D&WC: Tell us about your company and its history.
David Neiman, Chairman: Rona Neiman and I founded Danmer in 1976. Danmer has since become the largest shutter manufacturer and retailer in all of California.
We had a fairly modest start as woven window covering retailers. In 1979, we transformed the company from a strictly retail operation into a shutter manufacturing business. After only six years, we outgrew the 5,000-square-foot manufacturing facility we were in and moved into a 21,000-square-foot manufacturing plant.
In the ’80s, Danmer won a contract to provide custom shutter services through the Broadway department stores. This partnership was so successful that in 1991, Danmer was awarded the contracts for other large retail outlets including Weinstocks and The Emporium. By 1996, we added Macy’s and Stroud’s to our list of customers. We are the only shutter manufacturer approved by the California League of Homeowners.
Throughout it all, we’ve continued to market, design and install custom shutters to homeowners through our own sales and marketing efforts, as well as through these department store partnerships. Danmer currently operates out of more than 100,000 square feet of space, with more than 250 employees, including 40 design consultants and 35 full-time installers. We currently design and install shutters in over 700 homes per month throughout California.
D&WC: Is there one product or line stands out above the rest?
Neiman: Although we spent the first few years providing other window covering products such as the then-popular woven wood shades, Danmer has now spent nearly 30 years exclusively designing, building and installing one single product: custom shutters.
Through the mid-1980s, that meant wood shutters. In 1987, I had an epiphany. I realized that we needed to find a substitute for wood shutters so that I could put our company’s concern for the environment—and the preservation of natural resources—to the test. So with a commitment to research and development in this area, Thermalite™ was born. Thermalite is the only 100 percent non-toxic, flame retardant, water-resistant synthetic material that looks and feels exactly like wood. It has become our primary source of sales, both to the end-user customer and to our wholesale and fabricator partners as well.
Thermalite now represents nearly 80 percent of our output. We train our design consultants to demonstrate and show our entire product range, including Hardwood, Polylite and pure Thermalite shutters. Some customers will always insist on wood shutters, no matter what their circumstances. The truth is, Thermalite is just a far superior shutter material—longer lasting for the customer and more predictable for the fabricator to sell and install.
D&WC: Do you have a company Web site, and how is it used to communicate with customers?
Neiman: Our Internet marketing initiatives have exploded in the last few years. This last year alone, we’ve seen a 500 percent increase (year over year) from the results of our expanded Web and online marketing efforts. Regular e-mail offers and specials, a live chat function on our site, a unique Flash Movie presentation for the customer, an affiliate marketing program, a series of banner ads on a network of Web sites, and more have driven this extraordinary increase.
Yes, it’s taken an investment in a more robust Web site along with programmers, designers and marketing experts to execute and measure these initiatives. But the return on investment is in line with other marketing expenditures . . . in fact, I’d say even a better return.
D&WC: Who are your customers?
Neiman: We have several business segments, which we categorize as Retail, Designer, Builder, Wholesale and Fabricators. Retail sales are based in California, where we service the entire state. Retail sales include design consultation, measuring, manufacturing, delivery, installation and after-sale support including our lifetime transferable warranty.
Our Designer program is similar to retail in that we provide the same services, but the customers come to us through interior design professionals. We work closely with the designers and honor the sensitive needs of their valued clients.
Our Builder program works with homebuilders to provide custom shutters as an option for their customers in their design centers. The cost of the shutters can be included into the escrow at the time of sale.
Outside of California, most of our customers are either Wholesale distributors or Thermalite Shutter Fabricating Partners. Our wholesale distributors purchase ready-to-install shutters built to their specifications based on the recommendations of our Design & Measure Manual.
Members of the TSFA, or Thermalite Shutter Manufacturing Association, are provided with the components, training, proprietary shutter business software, support and experience we have gained in our 30-plus years in this business.
D&WC: What are some of the key factors involved in your growth and success?
Neiman: At the core of our success is our proprietary Smart Shutter software, which we developed in-house over several years to make sure we could measure and optimize every facet of our operations: purchasing, inventory, design and measure, installation . . . even marketing and sales. It’s this Smart Shutter software that has consistently proven to return higher profits to our business than would be possible without it.
Danmer actually provides and installs this software for our qualifying Fabricator Partners at no cost. We even provide the training and support so they’re up and running using this tool without any painful interruption to their businesses. This system has been crucial for both our own success and to the success of our Fabricator Partners.
D&WC: What distinguishes you from the competition?
Neiman: Danmer is a very unique operation. We’re not exclusively a retailer, although we’ve been selling and installing shutters for 30-plus years. We’re also a manufacturer and supplier of shutter components to other window covering fabricators. And because we’re a successful retailer, we continue to grow our own local retail business inside of California while passing our experience and our marketing support on to our Fabricator Partners around the country.
D&WC: What advice would you give to other window coverings professionals?
Neiman: This is a highly competitive business, as if I have to remind anyone who’s familiar with this industry. To compete head-to-head on price alone, as many companies try to do, is a recipe for disaster. Instead, distinguish your company from the competition in a dramatic and quantifiable way. For example, we found that most custom shutter fabricators around the country promise quick delivery, but their finished installations get pushed back by as much as 30 days after the promised delivery date. The reasons for these delays are of little concern to the customer.
We show our Fabricator Partners a system for manufacturing and installing custom designed shutters, with almost no wasted materials, in as little as one week. With our Smart Shutter system in place, one can promise their customers the highest quality shutters in the world with a guaranteed delivery date that will beat their competitors to the punch every time.
Danmer Custom Shutters
9310 Topanga Cyn Blvd. Ste. 200
Chatsworth, CA 91311-5902
fax: (818) 734-1584