Customers are confused when they buy window coverings. According to a leading manufacturer, focus group research tells the story: Window coverings confuse customers more than any other home furnishings product. They understand flooring, lighting, furniture, wallpaper and paint. But American homeowners cannot sort out window coverings. Any dealer who strips away the confusion will have an edge on competition. They will attract better customers and command premium margins. And, it will be tough for competitors to catch up.
WHERE WOULD YOU BUY WINDOW COVERINGS?
This research affirmed a reality I have sensed for years.
Think for a moment. If you were not a professional, but just an average Joe or Jane who buys window coverings every five to 10 years, how would you go about it?
• Visit a home improvement store?
• Check the Internet?
• Order from a catalog?
• Shop for fabrics at Calico Corners?
• Take your measurements to a blinds store?
• Call a franchised shop-at-home service?
• Look for an independent without a store?
• Ask your friends who they know—maybe a designer or workroom that isn’t listed in the yellow pages?
• Would you buy your window treatment when you buy your flooring at the carpet store, or from the paint store where you
TOO MANY CHOICES
In other words, customers have too many choices. And it is confusing. So, what is the solution, and how can you make money from it?
Let’s address the solution in a few minutes, after we understand the issues more clearly. How did it get this way? Window coverings used to be sold by drapery shops—back in the 1980s and before. Then in the 1990s with the growth of blinds, shadings and now shutters, drapery stores died out. Any dealer who could figure out draperies could figure out blinds . . . but they did not know how to specialize in it, and consumers passed them by for blinds stores specialists.
Then with the growth of Budget Blinds a whole new category of window coverings specialist came on the scene: a blinds business without a store that gives exceptional service and value pricing to millions of homeowners. Of course, Budget Blind’s success has spawned a dozen other blinds franchises and thousands of similar independents.
HAS THE BLINDS BUSINESS PEAKED?
The question is, has the blinds business, a runaway best seller for 15 years, now peaked? Will something new eat away at its dominance?
It happened last year. Blinds sales went down for the first time in memory. Growing shutter sales took part of the market. Lower new home construction is part of the reason, too. And there is another factor: the booming luxury market—upscale homeowners buying draperies and full custom stylings for their windows. More million-dollar homes are being sold than ever. More people are buying luxury and service.
Blinds sales, especially aluminum, is not a choice for these trend-setters. Even wood blinds are becoming tiresome. Shutters are still strong, and other recent innovative products will have appeal for years to come. But, opinion leaders are starting to buy draperies again after a 15-year siesta.
NEW OPPORTUNITY: FULL-SERVICE WINDOW FASHIONS
You first heard the trend to draperies in this column over two years ago (see D&WC, December 2004, page 58). Now anyone who knows the industry can see drapery and soft products accelerating. And a new product category is just beginning: Automation.
If ever something was confusing, motorizing window coverings takes the cake. Now, consumers will be more confused than ever. The result: I predict we are entering a new opportunity for professionals who sell all window coverings products.
With this column, I will name it the “Full-Service Window Fashions Business.” Only a few do it now, but watch, it is a trend you can count on.
UPSCALE CUSTOMERS WANT IT ALL FROM ONE BUSINESS
Mass-market sales of blinds and shadings will continue strong for years. They are ideal for price-conscious shoppers who need mainly privacy and light control. But the upscale “Golden Opportunity” segment I identified in this column—homeowners with median household income from $75,000 to $150,000, representing 21 percent of households—want more than privacy and light control. And they are not price shoppers when they are sold correctly (selling them correctly is another column of its own). Instead, this upscale, near-luxury buyer wants to develop a relationship with a real expert. They do not want to buy window products from different specialists, blinds or drapery experts. They want one company to sell them all.
HOW DO YOU HITCH TO THIS GROWING TREND?
First, it takes education. You have to learn about the products. Next, it takes culture change. Selling upscale customers is different. You want to go slower and sell more. Do you know that almost every salesperson who tops $1 million a year will do it with only about 400 customers, or just about 1.5 appointments a day?
Many blinds salespeople go on more appointments, but they usually sell less. Learning draperies and window stylings—along with slowing down the sales process—actually increases total sales. And, even better, it increases profit margins.
Start today. Educate yourself on draperies. Start learning about automation, sensitize your mind to the difference in cultural values of upscale customers so you can advertise to them and speak their language when they call. Watch this column for more steps you can take, and please, drop me a note at steveb@ExcitingWindows.com if you want to learn more about the opportunity to sell full service to your customers.
This article is based on Steven C. Bursten’s actual experience with sales and financial information 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: email@example.com or call (888) 333-8981.