The Final Frontier for the window coverings business is growing your business with sales consultants.
“Every other problem in this industry has been solved by somebody
somewhere, 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?”
(See D&WC, July 2005, page 22.)
Recruiting sales consultants and decorators remains the most difficult
challenge for even the most experienced window coverings business
owner. The tradition is to seek out experienced consultants. When
none is available an inexperienced one may be accepted. The result
is unpleasant for the business owner, and the consultant. (Experienced
is having at least $100,000 in provable, annual shop-at-home sales.)
Inexperienced Consultants Often Fail
Inexperienced consultants are draining to the business owner and staff,
and frustrating for the new consultant trying to learn. The new consultant
has expectations that he or she will be helping homeowners solve challenging
room decorating problems. Instead, they discover that many buyers
are looking for the best price on products, not helpful ideas on decor.
Costly For Business Owner
At the same time, the business owner is generally paying a guaranteed
wage while the new person tries to learn. The owner may give the consultant
appointments that the owner would have sold himself. Then, instead
of an 80 percent closing ratio and $2,000 average sale, the new consultant
will typically average a 50 percent closing ratio and $1,000 average
Result: When an owner gives a new sales consultant 20 appointments
a month, then reduced sales performance can cost lost gross profit
income of more than $30,000 in the first 90 days! (See chart attending
this story for the calculation.)
Besides lost income, the owner and staff will likely take untold hours
to train the new consultant. And, often they will teach the wrong
things and with inefficient methods. It is unfair to expect a business
owner who rarely trains a new person to think through a strategic
approach to training—that is, what should the new person learn
and when should he learn it.
The typical problem is that experienced consultants want the new person
to know everything, rather than focus on what is needed 90 percent
of the time; then set a procedure for exceptions.
And More Challenges
Many business owners avoid training new consultants because they fear
the consultants will quit and compete against the owner who trained
them. I can tell you on vast experience that 90 percent of the time
when that happens, it is bad management by the owner that is at fault,
not an ungrateful consultant.
And that brings up the next issue: How to train the owner? How can
a person learn to hire and train sales consultants when they do it
so seldom? In fact, there is a need to train two managers—the
one who interviews and hires and the manager who provides start-up
New Model Needed
I believe there is a new model needed for hiring new sales consultants
without experience. A correct model would recognize that an inexperienced
sales consultant who wants to become a window fashions shop-at-home
consultant is making a career change and should not expect you to
pay for their education—or to provide a guaranteed income while
they learn. The aspiring new consultant should look at window fashions
sales as a career profession with a rewarding future that is worth
investing in his own training, and starting at the bottom on a commission.
You may feel it is impossible to hire consultants this way. But consider
this: The real estate industry has been doing it for 100 years. There
are many similarities to window fashions: the work is outside sales;
there is great flexibility; the work is performed in the customer’s
home; and realtors who strive for self-improvement achieve high income.
Yet, brokers do not pay training costs for the associate realtor to
obtain a license. They do not pay a salary, or guarantee, or even
provide appointments. Instead, they tell the person this can be a
wonderful career profession, and is worth the short-term sacrifice
for benefits down the road. Why can’t we do the same in window
We Are Already Doing It!
If you question whether such a model will succeed in window coverings,
just look to your competition. Nearly a dozen window fashions franchises,
decorating franchises and business opportunity networks attract new
sales consultants on the premise that the buyer will be part of a
great and growing industry with tremendous flexibility and high income.
However, they must invest tens of thousands of dollars and then find
their own appointments and learn to close sales. If realtors can do
it, and window fashions franchisers can do it, why can’t leading
business owners hire new sales consultants the same way?
All the business owner needs is a little guidance on how to do it,
and a solid training program that the consultants pay for themselves.
There are many excellent companies that provide sales consultant training.
One is the Window Coverings Association of America. Check it out for
possibilities—and check other sources you may find. I also can
advise that as part-owner in the Window Coverings University, there
is such a plan in the works by Margarett DeGange, national training
director. If you would like information, e-mail me at sales.training@custEmers.com.
There Is No Choice
The bottom line is, there is no choice in growing a large window fashions
shop-at-home business. We must have a better way to bring new people
into our industry. There are many successful business owners selling
over $500,000 a year who aspire to grow by $1 million—or $2
million or $3 million in sales. Yet, there is no system in our industry
to do it, and there will not be one until we master adding new, inexperienced
The time is right to explore the possibilities. Perhaps you have some
good ideas to share. If so, please e-mail me at steveb@custEmers.com.
Next month, I will tell my thoughts on how to develop this new model.
So tune in; same time, same place. Together, we will master this Final
Frontier! We will find a new model for adding new sales consultants.
Then every owner who aspires to serious growth can achieve the ambitions
of their dreams.
This article is based on Steven C. Bursten’s actual experience
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: steveb@custEmers.com
or call (888) 333-8981.