Last year was a down year for Window Decor, Inc., Venice, FL. Let’s face it, with a slowdown in housing markets across the country, 2006 was a soft year for most businesses related to the housing industry. Even now, in the spring of 2007, the housing recession in Florida continues. “It’s substantial,” reports Grant Treiber, Window Decor owner. “House sales are down 45 percent. As with any window coverings business—I’m sure it varies depending on the part of the country you’re in—a large portion of our business is new home sales. So, ’06 was the first year in our history that we’ve ever been down from the previous year.”
This reads like the beginning of a sad tale, but it’s not. The reason it’s not is because when Treiber and a partner incorporated Window Decor in 1994, his goal was to build a business and not just create a job for himself. So instead of a business suffering in a recession, Window Decor has all the earmarks of a company that’s thriving. It currently has 35 employees and four retail locations in southwest Florida—three of which are company owned—all of which are freestanding buildings of approximately 6,000 square feet including showrooms.
So saying 2006 was a down year is a relative term. Even with the Florida economy “in turmoil,” Treiber says Window Decor still ended the year with $7 million in sales.
RIGHT STAFF, RIGHT ENVIRONMENT
Window Decor Inc. was built to be a one-stop shop offering a complete line of interior window coverings including shutters, shades, blinds, valances and draperies and all major brands. “We carry everything,” Treiber says.
These products are showcased in four locations: Venice, Ft. Myers, Naples and Punta Gorda. Each has two important traits in common with the others. 1.) A large showroom of approximately 2,700 square feet (“They’re typically twice the size of any of the competitors in the area,” says Treiber.); and 2.) They are standalone buildings, not part of a strip mall.
This last trait is especially important for customer perception value. “Typically, a [strip mall] rental unit is 16 to 18 feet wide and 50 to 60 feet long. So it’s a bowling alley, and it has 12 feet of windows plus doors on the front,” Treiber explains. “Ours are 80 feet wide, which is all glass, and then we have glass on the sides. It’s a much better showcase.”
Treiber points out that many of the products he sells need to be shown on windows because they are light-filtering, and his sales team always tries to get potential customers to come out to the showrooms to see full-size, operable products.
“If [a customer calls] on an ad, we actually go through a questionnaire form where we accumulate the information needed to go out to their home. All during that process, we’re trying to encourage them to visit our showroom before the appointment . . . particularly if they’re uncertain on their product selection. It really makes a distinctive difference between us and a guy just showing a sample book,” he says.
Virtually all sales are made and completed in the customer’s home, but the four Window Decor showrooms play a strong supporting role. “Really, the showrooms don’t exist to make sales. They exist for one reason: to generate sales calls for outside salespeople. Our showroom staff is extremely knowledgeable. You can do a lot of preliminary groundwork if you have the right staff and right environment so that in many cases the customer is virtually pre-sold when you arrive at the home.”
Window Decor’s knowledgeable staff comes through regular in-store training sessions. Usually meeting every two months, the salespeople go over new products and Treiber invites venders in to explain what’s new in their lines or go through new sample books to totally familiarize the staff on new products. “I’m a firm believer in having to know your product. You’re not going to convince anybody, or give anybody any reasonable advice, unless you know your product. That’s what we strive to do,” he says.
IT’S IN THE SYSTEM
Keeping four locations running smoothly and profitably—even in a slow economy—takes experience, know-how and, for Window Decor, a computerized system that streamlines, reviews and coordinates all the work orders and paperwork.
Originally, the manager at each store ordered all the products sold at that location. But with a business that has about 500 jobs running at any one time, things can get complicated and often there were just too many hands in the files. It made it difficult for a salesperson or the showroom staff to quickly find the customer information that was needed.
That changed three years ago when Treiber decided to incorporate a computer system and hire an order clerk. Now all the paperwork for all four locations goes to the company headquarters in Venice. He explains the procedure from there: “It basically goes through a review to see if everything is checked: All the “i”s are dotted, all the “t”s are crossed. Did we miss anything? Does the invoice match the order form as far as the quantity and description of product? We then resolve any issues at that point.
“The big benefit to that is I have one person who deals with the customer service aspect with all my [suppliers] including fabric venders. If there is a backorder situation, she notifies the salesperson and the customer.
“After the ordering process takes place—about half of it is done online—then it goes to another clerk who actually scans it into our server so that any store can access the paperwork. If a customer comes in and asks a question about an order, [the staff at that location] can simply pull it up on the computer and they have a copy of the invoice, they have a copy of the actual order form that went to the vender, they have a copy of the original measurement sheet and copies of any notes that might exist.”
Perhaps the best part of this system is that it was relatively inexpensive to implement. Treiber says the equipment cost was minimal, but adds that it does require a lot of memory.
Window Decor has a Web site (www.windowdecorinc.com), which is used to “sell” the company, not products. Treiber calls it a credibility issue. The site showcases a portfolio of the products offered, a brief company history and, soon, biographies of his interior decorators. All of these things help establish the company in the minds of potential customers.
It’s virtually impossible to tell how much business actually comes directly from the Web site, Treiber admits, but adds, “There’s a lot of statistics out there that most customers who are prepared to make a major purchase are going to research on the Internet first.”
To reach customers, Treiber sets aside eight to nine percent of sales for advertising—considering that sales last year reached $7 million, that’s quite a lot. Full-page Window Decor ads appear weekly in each of the company’s markets, but Treiber is looking into alternative venues such as radio, television and direct mail targeting the ZIP codes he wants to reach. “What’s occurred over the last five years is newspaper readership has gone down two percent a year and prices, inevitably, go up six percent a year. Probably the most dominant newspaper in any of my market areas is reaching 49 percent of the households, which just is not enough,” he says.
Treiber has a customer profile in mind, and it’s not the box store customer looking for the absolutely cheapest price. “I don’t want that guy,” he says. “My typical customers have a home that they purchased that’s $250,000 to $700,000. It’s typically their last home, and they want to do it right. They’re not going to quibble if they can get what they want.”
Even so, Window Decor tries to offer a variety of products for every budget. “I’d love to sell all high-end, but that’s not realistically going to happen. We certainly make every attempt to upgrade our customers all the time,” says Treiber.
Remember, the Florida economy is in turmoil. Three years of double-digit housing inflation saw home values escalating 20 to 25 percent a year. That was followed by two severe hurricane seasons. As a result property taxes and insurance both rose drastically. So people have been reluctant to buy second homes in Florida.
The sales approach Treiber takes focuses on product knowledge and professionalism. “You need a certain amount of professionalism to explain the pros and cons of products—and every product has pros and cons,” he says. “Our sales, installation and showroom staff are the best. They know their business. We pride ourselves in providing high quality products and services at a reasonable price.”
“We don’t practice the hard-sell. We’re aggressive, but I don’t believe in badgering customers. I think that for most people, if you can convince them that you know your product and you’re prices are fair, in most cases, you’re going to earn their business.”
“People make all the difference,” Treiber continues. “You have to have employees who share your values and commitment. I get ideas from my employees. Never be afraid to ask their opinions.”
The experience of Window Decor’s sales staff is one of its market strengths. Treiber says several of his salespeople have been with the company for 10 years—two or three of his best started as installers and several worked in the showroom first for a couple of years before going out on the road. To maintain these long-term relationships Treiber offers a complete benefits package including health insurance. It’s hard to do, he admits, especially with today’s medical costs, but it’s part of Treiber’s philosophy of investing in his own company by putting money back into the business. “It will pay long-term benefits,” he advises. Apparently, even when a down year happens along.