that. It also helps if they have a sales consultant come out to
the house later.”
Just this year, Window Fashions and Fabrics moved to a new location,
a highly visible standalone building along a well-traveled route
near a shopping mall and furniture and interior furnishings stores.
The move increased walk-in traffic. “That has brought a lot
of people in looking for ready-mades,” Lang says. “So
we searched the market and we’ve found a few that we’re
going to offer in addition to creating our own. So we’ll make
valances and some draperies that we’ll keep on hand to sell.”
The plan is to carry the most popular styles in various sizes and
fabrics, and Lang sees it as complementing the custom business not
conflicting with it. “Customers usually want one or the other,
so one end of the business won’t take away from the other,”
But with the added walk-in business Window Fashions and Fabrics
has found it necessary to hire a full-time marketing manager, Mary
Williams—something the four family members never had the time
“to do what we needed to do,” Lang admits. The marketing
manager visits furniture stores, kitchen stores, banks, realtors
and home developers to introduce herself and the store. She’ll
drop off information, brochures and offer a referral program, which
basically is a card with a coupon that can be redeemed or used for
a consultation. In exchange, the person making the referral gets
a store credit or a cash reward.
“It works really well,” Lang says, “because they
are the people, in those specific businesses, who see our potential
client every day. It’s worked out very well. We’ve gotten
a lot of leads that way, more so than we’ve ever been able
to track from newspaper ads or from the phonebook.”
There has been something of a phenomenon in the Auburn, MA, market
lately: empty-nester and senior residential developments. They are
mostly ranch-style homes grouped in threes. “Those are going
up left and right,” Lang says. “They’ll go in
and put up anywhere from 40 units to 200 units. We are working with
contractors—seeking them out—and offering to do their
model homes at no charge to them in exchange for referrals or being
named their official window treatment provider.”
If they get the business, Window Fashions and Fabrics is allowed
to leave business cards in the model homes and is given access to
mailing lists so it can send postcards to new residents after they
move in as well as get in touch with new owners prior to move in.
This new business helps keep the four family members very busy.
Lang’s mother, Donna Foley, started the company as a wallpaper
store in 1988. It also sold custom window treatments, but sent the
work to outside workrooms. When Lang joined in 1990, she decided
to begin fabricating soft treatments—at home at first, but
as that work took off she opened the company’s own workroom
and hired five additional employees. Lang admits she was fortunate
to be able to hire sewers with 15 to 20 years experience and, in
a case of reverse education, learned a lot from them. “At
that time there wasn’t a lot of training available—not
like today. There really weren’t a lot of places to turn to.
There was no Internet that I was familiar with!” she says.
The company also made a heavy investment in industrial equipment
from steam irons and swag-making tools to straight-stitchers, sergers,
hemmers and quilting machines. “Each thing that we have has
more than paid for itself over time. You have to have the right
equipment to get the job done,” Lang says.
These days, Window Fashions and Fabrics sells lots of draperies
and Roman shades, lots of decorative hardware, and lots of trims
and embellishments—but no wallpaper. “We had stocked
a lot of that and as our custom window treatments grew we needed
the space for the fabric so we got rid of in-stock wallpaper and
went just to books,” Lang says. “Now we’ve eliminated
Lang’s part of the business is the workroom, where she oversees
the whole process of fabricating window treatments from the point
they are ordered to the point they are installed.
Her sister, Christine Daoust, manages the showroom and handles all
walk-in sales. She also places all of the orders.
Her mother remains active in the business handling all of the financing
and works in the showroom as needed.
Her father, Robert Foley, does all of the installations—soft
In addition to the marketing manager, the company also has a full-time
shop-at-home sales consultant and another in-store salesperson for
a total of 12 employees.
Window Fashions and Fabrics charges for in-home consultations, which
is rebated back on a purchase, as a way of qualifying shoppers.
“We tried it a number of ways over the years and that really
works,” Lang says. She adds that they have a high closure
rate on in-home consultations.
Lang credits the company’s employees as being a huge part
of its success, describing them as talented, dedicated and pleasant.
But Window Fashions and Fabrics’ most distinguishing aspect
is its family leadership. “We have four of us with a very
strong investment in the business. We’ve got someone overseeing
the four major parts of the business who is truly concerned about
it. And people like that. All of our customers come back again and
again. They seem to like the family atmosphere. It’s very
pleasant and personable when they come in. We try to make them very
welcome when they come in.”
“We all enjoy what we do so it’s not difficult for us
to do a good job at it and to do it to the best of our abilities,”
Lang continues. “We do focus on customer satisfaction. Because
we fabricate everything here, people can see the workroom, they
know that the job is being done here and we have total control over