What a year it has been! Now, as the window coverings industry prepares for the year ahead, questions abound! Chief among them: Is the industry in strong enough shape to meet the future and continue to grow?
Draperies & Window Coverings put that question to industry leaders to learn what we should expect and how our readers can best be prepared to face the challenges and opportunities in 2008.
OLD STYLES, NEW MATERIALS
Iron Art by
Orion Ornamental Iron
As we look forward to 2008, the drapery hardware segment continues to surge ahead with a strong trend towards iron and wood in old styles.
The wood drapery products continue to stay strong with renewed interest in wood tracks and automation. We will see new material like glass, crystal and a fusion of metal and wood in 2008.
The recent quality developments in other products lines, which are made in China, will have a spillover effect in the products within the window covering industry, and we will see a surge in demand in products manufactured in the United States. We also see a continued strong demand in the customization segment of the drapery hardware industry.
5 TENDS AND WHAT TO DO NEXT
Steven C. Bursten
Exciting Windows! Network, LLC
Five major trends will impact window coverings in 2008:
1. Home building will not bottom until late 2008 or 2009—Inventory hangover and the sub-prime mess will continue for months.
2. The economy will skirt a recession, but escape—Fed action and solid employment will help us dodge the bullet.
3. Competition will get worse before it gets better—As home building slows and mid-market customers are cautious, thousands of non-store blinds dealers will cut prices on commodity products.
4. Flight to luxury will continue—First identified three years ago in this magazine (see D&WC, July 2005, page 52), the “Neiman Marcus Affect” will experience temporary hesitation in 2008, but continue long term as Boomers buy better quality.
5. Draperies and decorative window stylings will continue an upward trend not peaking for three to five years. Upscale customers are underserved by competition and represent the industry’s best opportunity in 2008
Action to take:
• Intensify marketing. Target past customers with mail and phone calls; ask for referrals. Put on events for groups. Improve Web sites and local Internet search.
• Beat competition—move up, out of the rat race. Sell shutters and draperies. Learn a new selling style to build relationships—upscale customers buy often and refer friends. They’re different from mid-market shoppers. When products are the same, an educated sales consultant makes the difference.
KEEP UP WITH THE MOMENT
Unique Wholesale Distributors, Inc.
I have been in this industry for over 30 years. I have seen this industry weather economic storms in the past. I believe a significant potential for growth remains.
The future of the window covering industry is very encouraging. There are concerns for many that the slowdown in the housing market will have a negative affect on the window coverings market. However, everyone needs to make the best of an unfortunate situation. Homeowners may be forced to stay put given the circumstances. Therefore, many are looking to make improvements, which opens up a world of opportunity for the trade.
The best strategy for decorators and retailers to follow looking forward is simply, customer service. This has been the underlying philosophy behind Unique since the beginning of its time. I empower my employees with a motto, which is: Do what it takes to make the customer happy. Whether its quality products or meeting shipping dates, we take our promises seriously and do what we can to keep them. I believe quality service can elevate any company in any industry.
As for other factors that can drive the industry forward, a variety of products may be the answer. I think people want retailers that can show them a variety of products, more than only blinds and shadings. One-stop shopping is a great outlook on how to best serve our customers. Why not have it all: blinds, shades, shutters, fabric, hardware and work room supplies? That was part of the reason behind Unique recently purchasing Sheer Supply.
If you do not keep up with the moment, you will be lost in the past.
CONCERNS ARE OPPORTUNITIES
ZMC Window Coverings Supplies
Roller shades and roman shades continue to show growth. More fabrics are being introduced to provide an ever-increasing array of choice for both commercial and residential interests. We are also focused on the requirements for application-specific bracketing for our programs to provide innovative solutions to the growing diversity for both roller and roman shades installations.
Concerns from a distressed housing market, while disconcerting, should be viewed as an opportunity to continue to provide unique, affordable products. New home buying may continue at a bit slower pace and more families will choose to redecorate and upgrade their existing homes. Our economy continues to be strong and commercial projects should keep pace. Our country is strong, resilient and boasts a long history of overcoming setbacks.
Wholesalers and retailers will want to concentrate on offerings that are geared towards their niche. Good quality, great design, ample choice and unsurpassed customer service sells in any market.
NEW IDEAS, ALTERNATIVE ROUTES, GROWTH
Warren Steven Window Fashions
2007 taught us all realistic lessons. At Warren Steven Window Fashions we’ve learned that strong partnerships and alliances stimulate growth as a fabricator and for our dealers.
The serious, committed dealers are seeing sales growth by utilizing the tools we offer and taking advantage of the rewards! We strive to be a strong supplier and offer the one-stop-shop to our dealers. We provide training opportunities, advertising financial assistance, an interactive Web site, a drapery workroom and install and measure support.
2008 shows promise for new ideas and alternative routes of doing business. Dealers open to change and willing to invest in their businesses will succeed. The housing market slump has consumers enhancing what they have. With remodeling, customers will look for professionalism in their salespeople. They’ll want fresh, trendy ideas. The educated, serious dealers will stand apart from the rest.
Our dedicated dealers haven’t been impacted by the ups and downs of the economy and housing market in the past because they offer the same one-stop service that we do. Their loyalty to Hunter Douglas, WSWF and their businesses justifies and determines the sales. When these relationships are taken seriously, growth in 2008 will follow.
REACH OUT TO CONSUMERS!
Window coverings suffered a downturn in 2007 due primarily to the dramatic reduction in new housing starts and the subsequent financial fallout of the sub-prime mortgage lending crisis, which led to the current credit crunch and a pullback in the stock market.
We anticipated this early on and adjusted our budgets to be more aggressive promotionally throughout 2007 and consumers responded positively and in record numbers to these initiatives.
We expect that 2008 will continue to be challenging, as it will take some time for the current housing and financial problems to resolve themselves. As a result, we will continue to be aggressive with new products and dealer business building programs and not only do we intend to be as active promotionally in 2008 as we were in 2007, but we have also budgeted for a significant increase in consumer advertising for 2008.
Our suggestion for designers and dealers is that you too need to be aggressive in attracting new customers to your businesses and by providing incentives for former customers to return earlier than they may have planned. Whereas in the past, you could prosper by just waiting for the consumer to come to you, today’s economic scenario requires that you aggressively reach out to consumers, particularly those who you’ve already sold to during the past four or five years.
The following are several ways to attract customers to your business in 2008:
• Send handwritten notes to all of your 2007 customers thanking them for their business and providing them with a “family and friends” coupon good for the first six months of 2008. Offer to come to their homes or those of their friends and family to show them new looks and help them understand how changing their window coverings can change the look of an entire room.
• Use your customer database or old invoices to send a New Year’s greeting to all of your former customers and offer them free financing if they purchase from you during the first three months of the year. Highlight the 2008 Hunter Douglas Spring Savings Event featuring consumer rebates on selected Duette® honeycomb shades and Vignette® Modern Roman Shades.
• Be proactive in contacting local school, religious, social and community groups offering to provide a free decorating seminar and savings coupons to the member attendees.
• Work with local real estate agents to provide “move-in” decorating savings coupons to consumers who’ve recently purchased or built a new home in your community.
No matter what you do or how you do it, the real key to success in 2008 will be to reach out to consumers! Use all the resources provided by Hunter Douglas and your full-line fabricator, including promotions, ad certificates, new products and programs, and you may just find that you’ll have the best year ever.