THE SHAPE OF THINGS
If trends continue here is what to expect: Stock market, measured by the Dow, will continue upward. Housing in many areas, not all, will bottom and prices will firm this summer. Retail sales will begin a steady climb out of the cellar. Manufacturers will lead as they rebuild inventories drawn down over half a year. By the time you read this the auto industry will be resolved. I’m betting they will avoid bankruptcy at GM. Government is pushing stakeholders to agree. Construction will pick up this summer and the economy will continue to pull ahead.
If you are surviving now, holding steady, not sliding backward, then count your blessings. You will make it. Unemployment is the one dark spot. Expect it to stay over eight percent for a long time. Ben Bernanke thinks 10 percent. I question that, but we will see. Even if unemployment stays high you can turn that lemon into lemonade by recruiting independent decorators. (More below)
ACTION TO TAKE IF
YOU’RE NOT YET STABILIZED
If you are still struggling, stick to basics: direct mail to past customers, phone calls to your top one-third, find the good areas: the 20 percent of communities in your market where folks have money.
Get your flyers out; knock on doors. Be sure they know who you are and what you sell. You will be embarrassed to know how few have heard of you. If they have, they don’t know what you sell or don’t sell: Ask any resident in your best area what you sell. Blinds? Draperies? Both? Shop-at-home or come to your store? I bet not one out of 10 has the right answer. Be sure all high-income potential customers know about you.
ACTION TO TAKE IF YOU’RE
SOLID AND READY TO GROW
Holding your own? Now is the time to attack! Press your success. Move ahead before competitors return. Invest in advertising. Recruit independent decorators and sales consultants.
This is the best time to recruit in 15 years. You can count on this cycle to be strong for two years or more until unemployment comes back down to under six percent. For proof, watch the ads by Amway, Avon and direct sales leaders. Watch feature segments about women who are downsized and find they like to be home with the kids, yet want part-time work doing something social and fun to do.
Notice I said independent decorators, not employee decorators. The employee model is yesterday’s news (employee decorators are where you pay a salary, take time to train and give them costly appointments you could have sold yourself). The new, emerging model is to recruit independent decorators who work on commission, pay for their own training and find their own appointments.
Easy to do? Absolutely not. It requires special training for you as a manager. You have to attract, lead, guide and persuade people where you have no control. As a control freak, you hate that. But, as bad as it is to learn how to lead more than control, it beats paying a salary and giving away appointments that cost a fortune. Watch for independent decorator recruiting to become a major strategy for ambitious business owners that want market leadership. Good decorators prefer independence and commission. There are new Internet developments to make this strategy a game changer. Stay tuned.
BEST TIME IN YEARS
Moving forward I believe our industry is entering an era that will be the best in our experience. Weak competitors have been scrubbed by the recession. Solid businesses with good reputations experienced little downturn this past year. Frankly, I have been amazed at the disconnect from the terrible headlines to the continued solid sales of business leaders.
I am absolutely convinced the future is the most exciting any of us have seen. The Internet is opening a whole new range of opportunities. Media cost is forcing us to better, more personal marketing: preferred customers, neighborhood strategies, more relationship building. Hungry decorators are even willing to call past customers! Yes, the recession is making us better business owners.
New products are emerging: the beauty of roman shades, lavish custom draperies, exquisite bedspreads and more. This penchant for buying cheap will not last. Watch, within 12 to 18 months it will be a fading memory as the sunshine of new growth emerges and homeowners recall why they enjoy luxury. I just saw the numbers: luxury goods are down only 10 percent from peak! Can you imagine? All the financial meltdown—trillions of lost net worth—everything our nation and the world has been through… and luxury is still 90 percent as strong as the best time ever!
If that doesn’t convince you this is a great business, oy vey! How long do you think it will take luxury to return full bore? I guarantee you it will be months, not years. Count your blessings that you not only have a near recession-proof business, but you are at the beginning of a boom in luxury that only a few have the vision to see. We are all truly fortunate to be citizens of the greatest nation on earth, enjoying the benefits of the world’s best business!
With the worst behind us, let’s look to the excitement and thrill of the future as we all move forward and prosper. I look forward to being there with you as next month I enter my 50th year in this great business.
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