An uncertain economy might leave some window coverings dealers and fabricators shaken, while others will see opportunities to re-vamp, re-focus and re-direct their businesses to find, sell and service the business that is out there and to be first in mind for customers when things improve.
Draperies & Windows Coverings asked several leading window coverings suppliers for their views on the year ahead and their advice to dealers. In most cases, the answers reflect good, basic business strategies that got successful dealers where they are in the first place. There also are some important niches to tend to.
Here are their suggestions:
POSITION TO SURVIVE
Sun Glow Window Covering Products
of Canada Ltd.
The current market conditions will result in some of the less prepared dealers and fabricators closing and others, who can better adapt, prospering. We should begin to position ourselves to survive and thrive by eliminating unnecessary expenses, discontinuing high maintenance low-margin product lines, monitoring receivable levels and focusing on retaining and developing our best staff members.
Window treatments will always be necessary in different segments of the economy. We should diversify to serve multiple segments. Emphasis on customer service should be paramount. The higher end market will always exist, and your products should be able to cater to this market.
Focus should be on sustainable products and the savings and benefits derived from the proper window treatment. If you can deliver this as well as a distinctive, design-oriented product that is not widely available and, hence, not subject to price wars, you will be on the right track to prospering in these challenging times.
MAXIMIZE EVERY OPPORTUNITY
Hunter Douglas, Inc.
Economic conditions will remain difficult. There will be continuing layoffs, certainly in the first six months, reducing the number of consumers with discretionary income. However, there will be business out there. Dealers have got to be proactive in finding, targeting and closing the consumers who are in market.
Since dealers will have more time on their hands, they must use it wisely:
• Contact all past customers personally and communicate frequently with them from this point forward.
• Hold events that speak to the benefits of new window coverings: energy efficiency and savings that can also improve the look of the home, child safety features for families with young children, and more.
• Actively promote Hunter Douglas Winter/Spring, Summer and Fall consumer rebate promotions.
• Consider using advertising selectively, combining print ads with direct mail. Hunter Douglas will also be back on TV for the first time in several years and is providing mirror imagery for dealers to run locally.
• Offer customers 12-month free financing. It is a relatively inexpensive incentive and continues to be very meaningful in this economy. Offers like this allow qualified consumers to make purchases now and pay for them later.
In 2009, Hunter Douglas will be launching new products and sample books in May and September and will be supporting you with merchandising, training and promotions. Rely on your fabricator and fabricator sales representative in particular to help:
• Organize your advertising and promotion of these launches and plan events intended to attract consumers to your business.
• Make recommendations on how to improve your store environments. Hunter Douglas and your fabricator are assisting with financing that allows you to pay for new displays over time.
• Train you on new Hunter Douglas product and program offerings.
Dealers should make a commitment to attend PremieresSM training held in April and early May as well as utilize all dealer training tools and the online Hunter Douglas Learning Center. Hunter Douglas will also provide all aligned dealers with syndicated online tools. Later this spring, the launch of a new hunterdougls.com Web site is expected to attract a record number of interested consumers despite the economy.
In conclusion, and considering a recessionary economy, dealers need to maximize opportunities and take advantage of all the tools and training offered by Hunter Douglas and their full-line fabricators in 2009 with the thought that they position their businesses for the inevitable growth that will come.
THE KEY WORD IS: SELL
This year is shaping up to be a challenging year for custom window coverings, particularly shutters. Historically, sales increases have followed new home sales, which are expected to continue to decline or at best level out in 2009.
The only people that are really buying in this market are people that have money. It may sound obvious, but the majority of sales at the end of 2008 came from commercial and high-end consumers. If the average consumer does not have enough confidence to use their savings or credit to purchase custom window coverings, you must market to the people with money. Right now, the people with money are expecting green products with tangible features and benefits.
Lastly, these people will only buy from you because you sell them. They expect value from you, the salesperson. The buyer of today knows more and expects more at every purchase, and you can thank the Internet and Nordstrom for today’s challenging customer.
The key word is “sell,” which means you will have to sell the product, by learning the product features and benefits and providing service and knowledge as they are the keys to success in a weak market. Order takers can go back to selling apparel at the mall.
To prepare for success in 2009, dealers and decorators need to offer a product that fits these market needs: Sunland Shutters’ Polycore Shutter, a feature-rich, composite shutter. The Polycore Shutter is unique in that all of its components are re-enforced with aluminum. Sunland also offers the Lexwood Shutter, a 100 percent basswood shutter that offers the same popular colors and frame options as the Polycore. These complementary programs allow the seller to sell either program or both within the home, with confidence that the same water-based finishes, frame options, panel sizes, full-line specialty shapes and product restrictions are available in both programs. This interchangeability is the result of years of engineering and manufacturing experience. This experience coupled with Sunland’s salespeople, customer service and domestic fabrication facilities in Florida, Texas and California achieves consistent delivery and quality in both domestic and imported products.
If you can truly sell in this market, having the right product and manufacturing partner is the missing key to your success in 2009.
BACK TO BASICS
ZMC Window Covering
There is no doubt that 2009 will present challenges to which many of us are not accustomed. Decisions made now will set the stage for success through the coming months. Looking for lofty “techniques of the rich and famous” aren’t prudent in these times. Rather, sound business fundamentals are the cornerstone of any successful enterprise. You already know what they are…they’re what got you here. It’s time now to get back to those basics. This is no more evident than in times of economic stress.
• Advertising. Keep the main link between you and your potential customer alive and well.
• Ensure all your customer service personnel know and understand your product lines.
• Provide service, service, service above and beyond any expectation a potential customer might have. Follow up on every sale. Word of mouth is a powerful recipe for increased business.
“Advertising. Keep the main link
between you and your potential customer alive and well.”
Now is a good time to evaluate your product offerings to make the most effective use of time and space. Educate yourself to what’s new or what’s improved and even who’s new. Solidify relationships with your current vendors and be open to expand horizons for additional products as well.
If there is one thing for certain in the coming months of 2009 it is that things will constantly be changing. Expand your circle of influence. Stay vigilant. Watch your pennies and above all pay attention. It’s going to be a heck of ride.