Powerful trends were unseen, but underway before the downturn in home building and the upturn in gasoline prices. Now, it is evident: We have come to the end of an era. Our industry has hit a wall. There are not enough appointments. That means the typical dealer sells less and earns less. That means fewer openings for decorating consultants.
Yet, a new era with new opportunity is opening. There will be winners. There are already losers. The action you take in the New Era will determine your success. The house you live in, the car you drive, the vacation you experience all will be decided by decisions you make today.
New Trends Create New Opportunity
I have been tracking industry trends for years. You can review predictions I made three years ago on D&WC’s Web site at www.DWConline.com/predictions and see how they set the stage for this article. These trends are creating industry discontinuity—a break with the past.
Peter Drucker, my favorite author, tells how you can profit from this break. He states, “The highest calling of a manager is to seize opportunity to cause growth.” And, “Opportunity is created when there is a break with the past.”
Your job is to act on the break before competitors catch on. Drucker calls it, “A future that has already happened, we just have to have the eyes to see it.”
Four Trends to Profit in the New Era
There are four trends that have already happened. These are breaks with the past that are opening a new era of opportunity. Here are the trends and how you can profit from them.
1. Advertising and marketing
2. Product innovation
3. Traditional retailing
4 Competition and education
1. Advertising and Marketing
Media advertising is dead. Forget newspapers, radio, TV and yellow pages. Are there rare exceptions? Of course. Yellow pages still work in resort areas where vacationing condo owners don’t have friends to ask for a recommendation. TV can work for multi-million-dollar businesses with savvy, innovative managers. But, on the main, media is dead.
So, if media doesn’t work any longer, what does? Only two things work today, and are likely to work for years to come: the Internet, in all its forms, and person-to-person activities.
• Internet Web sites, Search Engines and Pay Per Click—It once was pretty simple. Throw up a Web site for $500 to $2,000 as an online brochure. Unlike printed brochures, you didn’t have to reorder after 1,000 customers viewed it. Unlike a TV ad, it didn’t disappear after 30 seconds. Web sites, online day and night, 24 /7/365, have been a place for customers to learn about you after they know who you are. Once you got your story the way you wanted, you could leave your Web site alone and let it work for you. That was then. This is now.
Today, everyone has a Web site. You cannot afford to pay for print or broadcast advertising to create awareness and send customers to your Web site. In days gone by newspaper advertising would give you immediate leads and pay for itself, and your weekly ad would create residual, long-term awareness so customers would call you. Today you can’t afford this repetition. That means no one knows who you are. If they don’t know your name, they won’t call you.
Today, search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial for customers to find you. When customers search Google for a product you sell—say draperies, blinds or motorization—and then enter your city or ZIP code, you want to be one of the top 10 listings right next to Google’s map of your area. The problem is it takes more than money to make it work. You must constantly change your Web site, add blogs and post to them frequently, you must add new pages or Google’s bots crawling the Internet will pay you no mind.
To get results, prepare to invest up to $1,000 monthly or be part of a manufacturer or industry group or franchise that knows and understands this medium.
• Activities and Personal Promotion—The second form of marketing that works in the New Era is personal promotion. To succeed requires initiative, pro-active behavior and drive. Generally, we resist knocking on doors, passing out flyers, mailing and calling past customers and aggressive self-promotion. But, the fact is, it works. It is the one constant that has worked for the nearly 50 years I have been in this business.
Scot Dietz built a $5 million business in San Diego, CA, largely on personal promotion and encouraging his salespeople to do the same (see D&WC, November 2006, page 28). Kim Lyon doubled her business with the help of flyers. Shem Isaac in the San Francisco Bay Area seeks to become “Mayor” in each community he serves—that is, meeting people as if he were running for office. Neil Gordon, The Designer’s Coach, operates a million-dollar business with almost no advertising (see D&WC, October 2006, page 22). He will tell you how to do it and even provide you individual coaching to learn how. Check out his Window Coverings University Online Web site: www.theWCU.com.
2. Product Innovation
Constant product innovation is an era now past. Yes, there always will be new products. But not industry-changing categories like cellular and vaned shadings that, along with metal and wood blinds, created an entire new business. The drapery era lasted 30 years. The blinds and shadings era has been around for 20. It will be decades before product innovation changes the industry this dramatically again.
