With a terrible January but a booming spring, we thought maybe the downturn bottomed out. July and August proved that idea obsolete. Now with the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, home mortgage money may be available again. Yet, no one knows. The latest news of bankruptcies and bailouts raise more questions than answers. So, let’s stop the commiserating and take control. You may think you have little control, but that’s baloney.
Learn from History
I’ve experienced three serious downturns: 1974-75 with the oil embargo; 1979-81, when Paul Volker broke the back of inflation with 21 percent interest rates; and 1990-92 (1995 in California) when home building collapsed with tax changes and more than 700 Savings & Loan failures. Technically, our nation is not even in a recession yet. Second quarter GDP was positive, and only in September did unemployment top six percent.
Still, if you are in the blinds business and dependent on new home construction, it is more than a recession. So, let’s go back to Peter Drucker and his “Three kinds of future.” The first you cannot control, so ignore it. The second is a future that has already happened, you just have to have the vision to look around and extrapolate forward. The third is the kind of future you create by your own effort and initiative. Let’s talk about that one.
Proven Action You Can Take
Some things are the same as 30 years ago. Some are different. Differences first: The bad news is, newspaper and mass media marketing don’t work anymore. The good news is there are more million-dollar homes than anyone would dream in their wildest imagination. The Internet is different and can be a huge benefit if you have a high listing on local search with Google. If you don’t, it is a long-term strategy that could take you months to build.
What things are the same? One thing, an election year is often soft with distraction and uncertainty. It would not surprise me to see a nice uptick by December and January. Other things, basics are always solid and actually work. You’ve read the statistics, for example, that only four percent of car salespeople are more pro-active in a downturn than during normal times.
So, let’s address tried-and-true winners that have worked in every recession our industry has experienced and always gave leaders an edge. The beauty about these winners is they cost very little money and only require a modest amount of time . . . and they work! No question, if you have fewer appointments, you have more time to get appointments. Here is your list in priority order. If you do them, they will call.
1. Past Customers
Every business owner talks about past customers. Every owner agrees, “They are my most valuable asset.” Yet, almost no window coverings business owners actually do something about it. Now is the time, and here is what to do:
• Prioritize your customer list if you have more than 200 names. Rank them in thirds—the top third, middle and bottom. What makes a top third? Not just the amount of previous sale, but that is a handy place to begin. Look at how you felt about them. Did you like them? Would you like to do business again? Are they in a neighborhood where you want more business?
• Set up a two part communications plan. First, direct mail to the top two thirds at once. Then repeat to the top third every month and the middle third every other month.
Second, get on the phone, starting with the top third. Maybe you have been afraid to make phone calls. That’s hogwash. Stay scared and go broke. Now is the time to decide if you’re a business owner with courage, or someone else should take the lead and you take a job. What to say? Just tell them your thinking of them and want to be sure everything you sold is performing well. No one will be offended and you will get appointments soon.
2. Go Where Customers Are Buying
Flyers and events still work great, but expectations may not be in line with reality. The one difference in challenging times is that you must not wait for people to come to you. You must go to them. Go to the upper income homes. Currently, you want to select values over $500,000 on a national average basis if you are comfortable selling customers with better incomes who appreciate good ideas as well as quality products.
You know what to do: distribute 1,000 flyers on a Saturday morning. Expect one to three appointments. Too much work you say? Do it right and you can get kids and seniors to help you at a cost of about $100. With a lead cost today north of $200, that is a bargain.
I had a report last month of one owner who knocked on 42 doors and got three appointments. I won’t promise that, but I can darn well say it is the best single way to get business at low cost. It has been for the last 50 years and will be for the next 50, I predict. But, most folks would rather go out of business than to knock on doors, meet people, hand them a brochure, and make a friend.
3. Improve Your Web Site and Get SEO
The final thing you want to do is to improve your Web site. (You do have a Web site, don’t you?) Keep the investment affordable—say, two percent of sales per year. Place as many pages as you can on it. Get a blog and post to it daily. Register on all local search options you can—search engine optimization (SEO). Make an investment in pay per click (PPC) for almost any window coverings product, except maybe blinds . . . everyone has that.
Internet Web sites and e-mail newsletters and promotions are the future of the window coverings industry. If you are not doing something about it now, your competitor will gradually dry up the business around you. Check the networks for help—industry associations, manufacturer package programs, franchise companies and others. The Internet is mysterious and costly to master alone. Yet, if you don’t figure it out you will be left behind. Consider your options: join a network or do it yourself.
One Last Thing
Don’t forget to vote. Take your choice on whom to vote for, but do it. This is the most exciting election in my memory. I have voted in every national election since 1960 and am proud and fortunate to be a citizen of this fabulous nation that allows freedom for entrepreneurs to grow and flourish. Do your part this election.
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