Along with his wife, Marcy, and two sons, Joe and Matthew, Hoover has taken advantage of new opportunities computers have brought to running a business and extending customer service. "We're on the cutting edge. That makes us stronger," Hoover says.
For 17 years Hoover was the successful operator of a company-owned brand name paint outlet. But he decided to become an independent interior decorating retailer 14 years ago because he wanted to be more than just another company dealer. He knew about wall coverings and Marcy, a practicing degreed interior designer for 26 years, knew about window coverings. They expanded their product line and today this family-owned window, wall and floor coverings store fills 4,000 square feet of retail space and an additional 1,500-square-foot warehouse.
"When a customer walks into the store, they immediately are overwhelmed," Hoover says. To the left, four aisles showcase 2,000 in-stock borders and wallpaper rolls and more than 1,500 custom sample books. The "great wall of carpet" spans the back wall with 13 1/2- by 18-inch or 18- by 27-inch carpet samples arranged by color. Hard surface flooring such as vinyl floor covering is to the right along with paint, which contain no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to appeal to the area's environmental concerns.
A separate 10- by 20-foot section houses the fabric samples. Ironically, the store's biggest profit center, window coverings, actually takes up the smallest amount of space. But Decorating Dimensions features custom soft treatments and a full range of alternates from horizontal and vertical blinds to pleated shades, woven woods and shutters.
Product offering is only the first step. Decorating Dimensions is big on customer service:
* the store is open seven days a week;
* a full-time and a part-time designer are on staff in addition to Marcy Hoover;
* there are one window coverings and four wallpaper hangers and installers available;
* it uses the services of two workrooms depending on the order;
* there is CD-ROM sample software, which Hoover claims is the "fastest wall covering pattern finder and color matching computer in Colorado"; and
* it has extended its reach to customers around the world through the Internet.
Found It on the Web
Last February, Clair and Marcy's son Matthew began creating the company's home page on the World Wide Web. The site (http://www.decdim.com) has since grown to what Hoover estimates is more than 400 pages. One of the things the Web site has done is present Decorating Dimensions to a potentially worldwide customer base -- and there are viewers out there checking it out. The home page has been visited more than 120,000 times.
In a straightforward, self-explanatory process, the Decorating Dimensions Web page begins with a list of products and services. Ranging from floor coverings, paints, wall coverings and window coverings, each category links the viewer to another page offering more information and further options. For example, wall coverings are broken down into in-stock rolls, outdoor and sporting themes, teddy bear borders and coordinating wallpaper and even tips on hanging.
Digitized images are everywhere. Hoover says the Web site includes both large and "thumbnail" images of 45 area rugs, more than 280 borders and wallpaper, more than 170 murals (door size and wall size) and 20 wildlife paintings. A final category includes room decorating appliqué kits, the services of faux finish artists with photographs of their work and even a collection of lamp shades.
The Web site also has built name recognition and has established a user-friendly reputation for Decorating Dimensions. Hoover once received thank-you e-mail from a resident in Massachusetts who was looking for tips on hanging wallpaper. He found Decorating Dimensions' Web site and, through it, the help he was looking for. That contact hasn't led to a conventional sale yet, but Hoover knows he already has a satisfied customer in New England.
The store's presence on the Web has generated actual sales, too. "If a potential customer is out there on the Web looking for a particular product pattern, finding it on our Web site works just the same as if the customer were in the store," he says. Through the Web site Hoover has sold product "across the United States," in Mexico and even one mural in western Australia. With the Web, "we are as close as anybody to them," Hoover says.
In the near future, Hoover believes retailers will need to have both a physical location and an on-line presence to do business. His advice to retailers is to establish a good home page and maintain it. "There follows a good possibility of sales. We're not getting rich off the Internet, but we are getting sales," Hoover admits.
Computer use at Decorating Dimensions is not limited to the World Wide Web. In its own section of the store, Hoover has a computer set up and running the Designers' Vision software. On CDs, he maintains sample books for several top-of-the-line fabric, wall coverings and paint suppliers. Hoover admits that "it's still a touchy-feely business, especially when it comes to fabrics." But the computer helps narrow down a customer's search for a pattern, style or color, he explains. "It's great for locating all the coordinating patterns and accessories."
Someday, Hoover would like to have four or five computer stations at the store available for customers. "I have believed for years what computers can do for us," Hoover says. By responding immediately to the use of new technology for customer service, he plans to stay one to two years ahead of everybody else.
Charge for Services
For all the hoopla about new technology and what it can do for business, Decorating Dimensions still is a retail center, and Hoover has strong opinions about marketing, competition and what it takes to be successful, which he developed over 30 years of doing business.
"I've always been a strong believer in advertising," Hoover says, and for each of the past 14 years the yellow pages has been his most frequent program. But customers will find Decorating Dimensions in more than one telephone book. For example, he places ads in directories in Cheyenne, WY, 40 miles away, and Laramie, WY, 70 miles away. This program is supported with display ads in the Fort Collins and surrounding area newspapers.
Twice a year, when Hoover promotes either his spring or fall sale, advertising spots run on four radio stations. These sales are the only time products are discounted, in some cases by as much as 50 percent. The rest of the time, Hoover says he sells products above retail pricing, although he ties in additional sales. "If a customer buys wallpaper from me, we'll offer a discount on wallpaper supplies," he explains.
It's all part of customer service for Hoover. The same as offering a grace period to a customer who traveled from Denver -- more than an hour away -- because she had heard a store advertisement, but came in nearly a week late. "I gave her the sale price. Why should I spend money on advertising just to chase away a customer?" Hoover asks.
"I don't worry about anybody else being my competition," Hoover says. Yet, there are plenty of businesses vying for his customers. Beside the national chain box stores, he counts more than 30 paint outlets and several company-owned interior decorating shops in the area. "Too much has been said about the big box stores being competition," he says.
In Hoover's view, the industry itself is its biggest competition. "Too often I hear people say, 'You have to discount products, you have to be competitive on pricing.'" But Hoover says the key is knowing your break-even point. "If you discount to the point where you have to sell everything in the store just to stay open, you're in trouble," he says.
"I can't compare myself with the competition down the street," Hoover says. "I do what I have to do to stay in business." For Hoover, that means charging for services -- and that includes in-home visits, installations and even renting out sample books. These charges may be rebated in part or in full against the purchase of products, he explains, and they act to discourage price shopping. "It means we can spend more time with the real money-spending customers who deserve the time it takes to help them."
Hoover has another idea in mind to boost customer service, help the 20 interior designers who work through Decorating Dimensions and expand his customer base. His plan calls for creating a separate design center as part of his store. Here designers, who normally receive a price discount on products, will have samples and workspace set aside for them. Retail customers also may have access to the design center and reduced prices, if they pay an annual fee -- sort of like a club membership.
But to make this idea happen, Hoover needs an even larger store. Located in the back of a strip mall, Decorating Dimensions currently is charged a premium rent without the street visibility Hoover would like. The parking situation is bad also, he says. But Hoover's working on that, too. A move is planned in the next six months, he says.