• Drapery Stores Disappear—The “blinds era” wiped drapery stores off the map. They no longer exist. Only a small percentage of dealers understand draperies today. Yet, custom drapery is the growth opportunity. The break happened this year as blinds businesses suffered sales losses serving mid-income customers, new construction and existing home sales markets.
Yet, full-service window coverings businesses are growing. I define full service as selling a balanced mix of all products: draperies, blinds, shadings and shutters plus creative ideas. This requires consultants who are well trained on draperies and window treatment design, in addition to alternative products.
Full-service window styling serving upscale customers is the one category experiencing broad based growth—even record
sales in 2008. The “product” in this New Era will be distinctive,
personal design and creative ideas. Fashionable, upscale customers will not accept less, and they have the money to spend.
3. Traditional Retailing
Traditional retailing means a store for walk-in customers to buy things. Hundreds of stores opened across America in the 1990s selling blinds and shadings to walk-in customers. That growth era is dead.
Future growth for quality custom products will be shop-at-home by educated independent and franchised businesses. As the growth era of in-store buying ends, a new era opens with vast opportunity.
• Upscale Customers Want At-home Service. No store-based retailer can sell the luxury market—homes over $500,000 in value—without a strong shop-at-home strategy. Upscale customers have money. They are buying high-fashion window coverings. Middle-income homeowners need their money for gasoline to drive their cars. Upscale customers are not do-it-yourselfers. They want someone else to measure for them; to write specification orders; to bring product samples to their homes to show under their lighting and with their furnishings. The more that draperies grow in demand, the more that do-it-yourself, in-store selection will be yesterday’s news.
• Consultants Must Become Entrepreneurial—The impact goes beyond the store. In the traditional retailing model, customer appointments are wholly provided to consultants. That doesn’t work today. No one is getting the appointments they need to keep all their consultants busy. In the New Era sales consultants must be more entrepreneurial. They must develop some of their own leads or suffer less income. There is no choice in the New Era.
4. Competition and Education
Competition is not dead. It is flourishing, made even worse by the economy as dealers cut prices on commodity products. But there is a way to beat the endless number of van operators who sell cheap because of low overhead. There is a way to beat big money stores with beautiful showrooms. There even is a way to beat Internet operators with endless selection and easy access.
• Education Is the Difference—Competing on price is dead, for professionals. You can win with education. What does a professional know that others might not? A professional sales consultant with a structured system often can sell at prices 20 percent above a low-priced competitor.
The difference is knowing how to sell concepts instead of commodities, how to promote ideas instead of products, how to create emotional desire for a beautiful room instead of comparing prices to competitors.
You can master these techniques. But, be aware, they are selling techniques, not decorating techniques, not product knowledge and not ordering experience. Selling techniques means knowing which customers have money, where to find them, what motivates them to buy, how to advertise to them, and the words to use on the phone and in person that will make them want to buy from you instead of a low-price competitor.
• Start with Sales Training—Read books and listen to tapes by Zig Ziglar and Tom Hopkins. Read Frank Bettcher’s “How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling.” Consider DVD recordings offered by this magazine and Window Coverings University Online. There are many ways you can educate yourself, but take action now if you want to compete in the future.
End of an Era
The end of one era can open vast opportunities to you in the era to come. The New Era will be based on Internet technology, personal marketing, draperies, creative ideas, shop-at-home service to upscale customers, and education to beat competition.
The New Era will require change. There is no question you can be a winner when you seize opportunity as we break with the past.
This article is based on Steven C. Bursten’s actual experience with sales and financial information working with hundreds of window coverings businesses. Bursten is co-founder and CEO of Exciting Windows! a network of experienced and aspiring window coverings professionals. He also co-founded the International Window Coverings Exchange, Window Coverings University, and WCU Online and is the founder of Interiors by Decorating Den. Whether you are a sole operator of a personal business or manage 50 window fashions consultants, this series will help you improve sales and increase profitability. Bursten encourages questions and comments at steveb@ExcitingWindows.com