Executive Level Business
Typical Business Metrics
Products and Service
*Gross profit is after paying all products, freight, fabrication, installation, call backs, etc. If fabrication is provided, it should be billed to the sales division the same as any other supplier.
I am pleased to bring you the second in a series of real business owners applying sound principles to build a successful business. Some have read my more than 60 articles in Draperies & Window Coverings as a source of ideas. Others used common sense (which is not so common) and their own experience and education. What they all have in common is a fervent belief in shop-at-home selling and discipline to track the numbers.
Jim Hopkins, Accent Verticals
This month I have the pleasure to bring you Jim Hopkins, Accent Verticals, located near Portland, OR. He is a BlindCrafter dealer of Comfortex. I had the pleasure to meet Jim during a successful test project last year sponsored by Comfortex. Jim is a leader of leaders and has strong convictions about sales and sales management that we can all learn from. He is ably assisted by longtime friend Rod Olson.
BlindCrafter dealers are unique; they fabricate certain products such as cellular shades, Roman shades and other alternative products manufactured by Comfortex. Not everyone has the skill to master production and marketing and sales. Jim (and several BlindCrafter leaders) has that skill and uses it to great advantage as a competitive edge in the market. Thanks to Cathy Guterman, PR specialist for Exciting Windows! for her research and reporting assistance on this project.
How did you start your business?
After failing in a business as a door-to-door frozen meat salesman in the early 1980s, I decided to ‘find myself’ and learn how to be successful in sales. I went to work for Color Tile, a national chain of flooring and home improvement stores. Within five years, I became a manager and top salesman in Salem, OR, and vied for Salesman of the Year with the Spokane manager. We had fun challenging and learning from each other.
In 1986, the Spokane manager and I left Color Tile to start our own business selling vertical blinds. At that time, neither of us even knew what a vertical blind was! We took a training course in Tampa, FL, to turn parts in a box to a successful sale in the home. It was pretty intense.
What were the first years like?
The partnership lasted four months. I didn’t make a very good partner. Back then, I wanted to call the shots and be my own boss. The early years were tough–my wife, baby daughter and I lived on just $2,000 a month for several years. Everything I made, I put right back into the business. We just lived with the bare necessities, and she quit her job to come work with me. In 1987, my sales were $140,000 and by 1990, I had an almost 250 percent sales gain to about $500,000.
What were your motives for change? Where have the changes brought you from then to now?
I had two motives for change: supporting my family (which was my single, greatest source of strength) and a great desire to grow my business into the best shop-at-home window coverings company in my area. We have been blessed, having always been busy. What motivates me now–20 years later--is figuring out ways to continue to grow my company by adding new employees, increasing my customer base, coming up with new marketing and advertising ideas and providing a fresh approach.
Steve Bursten’s principle of grass roots marketing--of going into neighborhoods, hanging doorknockers and making direct contact with homeowners--was a real turning point for me. We have always done this, but working with Steve quickly showed me that we had barely scratched the surface in this area, we began to get serious and it has literally opened more doors to better customers.
What were your fears and feelings as you underwent change in your business?
Fortunately, I didn’t have too many fears about the business. From the start, we had lots of work selling and installing vertical blinds. They were a hot home decorating product back in the late ’80s and early ’90s and everyone wanted them. However, as new products like cellular shades, shutters, woven woods and wood blinds came on the market I needed to convince my customers that these were going to look great, as well. I always felt that if you have the right target or mix of products and know your customers’ needs, you can sell the job better than anyone else.
Today, my only ‘fear’ is looking at our books every January and wondering how we can do better for the next year.
What has the transition of change been like for you?
One area that I’ve changed the most is my own personal growth. I give my wife a lot of credit for this because she has taught me how to be more diplomatic, patient and tolerant with everyone in business–from my employees to suppliers to customers. Becoming a nicer person has really benefited me in all areas of my life!
What changes have occurred over the last five years?
My business continues to grow–from sales under $500,000 in 1990 to nearly $2 million in 2006. Much of the reason for our growth is that we don’t just sell window coverings we make them. We don’t have a retail store. We are strictly shop-at-home.
In addition, we have a 4,000-square-foot factory where we build our shades, blinds and shutters—85 percent of our business is in hard treatments, 15 percent in draperies and soft goods. Today, we have 15 employees–three in fabrication, five decorators on the road, one general manager, two office workers, three installers and one cleaning/repairman. We all work very hard to be the best shop-at-home decorating service that provides exceptional products, quality and highly trained sales consultants.
What are your current priorities?
One of the areas that has changed so much for us in recent years is technology, and we’re learning how to use it to our advantage. Computerization, software programs and innovations in equipment have made the jobs a lot easier for us.
We’ve also developed a system–a plan for managed growth. We watch for trends and go as far as we can within our infrastructure and when it looks as though the growth is sustainable, we add more people, more equipment. This formula helps us continue to grow. So far, it’s working great for me because my 45- to 50-hour workweek is very manageable–especially since I’m able to share responsibilities with my capable staff.
How do you see your future ahead?
You’re not going to run a $2 million company the same way as you’d run a $1 million business. I need to constantly do things differently in order to grow. I’ve trained my staff to provide the best possible service within our community and our on-site factory gives us a definite edge in getting our customers their products in a timely fashion.
My company has to run equally as well when I’m not here. Although I’m not ready to stop working, I’ve started to think about an exit strategy for the future. But right now, I’m happy to be in a business that I love and maybe when the spring comes, I’ll take a few extra days off and go fishing.
Steven C. Bursten is the retired founder of Decorating Den Interiors and currently chairman/CEO of Exciting Windows! a national network of experienced window coverings professionals specializing in high quality shop-at-home service. He is the author of a how-to book on new business start up, “Bootstrap Entrepreneur” and is the co-founder and CEO of Window Coverings University and Window Coverings University—Online. Questions andcomments welcome: steveb@ExcitingWindows.com or (888) 333-8981.